Summer Internship Series: Killing Bees, For Science!

Riley Jones ’20
Field/Laboratory Technician, Iowa State University

My name’s Riley Jones, and I’m currently a sophomore pursuing a BS in Biology. Over the summer, I worked as a field/laboratory technician on a research project at Iowa State University.

Bee sampleThe project? Compiling data about the diversity of bees found in field strips, also of varying plant diversity, in order to see how the level of diversity correlates between the two. Bees are incredibly important to the continued health of many ecosystems. I was very excited to work on a research project such as this one, especially since it balanced laboratory and field time. One of my goals going into this internship was to discover more about my personal preferences for research looked like, as I’m interested in doing field research as a career.

The month was split into two sections: the first two weeks of every month were spent in the lab, processing the specimens that were caught the previous month. To process a bee, they must be washed, dried, and have their mandibles and tongues “pulled”, or gently tugged into display position with a bent pin under a microscope. The mandible and tongues were then used to help identify the specimen’s genus and species. Did you know there are more than 300 species native to Iowa? Me neither, until this internship!

Bee samples collectedThe last two weeks of a month were spent out in the field, collecting the samples. We had several ways of catching the bees, from small bowls painted blue, yellow, and white (to mimic flowers) and filled with soapy water (so the bees couldn’t fly away) to waving around large insect nets in a controlled, but still chaotic, manner to see what we catch by chance. We also implemented “targeting”, in which we patrol the strip and try to catch any bee we see land on a flower. “Targeting” is used to collect data on what sorts of flowers a specific bee collects from, in order to study if a species is specialized to certain flowers or more of a generalist. I enjoyed collection periods the most; even though we had to be at the collection site before the bees emerged from their nests at sunrise, being in the field was both peaceful and fun.

Bee on a needleAt the beginning of the internship, I was worried that the early mornings of field work would drain me, as I wouldn’t call myself a morning person. However, I learned that since I enjoyed being out in the fields and waving a net around, the early mornings balanced out. I also learned that if I go on to work in research as a career, I definitely need the outdoor field work as a balance to the indoor lab work. Luckily, figuring out those personal preferences was one of the major reasons why I wanted to work on this study! I also learned a lot about bees and how to identify some plants by their flowers/leaves, which is a bonus. While I believe bees will stay a hobby, I had a wonderful experience working at the Harris Bee Lab, and am happy I spent my summer in Iowa.

Thank you to my lovely boss, Morgan Mackert, for taking on a rising sophomore that only had classroom lab experience. Shout out to Amanda and Carly, my coworkers, who helped the lab days go faster with funny conversation, and finally to Mr. Wallace Burke and the Sherman Fairchild Foundation, for supporting me financially. Without you, I wouldn’t have been able to have this incredible learning experience.