Minnesota Bumble Bee Atlas
Minnesota Bumble Bee Atlas: Point survey

Point survey

Point surveys are our standard surveys that take place within your adopted grid cell, and will provide high quality bumble bee data from any survey area. These surveys are 45 person minutes, meaning the survey must collectively run for a total of 45 minutes and will vary with the number of people involved in your survey. For example, if you are surveying alone you must sample for 45 minutes, if there are 2 people surveying you only need to sample for 22.5 minutes, if 3 people you’ll sample for 15 minutes and so on. Point surveys must take place in an area that is approximately 1 hectare (2.5 acres). In addition, you’ll need to conduct a rapid habitat assessment during each visit to gather a) habitat information about your survey area and b) habitat information about the surrounding area; make sure to plan your travel timing to complete these steps.  

In Minnesota, bumble bees are generally active from April through late September, depending on the weather, location, and particular species. Some species may be active earlier, and some may be active later. However, since the goal of the Atlas is to gain a better understanding of bumble bee distribution statewide, we’re targeting peak active season of the bees when surveying. You may carry out bumble bee surveys any day during mid-June, July, to mid-August. You may survey on any day the temperature is between 60°F and 90°F, winds are <15mph, and it is not raining and has been ~1 hour since the last heavy precipitation. Optimal survey time are between 10am and 4pm. To sync all of our efforts, we encourage you to sample around one (or all!) of our BioBlitz Weekends: June 19-25th (Pollinator Week) and the last weekends of July and August. 

Plan your visit

Take some time to investigate your adopted grid cell. The grid cells are large with varied habitat, terrain, and land ownership. You can survey anywhere in the grid cell for bumble bees that you have permission to access, but taking some time to select potential locations and access routes will decrease travel time, and maximize the time you can dedicate to bumble bee surveys. We suggest you start with the project map, or Google Maps (or similar) with aerial photography to flag potential sites and plan travel routes. Getting familiar with your sites using maps will also help you when it comes time to submit your data; accurate locations are important! Many areas in the state have limited travel routes and cellular service. When surveying, please follow all rules, regulations, and posted signs; respect private property, and take all necessary safety precautions

State and National Parks and Monuments, National Wildlife Refuges, and Scientific and Natural Areas often have great locations for bumble bee surveys. Permits are necessary for surveys in State and National Parks and Monuments, Scientific and Natural Areas (SNAs), and State Forests. The Bumble Bee Atlas team applies for permits in early spring based on location requests from volunteers. Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) and National Wildlife Refuges do not require a permit for surveys, but you must contact the area's manager for permission to survey. There is no reason you cannot photograph a bumble bee on a flower in these areas, but you may not capture wildlife in a net or vial without appropriate research permits. Please see incidental observations for surveying in these areas. 

It is possible that when you arrive at a pre-selected site, you’ll find that survey conditions for bumble bees may not be optimal. We encourage folks to be flexible, and opportunistic, but to stay within their assigned grid cell. As such, bring resources with you to navigate, including printed maps, as cell service is not available in many parts of Minnesota.

Resources to help you plan your trip (note: we do not guarantee the veracity of any of these resources, we simply provide them as tools to help plan your trip. To our knowledge, these are some of the best and most reliable mapping resources available, though alternatives certainly exist):

Conducting a Point Survey

Official bumble bee surveys are 45 person minutes. This means that if you are alone you will survey for 45 minutes. If you brought one friend, you will survey for 22.5 minutes, and if you brought two friends, you will survey for 15 minutes, etc. You will also need to plan time to conduct a rapid habitat assessment to gather information about the site that you surveyed and the surrounding habitat at each site. 

Step 1: Plan your survey area
Surveys should cover approximately one hectare or 2.5 acres (100m x 100m or 328’ x 328’). This is roughly the size of a football or soccer field. The area does not have to be of a particular shape; it could be a field or a long stretch of roadside. Mark the center of your location on a map (either paper or smartphone app). This will be very important later for data submission, please document the location of each survey accurately!

Step 2: Fill out the data sheet
This will include date, time, surveyors, location, and basic weather information (approximate temperature, cloud cover, wind, etc.).

Step 3: Begin your survey
Note the start time of your survey, start the timer and begin searching for bumble bees. While looking for bumble bees you should wander through the entire survey area, focusing on plants that are flowering. Focus on ALL flowering plants, not just those that are most abundant or showy—different bumble bees are sometimes attracted to different flowers. When you find a bumble bee, capture it in a vial (either directly or using an insect net), note the plant species that it was visiting, and place the vial in a chilled cooler. Be sure to keep bees from different flowers separated in the cooler so you remember later. Take a picture of each plant, including its flowers and leaves, for later confirmation or identification. The smartphone app iNaturalist is a great identification resource for wildflowers and has the capability to save photos and locations of all your observations. Special care is needed with handling of all bumble bees, but those surveying in areas where you are more likely to find rusty patched bumble bees, with grids adjacent to recent observations, should be particularly careful. If a possible rusty patched is noticed during collection it should be photographed and released as soon as possible. Please review our rusty patched bumble bee training on the Online Training page

Helpful Tip: Place a petal of the flower into each vial to remind you which species of flower that particular bee was visiting. Alternatively, use a small piece of paper, a grease pencil etc. to document and connect each bee to its flowering plant.

Continue for 45 person minutes (count only time searching for bumble bees) or until you have run out of vials. If you run out of vials, stop the timer and continue to Step 4. Once Step 4 is complete and your vials are free again, return to Phase 3 and finish out the time remaining on your survey. When finished, note the end time of your survey

Step 4: Collect bumble bee data

After bees are cooled for several minutes (5-10min, the larger the bee, the longer they can take to slow down), their movement will be slow enough that you can easily photograph them. This can be done by placing the chilled bee on a flat surface with high contrast; the back of a data sheet or blank white paper on a clipboard works great in the field. The most important regions to document on a bumble bee are the head, thorax, and top and bottom of the abdomen. A detailed photo of the face, including the “cheek” length is also important. To take clear, in-focus photographs of each bee we recommend using a camera with a macro lens setting (look for a flower icon) or a smartphone, see tips here. A maximum of 5 photos per bee may be uploaded.  Be sure to document how many photos you take of each bee, and note the file names on the data sheet.

Special note: If you have completed advanced bumble bee identification training or have experience with bumble bee identification, contact your Program Coordinator for a different protocol where you can take representative photos of easily identifiable bumble bee species including impatiens, bimaculatus, griseocollis, and ternarius. Based on previous work, these species will comprise ~80% of the bees you will see. You will also be given different instructions for data entry 

If the bumble bee is sluggish after you photograph it, just place it in the shade and it’ll take flight after warming up. Continue in this fashion until you have documented each individual bumble bee. If you have time remaining on your survey, return to Step 3, otherwise continue to Step 5.


Step 5: Collect habitat data

Spend some time walking around your site collecting the data for the Rapid Habitat Assessment. Fill out the Habitat portion of the Data Sheet.

Step 6: Complete documentation

Ensure that all data sheets are complete and that you have collected all necessary habitat information. While it might be tempting to leave some of this information for later, or when you get home, taking the time to do it while on site will reduce errors and increase the quality of the data you collect. Snap a photo of each data sheet as a backup in case something gets lost on your trip home.

Step 7: Submit your data​​

For instructions on submitting data, click here.