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Bumble bees can be attracted to nest boxes but the success rate is low. We want to design, build, and test a better domicile.
84 backers pledged $4,054 to help bring this project to life.

About

Bumble Boosters: Designing a better bumble bee domicile. project video thumbnail
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Who are we?

My name is Dr. Doug Golick and I am an Assistant Professor of Entomology. I lead a research team at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. One of the projects that we are most interested in is building a better bumble domicile (nest box). Most of us think of bumble bees as something to avoid due to their sting. However, the over 250 species of bumble bees worldwide are valuable native and commercial pollinators. Bumble bees are also aesthetically pleasing displaying a wide variety of color patterns.

Why bumble bees?

Like many other important native pollinators, bumble bees are threatened by habitat loss, chemical use, and disease. One of the limiting factors of bumble bee success is the availability of nesting sites. Bumble bees do not make their nest. They instead choose abandoned rodent dens in which to establish a colony. Competition for these nest sites are often high, with queens killing each other for control of a natural nest site. The assumption is that if you make a nest box that mimics an abandoned rodent den (a cavity with insulation) you can attract bumble bee queens giving them a place to nest. The more nesting sites available the more chance for bumble bee queens to establish a colony – more bumble bees. Why would you want bumble bees? They are valuable pollinators of flowering plants and vegetable plants. They are especially efficient pollinators of tomatoes and cucumbers. Having your own nest of bumble bees can help your garden landscape.

Bombus pensylvanicus - a threatened North American bumble bee
Bombus pensylvanicus - a threatened North American bumble bee

Many attempts have been made to design an effective artificial nesting domicile. Some studies have reported as high as 50% uptake of artificial nests. Most designs and related research have found less than 10% acceptance rate of domiciles. A recent paper even found far less success with commercially available nest boxes in the UK. The good news is that YouTube and other websites contain numerous reports of citizen scientists having good luck attracting bumble bees to homemade nest boxes. What are these citizen scientists doing to attract bumble bees? What in their nest box design is attracting bumble bees? How do we take aspects of their designs and build a better bumble bee nest box? These questions are something that the Bumble Boosters project seeks to answer.

A functional prototype.

We have scoured the literature and the web to find characteristics of successful bumble bee domiciles. We have created a design for a nest box that we feel will have the best chance of successfully attracting bumble bees. The small wooden box with cotton and paper insulating material best mimics the cavity that bumble bees will nest in. This design also contains an entrance hole for the bumble bees with bright yellow paint marking the entrance. We hope to raise enough money to build 200 of these domiciles for placement in home gardens and public right-of-ways. The exciting aspect of this project is that we will give away the domiciles for placement by the public. The citizen science aspect of the project is a way to involve the public in the dispersal of the bumble bee domiciles and data collection. The reason why so many domiciles are needed is to effectively and statistically test their efficacy. Also, as you can guess, wood and shipping of the completed nest box is not cheap. Thus, we are asking for funding of $3,000 dollars to design and distribute the domiciles.

An artificial domicile
An artificial domicile

A production plan.

We have a wood working expert on staff and all the tools available for building the domiciles. Once we receive the money, we will work to develop a beta prototype for setting up jigs and the table saw. The alpha prototype is already developed (see picture above). We will work the summer and fall of 2013 mass-producing the artificial domiciles. Donors of $100 or more dollars will be shipped their domicile in the early winter of 2014 for placement in the Spring of 2014. A publically available website http://bumbleboosters.unl.edu will be used as a hub for people to learn more about the project and to sign-up to receive free nesting domiciles.

Risks and challenges

There are few risks and challenges with this project. One challenge is designing a nest box where others have failed. We feel confident that we have sound design because we have taken the best aspects of commercially and homemade nest boxes and put them in to our design. Our goal is optimistic – we hope to have a 50% success rate on our domicile designs when placed in a habitat that has bumble bee queens. One of the biggest challenges will be to distribute the nest boxes. We will rely of word-of-mouth social media, and our website to “get the word out” about the free nest boxes. We hope there will be enough willing citizens to not only place the habitats but also report back to us on the effectiveness of the artificial nesting domiciles.

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    Pledge US$ 10 or more About US$ 10

    Receive a personal thank you and access to the bumble bee domicile research community network.

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    Pledge US$ 25 or more About US$ 25

    You will have your name added to a bumble bee nest box and receive seasonal reports on the bumble bee family occupying your box.

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    Pledge US$ 100 or more About US$ 100

    You will receive a bumble bee nest box for attracting bumble bee queens.

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    30 backers
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Funding period

- (45 days)