K-State researcher creates website to track bees

Local News

MANHATTAN, Kan. (KSNT) – There are thousands of types of bees in the world and tracking them can be hard, so researchers at Kansas State University are trying to make it easier.

Brian Spiesman is an assistant professor in the department of entomology. He created the website, BeeMachine to get a larger grasp of where the insects are and what they look like.

“Bees are getting a lot of interest from the general public, and so this is a tool for both scientists and the public,” Spiesman said. “People interested in bees are sort of trying to understand what bees are visiting flowers in their garden or around their homes or around their community, so it’s really a tool for everyone.”

Right now you can upload a picture and it will identify one of 36 bumblebees, but the numbers will later expand. The website serves as the first step in a larger goal of tracking the 20,000 species of bees around the world.

“There’s a number of species across the U.S. that were once widespread,” Spiesman said. “We’re really seeing drops in numbers, and so I’m hoping that BeeMachine will be a tool that people can use to help monitor the health of these populations.”

Caleb Sowers came to K-State as a graduate student to work on the project. Researchers are using artificial intelligence to make research more efficient.

“Just going and standing and waiting for pollinators like bees to land on flowers, you have to wait a while. You have to wait a while in a lot of cases and to do good science you need really large sample sizes and those are just really hard to achieve,” Sowers said.

He said the impact of the project could be far reaching.

“[I’m] also interested in how this could kind of augment traditional approaches, field approaches in pollination ecology,” Sowers said.

If you’re afraid of getting stung, Spiesman said as long as you leave them alone, you should be safe.

“Don’t harass them,” he said. “They’re more interested in pollen and nectar than they are in stinging people.”

To simplify the process of finding out what bee you took a picture of, BeeMachine will launch a mobile app in the near future.

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