The Great Georgia Pollinator Census
What: A statewide count of pollinator insects organized by the UGA Extension
When: Friday and Saturday, Aug. 23-24
More info: www.GGAPC.org
Now is the time to help preserve bee populations — and all pollinators — in Georgia.
That’s the message from the organizers of the Great Georgia Pollinator Census, a project of the University of Georgia Extension that aims to provide a snapshot of pollinator populations in the Peach State.
Bumble bees, carpenter bees, honey bees, small bees, flies, butterflies and even wasps help keep plants healthy and spreading in the state and across the nation — from grand-scale agriculture feeding millions to the zucchini growing behind your house.
You’ve likely read at least one story about threats to these helpful bugs from pesticides and other problems. The census gives you the chance not only to do something about it, but to learn about the world around you.
“What we’re hoping is that, first of all, by getting involved in this project the people who are counting are already very much aware of new things in their garden,” said Becky Griffin, community and school garden coordinator for the UGA Extension and organizer of the census.
Griffin manages the Georgia Pollinator Census Facebook group, and she’s already seen people, including many teachers, learn new things about native plants.
“You’ll see people posting, ‘I’ll never look at my garden the same way again,’ or, ‘What is this and how can I protect it?’” she said.
On Friday and Saturday, Aug. 23-24, Georgians can keep count of pollinators they see in their yards, gardens or community spaces and report that data back to Griffin, who works in Blairsville.
Wondering why the project is coming in the August heat? A few reasons: There will be plants blooming in every part of Georgia in late August and school will be back in session but not long enough to wrap teachers and students in test preparation.
Griffin has been organizing the census for the past two years, and she’s braced for big things come the end of next week.
“Originally when I started this project, I was hoping for 1,000 (participants),” Griffin said on Thursday, Aug. 15. “I think we’re going to get thousands and thousands.”
The census has taken off as a back-to-school project for teachers throughout the state, including some in Hall County, and among garden clubs.
The Hall County Master Gardeners, the Georgia Native Plant Society and the Redbud Project have organized a count at 9:30 a.m. Friday, Aug. 23, in Wilshire Park across from Longwood Park in Gainesville, according to Karin Hicks with the UGA Extension office in Hall County. There are at least 33 other events in the state like the one in Wilshire Park.
But the census is more than just an educational exercise. Griffin said she’s hoping UGA will learn about population density of specific groups of insects in urban compared to rural areas and among varying regions of the state.
Linda Tillman, the president of the Georgia Beekeepers Association, said she’s keen to learn how populations of pollinators are faring in urban Atlanta, where she says mosquito spraying is more prevalent than in rural areas.
“Neighbors all through my neighborhood spray for mosquitos, which is not the way to kill mosquitos,” said Tillman, who lives in Atlanta. “The way to get rid of mosquitoes is to use mosquito dunks in standing water. I think that’s contributed tremendously to how much fewer honeybees we see on the flowers around my neighborhood.”
Mosquito dunks contain a bacteria that kills the larval blood suckers.
It’s not just honey bees that the census will be counting — and even beyond that, the census could raise an interesting question: Do honey bees crowd out native bees when competing for resources?
“For example, if you’re counting on a St. John’s Wort and you see 30 honey bees and one native bee, and I know you have a beekeeper nearby, then that tells me maybe, perhaps, those honey bees are out-competing the native bees,” Griffin said. “Or it could be the other way around. I work at the Mountain Research Station in Blairsville, and we have 60 hives up there, but I’ll see lots and lots of bumblebees on the St. John’s Wort and only two honeybees.”
Insect and plant identification guides are available at www.GGAPC.org, and Hall County agents will be available to take identification questions during the event.
Ultimately, by teaching the public that insects play a critical role in feeding humanity, and by gathering data on Georgia insect populations, Griffin hopes the census will be helpful in creating sustainable habitat for pollinators across the state
During the census, the project website will include a page to submit information collected to Griffin and other researchers. The portal will be open through Wednesday, Aug. 28, after which she’ll begin putting together the results of the count.
And it’ll be a long time coming for the agent.
“I have always loved bees my whole life. I was the geeky kid who went to the library and checked out the book about how bees work,” Griffin said. ‘Now, I would visit these community and school gardens and see these beautiful four-by-eight beds of plants — no flowers — and gardeners who were experienced gardeners say to me, ‘I don’t understand why I don’t have any (vegetables)” or ‘How come I’m having all these pest insects?’”
“So, to me, after thinking all that over and over, it occurred to me that people just need to learn about our native insects.”