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Interactive Bee Exhibit to Open at UW

October 13, 2017
graphic with bee

A cross-disciplinary partnership will bring an interactive exhibition on bees to the University of Wyoming this month. The show aims to help both children and adults understand and appreciate the insect. It will travel to other cities in the future.

Titled “Beehavior: Extracting the Sweetness,” the exhibition opens at the Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center Friday, Oct. 20, with a reception from 5-7:30 p.m. (children’s time 6 p.m.) and continues through Nov. 10.

The installation is part of a $436,238 National Science Foundation research grant that Michael Dillon, a UW associate professor in the Department of Zoology and Physiology, and Ashley Hope Carlisle, a UW associate professor of sculpture in the Department of Art and Art History, earned to study how alpine bumblebees exist over large geographic regions. The creation of an interactive bumblebee sculpture installation helps make the science more understandable for a general audience.

The science of the grant has focused on bumblebees -- specifically, why bees native to different geographic regions can live in such varying climates without being genetically different, Dillon says.

Two species of bumblebees -- Bombus bifarius and Bombus vosnesenskii -- are being studied at altitudes ranging from sea level to 13,000 feet in an area that spans from Washington to Southern California. Jeffrey Lozier, a biology professor from the University of Alabama, and James Strange, a biology professor from Utah State University, who also is with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pollinating Insects Research Unit, are involved.

Dillon also is testing cold and heat tolerances of bees and the physiology of the bee itself, says Carlisle, who was afraid of bees before the partnership.

“We thought the focal point of the show, in particular for kids, was to see through your senses what a bee sees and does,” Carlisle says. “All the pieces are interactive in the show, so you’ll be able to touch them, see videos, and there will be small cast bees around the Berry Center that you have to find, so you become a bee scavenger.”

To simulate how bees gather pollen, there also will be a giant bee leg that visitors can pack with felt pollen balls. “It’s all sense oriented,” Carlisle says, “so, hopefully, when you leave, you won’t be so scared of them and will appreciate them.”

Carlisle and Dillon hope the exhibition can then move around the state and region, showing at botanical gardens and other places where a broad section of the public can learn from and enjoy the interactive presentation.

“I think bumblebees are fantastic fuzzy ambassadors for pollinators, and people should be aware that they can be found in these incredible places,” Dillon says. “We want to foster an excitement for doing science. If the public can get hands-on experience with the science, that’s exciting.”

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