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We’re photographing loads of bees at The Nat!

The San Diego Natural History Museum’s Entomology Department is part of a multi-institutional effort to create more than 1.2 million 2D and 3D images of over 5,000 global bee species—including all the major pollinating species in the United States.

This National Science Foundation-funded project, named Big-Bee, spans thirteen institutions and partners with several U.S. government agencies. The primary goal is to foster an understanding of bees and their environmental interactions through image and trait digitization.

The targeted bee groups for the Big-Bee project include those of agricultural, ecological, and evolutionary significance and those which offer insight on phenomena such as parasitism strategies or variation in nesting habits. With over 600 species of bees in San Diego County alone, many of the bees photographed for Big-Bee are found right here in San Diego.

Using a specialized imaging system created by Macroscopic Solutions, The Nat is producing about 11,000 label images, 800 focus-stacked images of the best species representatives in collections, and 192,000 images of 3,000 specimens for 3D modeling. Now that’s a lot of bee pics.

By including a measurable scale bar in these high-resolution bee photos, and publishing these images as open datasets, our work will allow researchers around the world to easily draw connections between anatomical traits and any ecological data recorded about the specimen, such as what plant it was found on, or the time of day it was collected.

By combining these two types of data across thousands of species, we hope to illuminate questions about the functional and identifying traits of bees, alongside their biotic interactions (parasites, habitat, floral associates) and geographic distributions. By better understanding these functional traits of bees, we can also expand our awareness of what makes them susceptible to environmental stressors such as habitat loss and climate change.

Stay tuned to learn what the Big-Bee team accomplishes as we continue through 2024!