Wild Bees on Their Way Into the Classroom

BeeLife

A Cross-Platform Mobile Application to Raise Awareness About Wild Bees

Project focus

Imagine a regular morning: You start your day with a cup of coffee, slip into your comfortable cotton shirt and make yourself some delicious muesli with lots of fresh fruit and nuts. You would have to do without all of this if it weren't for those important little helpers - our wild bees. More than 550 different species of wild bees are known in Germany but more than half of them are on the Red List or have already become extinct. Consequences are devastating: wild bees significantly contribute to the diversity of our ecosystem. However, the "wild sisters" of our well-known honey bees are often rather unknown creatures. Hence, raising awareness about the many challenges they face is of utmost importance. 

In this project, we are developing an intelligent application for classroom settings, which shows the great importance of wild bees for our ecosystem. Our goal is to develop a cross-platform mobile application to increase sustainable awareness about the protection of wild bees. The application includes (1) a set of interactions possibilities for the user, e.g., exploring the environment with the wild bee character and discovering information by meeting other characters, playing with the wild bee, feeding the wild bee and (2) mini games related to real-world activities. These are embedded in project workshops and thus enable the user to experience the consequences of real-world actions in the virtual space. Machine learning algorithms ensure a user-adaptive system behavior.

The application starts with a grid (4 x 3) consisting of 11 different wild bee species and a honey bee character. Each character’s name emerged from the given latin name of the species and involves both male and female wild bees. The design process of our first character - Mia, the mason bee, has been completed while other characters are currently being designed.

We already collected the requirements for the app in a workshop with teachers, experts for wild bees and members of the project team. Based on our evaluating of the findings afterward, an exciting story emerged. It includes diverse biologically well-founded characters, such as the garden wool bee Mani or the mason bee Mia, which will soon take users on a journey to discover their secrets. We are currently translating our many ideas into a technically feasible framework to implement our first prototype. It will make its way into the classroom of participating schools during a first testing phase in early 2022. At the same time, the project team is already working on using the app in other languages and discovering new stories with Mani and Mia.

