Bumblebee Foraging Arena

BUMBLEBEES are everyone's favorite impossible-looking flying creature. Fuzzy and striped, they don't generally wander as far as bees when looking for nectar. They are important native pollinators in many regions of the world.

^ Like honeybees, they are vulnerable to extinction and are facing increasingly serious declines.

^ I also designed 12 flowers to be painted different colors. I plan to hang these in the arena so the bees can learn which have sweet rewards. The holes in the center of the flowers will hold small plastic tubing through which we can feed synthetic nectar of various strengths or types.

^ I used a piece of software by Autodesk called Fusion360 that supports 'parametric design'. I define my basic parameters at the beginning (like length and height), and then can reference these throughout the design process. Then, if I later need to update one of my dimensions, that change would propagate to each component.

^ This week, I set out to design a bumblebee foraging arena. How do bumblebees learn which flowers have nectar rewards? Can they communicate this to others in their colony? Answers to these and similar questions can help us save them from extinction pressures.

^ This view shows some detail in the corner joints.

^ Once pieces were all designed, I arranged them flat in one plane to compute toolpaths for the ShopBot.

^ The blue lines show where the cutter blade will pass through the stock wood to carve out the custom pieces for the bumblebees.

^ The arena can be assembled in a 'press-fit' fashion, perhaps with a little glue to help keep things in place.

^ We used a machine called a ShopBot that uses a computer to control a cutter. We used it to cut plywood.

^ Here is a mockup of my finished design with a few bees around to show how it might work. In practice, bees would enter through a tunnel from their colony nest, and then their movements would be analyzed by cameras mounted around the arena.

^ Because of some issues with the thickness of my top support crossbeams, Daniel recut these on the tablesaw. Daniel was extremely helpful throughout the entire process.

^ Entire assembly was glued and clamped up overnight.

^ I painted the 'flowers' in red, green, and blue to allow bees to make foraging choices.

^ A view of the finished piece complete with screen mesh to contain bumblebees for foraging studies! What else could we build to help us to better understand nature?

Next Project Coming Soon!