About 10 years ago, bees all over the US started dying off in droves and no one could figure out why. The blight kept spreading and the mystery deepened, getting lots of media attention and an apocalyptic-sounding name: Colony Collapse Disorder. Farmers, understandably, panicked. Without bees to pollinate their crops, production would be decimated—from blueberries to oranges to carrots, almost everything in the produce aisle would disappear. Now, symptoms of Colony Collapse Disorder aren’t as common as they used to be but bees are still dying off at an alarming rate.

Beekeepers and researchers are working around the clock to find out why and farms are finding ways to cope. Incredibly, robotic pollination drones already exist, and Monsanto recently began using them. While this is technically a solution to the problem, to me it seems myopic. The widespread death of pollinators isn’t an isolated issue, it’s symptomatic of a larger one—rather than working around the problem, we should be listening to the alarm bell and looking at ecosystems on a larger scale to find out what’s wrong. We should also be paying attention to other kinds of bees besides the charismatic honeybee, which has been getting the lion’s share of media attention. Native bees are dying, too. Honeybees aren’t even native to North America; even though they’re beautiful organisms and do their job amazingly well, native bees are often much better suited to their environment and don’t require as much care or resources as honeybees do.

So what can you, the reader, do to help?

Enter The Bees’ Needs, a CU-based organization that encourages locals to shelter and learn about native Colorado bees*. It’s a citizen science program (started by CU researchers Alexandra Rose and Virginia Scott) that provides all the resources you need for free and will give you and your family a fun learning experience all summer long. Once you sign up, you’ll receive a wooden bee block (basically a little bug hotel) that you can put in your yard or on your porch. As the growing season progresses, you’ll start to get visitors who find the drilled holes in the block to be a perfect home. Just record observations about who’s coming and going and send it in. Easy! You’ll also get an intimate, up-close look at the life of a pollinator, and you’ll contribute essential information to an important cause.

Knowing what kinds of organisms are living here is basic and vital information we need to understand our changing landscape. Without this bedrock, researchers can’t begin to understand why pollinators are dying and what to do about it. Local citizens are the perfect people to help with this: you can provide your eyes, enthusiasm, and experiences to help your community in a way that just can’t be accomplished otherwise. Science is for everyone! Get involved and the bees will thank you.

*Full disclosure: I wrote for their blog last summer, but I hope it’s clear I’m not sharing this organization to self-promote. Their mission is a worthy one and I hope to spread the word as far and wide as possible!

Featured image: photo by Jack Dykinga, courtesy of USDA-ARS