CO-Horts Blog

Monday, August 17, 2020

As Busy as a Bee: Life as a CSU Extension Intern

Posted by: Sarah Viders, CSU Extension Intern, Arapahoe County

"They won’t sting you,” my friend said, shaking me as a bee crossed her forehead and another one stared straight at me from her cheek. There were so many bees. Flying all around me on a hike through the woods. I screamed and ran back to the car vowing to stay as far away from bees as possible. After this experience, I then proceeded to sit on a bee less than two weeks later, making my fear tremendously larger.

Everyone has a fear right? I have always known bees are pollinators and are necessary for the planet but whenever I see that stinger, my nails dig into my hands and I beg the buzzing to grow distant.

Pollinators are important to human health and ecosystems, as pollination provides the most nutritious parts of our diet. Pollination services by bees contribute 1.2-5.4 billion dollars to American agriculture, “bringing us one of every three bites of food.”  Native bees pollinate up to 180,000 different plants and reflect immense impacts on the ecology of the world. However, their populations are declining for many reasons due to habitat and nutrition loss due to urbanization, parasites and disease, pesticide and chemical use, and climate change. Everyone can help pollinators by planting flowers and providing habitat

Fast forward a year later, I accepted an internship to work for the Native Bee Watch Citizen Science Program at CSU Extension looking into the biodiversity and abundance of bees affected by urbanization. My parents looked at me and wondered “who replaced Sarah with an alien?”  I decided to take a chance and conquer one of my fears. I could learn about something that is the foundation for the breakfast I eat every morning. 

I am originally from South Africa but now my Mom and Dad have settled into a home in Lone Tree, Colorado. I am studying ecosystem science and sustainability and I am starting my junior year in the fall at CSU. During the school year, I work at a research lab on campus in the Forest and Rangeland Stewardship department. My career goals include going to Seattle University School of Law and focusing on environmental law. My interests spread far and wide however, as I also take classes in human anatomy and political science. 

Filming virtual programming on location at Silo Park. Photo: Sarah Viders

Taking this internship has been one of the most rewarding and educating experiences. Not only did I learn to identify the different types of bees down to the eight morphological categories and genera, but I stopped running away from them. Did you know there are over 900 species of bees in Colorado? The honey bee is just one of those species. I have now become the “bee girl” to my friends because I’ll take any opportunity to happily and ecstatically show them photos of a striped sweat bee (Halictus spp.) on a prairie coneflower from more angles than I can count.

My role in the Native Bee Watch (NBW) Citizen Science project was to work closely with Lisa Mason, Horticulture Agent in Arapahoe County, to help volunteers with bee and plant identification, data entry questions, and to create a sense of community while providing education online. I coordinated communication with the volunteers through Zoom meetings, emails, and Facebook questions. We created a private Facebook group for the volunteers, allowing them to have a safe space to ask questions, interact with one another, and learn more about different native bees and natural resource sustainability. 

COVID-19 changed my internship plan, and the entirety of it moved online. NBW also moved to an entirely virtual program this summer. While in the past NBW had the capacity to educate approximately 10 -25 volunteers each summer, the capacity has largely increased since it moved online with upwards of 200 volunteers attending the training and about 150 volunteers entering data to ArcGIS. The project consists of training volunteers to identify groups of bees on flowers in their yard, and enter that data electronically. 

Not only did I learn about the different characteristics of bees, wasps, and flies, I also learned about native plants, pollinators and how the biology of pollination works. Learning about identification differences was very interesting to me. A few identification tips I learned include: 

  • Wasps and bees have longer antennae than flies
  • Fly eyes are typically larger and extend to the top of the head versus bees that have eyes on the sides of their head
  • Wasps have more visibly cinched waists
  • Bees are typically fuzzy and have hairs on their bodies 
  • Different bees carry pollen different ways
    • Many solitary bees carry pollen on their hind legs.
    • Bees in the Megachilidae family (or the morphospecies called “Hairy Belly Bees”, have pollen collecting hairs on the underside of their abdomen. 
    • Honey bees and bumble bees have pollen sacs on their legs called corbiculae.
    • Bees vary in color. Even honey bees have color variation from a very light color to almost black.
    • Bees can see blue, yellow and ultraviolet. 
    • Check out this field guide for more tips
A bumble bee (Bombus sp.) on a purple prairie clover, a native plant to Colorado. Photo: Sarah Viders

I developed and conducted a research project on social science pertaining to the citizen science project and an ecological project on bees at Carson Nature Center. The social science aspect consisted of monitoring how participants are using social media. How does the interest and participation in this group change over the summer? How many of the volunteers are participating in the Facebook group and what types of posts they are making? The project and research question are based around how participation in the Facebook group develops and changes. For the ecological piece I collected observational data, based on the type of bee and the competition I observed at South Platte Park and Carson Nature Center. While walking along the transect, I watched a plant or group of plants for 2-minute intervals and recorded the bees from each morphological category. This method is a modified Focal Plant Sampling Procedure (Altmann, 1974; Mason and Arathi, 2019).  I am now analyzing this data from both of these projects.

Through CSU Extension in Arapahoe County, I also delivered programming in the online format and the topic I chose to focus on was sustainability. I developed weekly videos titled “Sarah’s Science-Based Sustainability Secrets” discussing natural resource sustainability in the home and landscape, and ways for citizens to save energy. I encourage you to check out the videos! Some of the topics I talked about included water conservation, mulching, composting, recycling, reducing fossil fuels and urban trees. One thing I learned about programming is the importance of visuals and how important simplicity can be when sharing education information in a video setting. I filmed at Hudson Gardens, Carson Nature Center, Eco-Cycle, my own backyard and at the CSU Extension Arapahoe County Office.

Pollinators are extremely necessary and important to our environment. Learning about the different categories and identification pieces has allowed me to look at my environment in a completely new way. I learned what inspires people to take part in science and what keeps them interested in collecting data. My next steps will focus on sharing more sustainability and pollinator information with the public, not just to those with an interest in pollinators and gardening. I will take all that I learned this summer and apply it specifically to my career goals. Becoming an environmental lawyer requires that I am well versed in the knowledge of how different ecosystems work and how each character plays an important role. I am grateful for this opportunity to work closely with so many experts, the volunteers, and the bees! Now that my internship is coming to an end I can happily say I have received no stings and happily welcome the sound of buzzing.


  1. Yay to no stings and increased education! Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm!

  2. Great article, and am glad bees are your friends now!

  3. Hurray for all the work you are doing - and information you are so eloquently sharing!

  4. Sounds like you have made the most of your internship. You have learned so much. Dealing with fear is a very important thing to learn, for lots of reasons. Good for you, Sarah.

  5. Sarah-you’ve contributed greatly to NBW. I think you may even have surprised yourself Onward. Eco-law awaits your skills. Thanks for your useful post Your joy shines through.