Mason bees, in general the most common spring wild bees, specifically pollinate apples and cherries. Compared to the well-known honey bee, mason bees start their journey quite early in the year, as they can already fly beyond the freezing level. They are hollow stem breeders and their body has two colors: the front part is black, the back part is orange-gold.
Mason Bee - Osmia cornuta (Mia)
Mason bees, in general the most common spring wild bees, specifically pollinate apples and cherries. Compared to the well-known honey bee, mason bees start their journey quite early in the year, as they can already fly beyond the freezing level. They are hollow stem breeders and their body has two colors: the front part is black, the back part is orange-gold.
Dark ground bumblebees are the most common and largest resident bumblebee species. They appear earliest in the year and are characterized by their large-loud appearance. Dark ground bumblebees achieve gigantic spread rates in tomato pollination. They like open daisy flowers, so they can reach the nectar with their short tongue.
Dark Ground Bumblebee - Bombus terrestris (Terris)
Dark ground bumblebees are the most common and largest resident bumblebee species. They appear earliest in the year and are characterized by their large-loud appearance. Dark ground bumblebees achieve gigantic spread rates in tomato pollination. They like open daisy flowers, so they can reach the nectar with their short tongue.
Almost dog-like, Trouser bees dig up to 50 cm deep tunnels in the ground to create their brood cells. On their hind legs, they carry huge leg brushes, allowing them to collect immense amounts of pollen.
Trouser Bee - Dasypoda hirtipes (Hirti)
Almost dog-like, Trouser bees dig up to 50 cm deep tunnels in the ground to create their brood cells. On their hind legs, they carry huge leg brushes, allowing them to collect immense amounts of pollen.
Wood bees are the largest of our wild bees – powerful loud buzzers with blue-black wings. They build brood tubes, by eating their way through dead wood to create tunnels. Due to climate change, they can now be found mainly in central Germany.
Wood Bee - Xylocopa violacea (Viola)
Wood bees are the largest of our wild bees – powerful loud buzzers with blue-black wings. They build brood tubes, by eating their way through dead wood to create tunnels. Due to climate change, they can now be found mainly in central Germany.
Masked bees are rather inconspicuous black wild bees, however, male ones have an interesting facial mask. They appear with yellow or white face masks or and a large yellow spot on the top of their thorax. Masked bees have smooth and almost hairless bodies.
Masked Bee - Hylaeus communis (Leus)
Masked bees are rather inconspicuous black wild bees, however, male ones have an interesting facial mask. They appear with yellow or white face masks or and a large yellow spot on the top of their thorax. Masked bees have smooth and almost hairless bodies.
Leaf-cutter bees cut pieces of leaves from cornelian cherry leaves and turn them into wallpapers for their brood cells. The plant contains fungus-inhibiting components that prevent the brood from becoming fungal or drying out. Leaf-cutter bees carry the pollen underneath their abdomen, which appears light yellow to deep gold, rather than on the hind legs.
Leaf Cutter Bee - Megachile centuncularis (Chilli)
Leaf-cutter bees cut pieces of leaves from cornelian cherry leaves and turn them into wallpapers for their brood cells. The plant contains fungus-inhibiting components that prevent the brood from becoming fungal or drying out. Leaf-cutter bees carry the pollen underneath their abdomen, which appears light yellow to deep gold, rather than on the hind legs.
Cone bees look exactly like their host; However, they do not have leg brushes for collecting pollen. They have a black and white striped abdomen that tapers to the end.They also have a firmer chitin body, so they are superior in fights.  They parasitize the clutch by piercing the leaf pack of the leafcutter bee, thus laying the eggs in the brood cell.
Cuckoo Leafcutter Bee (Cone Bee) - Coelioxys inermis (Coelia & Coelio)
Cone bees look exactly like their host; However, they do not have leg brushes for collecting pollen. They have a black and white striped abdomen that tapers to the end.They also have a firmer chitin body, so they are superior in fights. They parasitize the clutch by piercing the leaf pack of the leafcutter bee, thus laying the eggs in the brood cell.
Snail shell bees lay their eggs in empty snail shells and store each of them with a pollen package. The snail shell is closed with plant pulp, the opening turned towards the ground and is camouflaged with pieces of moss. As a final step, they collect pine needles and pile them over the snail shell to make it invisible.
Snail-Shell Bee - Osmania bicolor (Lor)
Snail shell bees lay their eggs in empty snail shells and store each of them with a pollen package. The snail shell is closed with plant pulp, the opening turned towards the ground and is camouflaged with pieces of moss. As a final step, they collect pine needles and pile them over the snail shell to make it invisible.
Male garden woolly bees patrol over the forage plants gravel to drive away all competing insects. They have a sharp spiny edge at the edge their bodies, which they ram into the abdomen of their competitors.  The female garden woolly bees collect plant fibers on the reed (i.e., “shaving” the plant) to build their egg cocoons.
Garden Woolly Bee - Anthidium manicatum (Mani & Manica)
Male garden woolly bees patrol over the forage plants gravel to drive away all competing insects. They have a sharp spiny edge at the edge their bodies, which they ram into the abdomen of their competitors. The female garden woolly bees collect plant fibers on the reed (i.e., “shaving” the plant) to build their egg cocoons.
Gilbweidrich thigh bees are one of the few wild bee species that collect pollen and oil. They are ground breeders and collect nectar from different plants. When collecting nectar, they characteristically spread the hind legs.
Thigh Bee - Macropis europaea (Ropa)
Gilbweidrich thigh bees are one of the few wild bee species that collect pollen and oil. They are ground breeders and collect nectar from different plants. When collecting nectar, they characteristically spread the hind legs.

Scientific articles

Wirzberger, M., Bornemeier, J., Kampel, S., Álvarez Serrano, M. G., Ullmann, L., & Rey, G. D. (2021). Umwelt trifft App: Verbindung virtueller und realer Welten in der Bildung für nachhaltige Entwicklung – Kurzbericht [Environment meets app: Connecting virtual and real worlds in education for sustainable development – Short report]. Umweltpsychologie, 1, 123–132.

Public engagement

  • Alumni newsletter of the Faculty of Humanities at TU Chemnitz [LINK]
  • Press article of the TU Chemnitz for the Wild Bee Day [LINK]
  • Press article at the University of Stuttgart website [LINK]
BeeLife project members in virtual team meeting (03/07/2021)

We are hiring!

Did our project spark your interest? Do you want to support us with software development?

We are currently looking for a research assistant to support the project. Here you can find the job ad.

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Contact

This picture showsMaria Wirzberger
Jun.-Prof. Dr. rer. nat.

Maria Wirzberger

Professor for Teaching and Learning with Intelligent Systems

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