Great Georgia Pollinator Census begins Friday as feds stop counting honey bee colonies

By David Pendered

The federal government has suspended its count of honey bee colonies, but the University of Georgia continues to collect information on honey bees – the state insect – and other pollinators. Citizen scientists can join Friday and Saturday in counting these pollinators.

bee, pollination count

The Great Georgia Pollinator Census is open to anyone willing to spend 15 minutes watching insects land on a plant and report on the number and types of insects that visited. Credit: ggapc.org

The national count of honey bees was suspended on July 1 for budget reasons, James Barrett, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Thursday. The count may be resumed, funds permitting, he said.

Honey bees are counted as part of the tracking of the agricultural production of honey – a $9.2 million product in Georgia in 2018, according to a USDA report.

Georgia is one of the first states to count all its pollinators, Becky Griffin, UGA’s pollinator census coordinator, said in a report earlier this year.

Griffin based the program on the bird counts overseen by organizations including Atlanta Audubon. The idea is invite the general public to count critters in their backyard, share the information with a group that will process the information, and end up with a rough count of the wildlife in a particular area.

The Great Georgia Pollinator Census is open Friday and Saturday and takes a commitment of 15 minutes. UGA encourages widespread participation and notes that counters don’t have to be insect scientists – “The census was designed for individuals, families, garden clubs, school groups, friends – ALL Georgians to participate,” observes the welcome page of the Great Georgia Pollinator Count.

This is what the program entails:

  • Pick any plant that shows signs of insect activity;
  • Observe the plant for 15 minutes;
  • During this period, count and categorize insects that land on the plant;
  • Upload the counts to this website – no paper forms can be counted.

A counting guide available from the website provides pictures of insects that counters are likely to see, along with descriptions of the insects.

bee count, pollination

Citizen scientists who join in the Great Georgia Pollinator Census can download this social media button to show their participation in the event. Credit: ggapc.org

The critters being counted include bumble bees, carpenter bees, small bees, flies, wasps, butterflies and other insects.

This being citizen science, an entertainment component was built into the program. Participants are encouraged to post photos of the, “counters having fun, photos of your gardens, or anything you think would be of interest to the group.”

The materials can be uploaded to the Facebook page of the Georgia Pollinator Census. The hashtag for the event is: #GaPollinators! A how-to video is posted on this website.

The project also provides opportunities to learn about bees. Topics includes this nugget about the relative value of males to the hive:

  • “Drones, the male bees, do not really contribute to the hive.
  • “They do not forage or maintain the hive but they do use hive resources.
  • “As winter approaches there is no place in the apiary for these free-loaders and they are evicted.”

The counting guide provides other information that’s not in general conversation:

  • Carpenter bees have no hair on their abdomens and bumble bees have hairy abdomens. Consequently, carpenter bees transport more pollen than bumble bees.
  • Wasps are generally hairless.
  • Yellow jackets don’t often alight on flowers.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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