Emmelyn Cullen, Gwen Coleman. (RI screen capture)

A bee survey around the campus of Luther College in Decorah has found some species that have not been found there before.

Junior Emmelyn Cullen says they’ve checked some 1,500 bees in the survey this summer. “So far, we’ve identified 55 different species, and seven of those have not yet been found in Iowa, according to our records,” Cullen says. The seven new species of bees are found in the states surrounding Iowa.

Fellow junior Gwen Coleman is also helping with the survey and says some of the bees could have flown in from outside the state. “That is a possibility — it’s also possible that they just haven’t been found yet because there’s just not been enough surveying done in this area,” Coleman says. “We’re so far north here in Decorah that the University of Iowa entomology program really doesn’t get as far north where we are and the University of Minnesota really doesn’t come this far south to sample. So, we’re kind of just like in a little gray area where a lot of the universities don’t sample for bees.”

Cullen says they’ve been looking for different bee species — so they can’t definitively say if they are well established. “Some of these beads we have found a large volume of and others not as much I would say — but because we’re not necessarily looking at their nests — that’s not something that we can really gauge,” she says.

Cullen says once they wrap up this survey it will give them a good baseline for the bee population. “And the significance when we’re done with all of this is to compare the bee species and the floral resources between campus and the natural areas to see if we can put more of those native floral resources onto our campus to encourage more of those bees here as well,” Cullen says.

They use nets to catch the bees and some they can identify right away. But others they have to put in a jar and take back to the lab. “Because a lot of these are very similar and some of them are so small you can’t even tell the distinguishing features when you are looking at them from afar,” Cullen explains. The bees they can’t identify are frozen and then put under a microscope for identification.

Cullen says she’s been stung once during the survey and says it was her fault. She says bees are pretty docile. “That’s a misconception that bees are out to get you, they’re definitely not,” according to Cullen. “Yeah, I have yet to be stung. And, you know, we work with bees pretty much every day,” Coleman says. “and our hands are in nets with bees. And then if we know what a bee is, we’ll open the cap and let them go and they’ll fly off instead of coming back and attacking us.”

They say wasps and hornets are a different story as they’re the more aggressive, and they try to avoid them while they are out surveying bees. Cullen is from Madison, Wisconsin, and Coleman is from Arkansas.