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University of Minnesota Extension

Minnesota Bee Atlas

What is the Minnesota Bee Atlas?

bee with light grey hair on a red flower
Long-horned bee, native to Minnesota, on a flower in Minneapolis.

There are three ways to participate in the Minnesota Bee Atlas:

  • Post anecdotal observations to iNaturalist.org
  • Bumble bee watch project
  • Bee block project

When most people hear the word “bee” they may picture a yellow and black striped honey bee or a big, fluffy bumble bee. Honey bees and bumble bees are easily recognized and play an important role in pollination, but they are a small fraction of the almost 20,000 bee species in the world.

In contrast to honey bees and bumble bees, most bees are solitary and build their own nests alone. They may live near other bees of the same species but they do not work together to form one colony. These are the bees the Minnesota Bee Atlas focuses on.

The Minnesota Bee Atlas, a four-year project funded by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF), is a citizen science program designed to use volunteer participants to create a state-wide list of native bees found in Minnesota.

The last time a survey of Minnesota bees was completed was in 1919 when only 67 species were listed. Scientists suspect that there may be closer to 400 species but we need the help of citizen scientists like you to find them all.

Your observations, combined with historical records from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the University of Minnesota Insect Collection, will provide important information on the diversity of species in Minnesota. The information we gather on species distribution and diversity will be important to help us track if or how bee populations are changing and how those changes might affect land management decisions.

Share observations with iNaturalist

Anecdotal observations are very valuable. Although you may not notice each one, chances are that you cross paths with several different bee species on a regular basis. Some may be smaller than you expect and many may not look like the honey or bumble bees that most of us are used to.

To submit anecdotal observations, you will first need to create an account at iNaturalist. After you have created an account, click on "Projects" at the top of the page and search for "Minnesota Bee Atlas" to submit your observations. Do not worry if you do not know the species of bee, just fill in as much information as you can. Other volunteers may be able to identify the bee based on your photo.

For the greatest chance of using your photo to identify the bee species, please submit clear photos that are in color. Photographing the bee from different angles often helps reviewers. You may also want to boost the number of bees you may find in your yard by providing nectar and nesting habitat.

Watch for Bumble bees

You can submit photographs of bumble bees you see while camping, hiking, walking the dog, the Xerces Society’s Bumble Bee Watch project. See recommendation above regarding bee photography. Minnesota records from Bumble Bee Watch will be integrated into the Minnesota Bee Atlas.

If you would like to help monitor Minnesota bumble bees, and you have taken a bumble bee ID workshop or are otherwise familiar with identification of common Minnesota bumble bees, please adopt a survey route. Survey routes will be monitored three times over the summer.

Bumble bee survey volunteer log in and resources

Watch bee nesting blocks

In 2018, the Bee Atlas distributed nesting blocks in county parks, nature centers, and DNR Scientific and Natural Areas (SNAs) across the state. These blocks will become home to larvae that will be raised to adulthood by our staff entomologist for identification. Volunteer monitors observe the blocks to see when bees are most active and what they build their nests out of. This information will help identify the adult species when the blocks are returned in the fall.

Bee block volunteer log in and resources


Using your own nesting blocks

If you are interested in putting up a bee block in your yard to observe and host cavity-nesting bees, there are many companies offering pre-made bee houses as well as directions to build your own. We like the suggestions offered by Joel Gardner, UMN, in his paper “Native Bees, Solitary Bees, and Wild Bees: What are they?” and the Xerces Society website, “Providing nest sites for pollinators”.

Although we are limited in the number of larvae we can rear and cannot accept additional blocks, we welcome observations of your backyard bee nests. If you see bees using your bee house you can submit pictures the same way you would for “Anecdotal observations” or post them on our Facebook page. Even if you don’t see bees going in and out of the nest, you will be able to see if they are using the nest you provided. You can share your observations any time you notice something interesting or just at the end of the summer when the bees have finished building their nests.

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