Feature Friday: Bees at Home

This Feature Friday, I’m thrilled to introduce you to another of our awesome former students, Scarlett Howard, and her SciComm project, Bees at Home.

Scarlett is currently an Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow working on effect of urbanisation on native and introduced bee species in Australia. Her research explores conceptual learning, neurobiology, and visual perception in honeybees as well as insect diversity, pollinator preferences, and plant-pollinator interactions. Basically, she’s investigating bee-brains to see how much they know and can understand, which turns out to be a lot!

Scarlett’s research on bees means she spends a lot of time hacking into the hive-mind

And I’m a MASSIVE bee fan, so of course I had to ask Scarlett what her favourite bee fact is:

“From my own research, finding out that honeybees can perform addition, subtraction, and value zero has been really interesting work. More widely, I think that acknowledging all the services they provide us with is amazing, such as the pollination of our native flora and contributing to one third of the food we eat.”

Scarlett studied science communication with us during her Master of Science (Zoology) degree at the University of Melbourne, and in the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University. Last year she was awarded the 2019 L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science Young Talents French Award, which gave her even more science communication training.

“I’ve been interested in science communication for many years. I believe it is vital to disseminate our research to the public in a clear and concise way. Research should be accessible to everyone, and it is part of our job as scientists to ensure our work is communicated accurately to the public. Studying science communication at the University of Melbourne has given me skills which I’ve built on regarding the communication of my own research to colleagues, industry, and the public. The course aided me in writing for The Conversation and in conducting many radio, newspaper, and TV interviews.”

Bees at Home

Scarlett has just started an awesome community science project called “Bees at Home”, where people across Australia are invited to upload images of insects (with phones or cameras), particularly bees, to Flickr with the hashtag #beesathome.

“I initially begun this project as I am an avid science communicator and my research is focused on bees. In Australia we have over 2,000 species of native bee species yet so little is known about them. My current research aims to discover more about native bee behaviour, distribution, and the impacts that anthropogenic activities are having on them.

We hope that many people across Australia take part to better understand our bees – whether you’re interested in photography, insects, pollination, or you’re just bored in lockdown and can take pictures in your backyard.

The main goal of the project is to map the locations of insects with regards to landscape types (urban, suburban, rural, undisturbed habitats) and human activity. We hope to determine if and how anthropogenic actives are effecting bee distribution and species richness.”

There are five categories in the competition, using hashtags to enter:

  1. European honeybees (#Honeybee)
  2. Blue-banded bees (#Bluebandedbee)
  3. Cuckoo bees (#CuckooBee)
  4. Great Carpenter Bees (#GreatCarpenterBee)
  5. Any insect (#insects)
The categories for the Bees at Home competition on Flickr – make sure you use the right hashtag to submit your entry!
Each month there are 11 prizes to be won:
  1. 5 “best photo” awards as voted on Flickr (one per category)
  2. 5 randomly chosen photos awarded a prize for participation (one per category)
  3. 1 award for taking photos on the most days of the month (e.g. one point per day a photo is taken) – the date of the image must be provided in the image caption on Flickr.

They’re aiming to run this competition until the end of 2021 with current funding. Hopefully it will be possible to extend to become a more long-term study on bee distributions, especially with the recent global insect declines.

You can be follow the Bees at Home project on Twitter @BeesAtHomeAus, and Facebook. Terms and conditions are available here and more information is available here.


– Written by Rosie Arnold