Minnesota Bumble Bee Atlas
Minnesota Bumble Bee Atlas: Roadside surveys

Roadside Survey Overview

Roadside surveys are a common way to document bumble bee abundance and species richness, and have been used in other regions on the country. They are also a great way for most anyone to participate, as they often do not require walking long distances or over uneven terrain. A roadside survey consists of several stops along a stretch of road. Each individual survey is significantly shorter than our point surveys, but they will collectively give us a good idea about the bumble bee species present in an area. 

​Roadside surveys consist of five 15-minute surveys and can be conducted en route (or in return) from a formal survey site, or on their own, but should take place within a grid cell that has been adopted by someone in your party. Be sure to follow posted signs and regulations; please respect private property and if necessary obtain permission from the land owner. These surveys also include rapid habitat assessment surveys to be filled out at each stop along the way.

Bumble bees are generally active from April (or earlier depending on you location) through September depending on the habitat, species, and weather. Some species may be active earlier, and some may be active later. However, since the goal of this project is to get a better understanding of the distribution of all species in Minnesota, we’re targeting the middle of the season: mid-June, July, and mid-August. Surveys should take place when temperatures are between 60-90* F, winds are less than 15 mph, and it is not raining. The optimal time for surveys is between 10am and 4pm. To sync all of our efforts, we encourage you to sample around one (or all!) of the following BioBlitz weekends: June 19-25 and the last weekends of July and August. 

Plan your visit

You can design your own route by investigating the grid cell that you adopted to select potential locations and access routes to 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 are rather rural, with 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. 

You are also welcome to use sections of routes that were developed for the UMN MN Bee Atlas. These routes are 25 miles long and have also been used as routes for the Breeding Bird Atlas. You will only survey along 10 miles of the route. If the route enters several grid cells, choose a section that lies entirely in your adopted grid cell. The locations of these routes are available at the UMN Bee Atlas site. To get a map of one of the UMN Bee Atlas routes with our grid cells overlaid on it, please contact us.

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 Roadside Survey

Step 1: Plan your survey route

Use a section of a route from the google map above, or select a stretch of road that is at least 10 miles long. Ideally, the stretch of road would have several obvious open patches when looking at aerial photos/maps; a long stretch of forested road is unlikely to yield many bumble bees.

Step 2: Begin your survey

Once on your selected route, stop at the first patch of available flowers that you observe. Please park carefully, follow local regulations and be aware of any safety precautions. Many roadsides are regularly mown within the first 8 feet in from the road edge. The best habitat is likely to be between 8 feet in from the edge of the road and the start of the adjacent property. Be mindful of safety with traffic along roadsides. Start by simply observing the patch visually-- if you observe bee activity, begin the survey. If there is no bee activity, proceed to the next patch of flowers and repeat.

When beginning a survey, start by filling out the top of the datasheet regarding location, timing and weather information, and then start your 15-minute timer. While looking for bumble bees, you should wander from flower patch to flower patch along the roadside area. 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 also 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 the rusty patched bumble bee training on our 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.

Step 3: Collect bumble bee data

Once the 15-minute survey is over, record each individual bee on the Bumble Bee Survey data sheet and photo document each individual bee as described in Step 4 of the Point Survey. For tips on photographing bees click here.

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.

Step 4: Collect habitat data

Fill out the Habitat Assessment Form for each roadside stop. The form asks for information on the survey area as well as surrounding habitat. 

Step 5: Repeat

Drive at least 1/2 mile down the road, find another patch of flowering plants, and conduct another survey starting at Step 2. Each Roadside survey should consist of five 15-minute surveys within a ~10 mile stretch of road.

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.

Step 7: Submit your data

For instructions on submitting data, click here.


What to bring