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Student Research Spotlight - Briana Ezray

Posted: May 1, 2015

This is the 5th of thirteen short news articles written by students, during the professional development class, about each other's research.

Bumble bee style: who wears it better?
by  Yuhao Huang

You have certainly seen fuzzy, buzzing, chubby bees—bumble bees—hovering around flowers in parks and gardens. But have you taken a close look at them? Did you observe the color patterns on their bodies? If so, you might have found the variations of those color patterns to be really amazing and fascinating.
One of the people intrigued by bumble bees’ color patterns is Briana Ezray, a Penn State Ph.D. working with Assistant Professor of Entomology Heather Hines.
 
“In certain areas, it appears that different bumble bee species are all converging on one color pattern,” Ezray said. “I want to know what keeps the color forms to certain regions, how predators learn and potentially drive the color patterns, and what environmentally constrains the color complexes.”

According to Ezray, researchers have found that bumble bee species in the tropics tend to be darker, while paler species often exist in the intermediate northern latitude area. And bumble bees with a lot of bands are spread throughout the world. How does this happen?

Ezray added that to understand the effects of environment on color patterns, she is looking at 19 factors, such as temperature and the number of sunny days, to see how they relate to the boundaries of color pattern zones.

Furthermore, “bumble bees are vulnerable to many predators such as spiders, birds and badgers,” said Ezray. “As a defense strategy, bumble bees warn their predators by showing their unique color patterns.”

To examine this, Ezray is looking through museum specimens’ color patterns and mapping the location and color pattern of each specimen. So far, she has visited many museums, including the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

“I worked in museums in high school and going back to museums feels like a dream come true,” she said.

Bumble bees are important pollinators around the world.
 
“The more we know about their ecology, the better we can conserve them,” Ezray said.