Spring is right around the corner, which means flowers will soon be in bloom and bees will return to pollinate them. But now,more than ever,we need to help save the bees.
SUNY New Paltz sculpture professor Emily Puthoff and fourth-year sculpture BFA Lindsay Loforté aim to save the bees by educating the public on how to do so and creating 3D printed bee habitats.
Puthoff, co-founder of the Hudson Valley Bee Habitat (HVBH), has a mission: “To pollinate public engagement with the environment and each other through the arts, bees and mindfulness.”
The HVBH is related to a sculpture class assignment about sustainability Puthoff gave a few years ago. The ultimate goal of the project is to collaborate with the Kingston Bee-Line to do a large-scale public art piece, create an education workshop, and place the habitats in various backyards.
“I wanted to give them an assignment about sustainability and I thought, ‘Well, bees are about sustainability and they’re in the news’ and I didn’t know anything about bees and why they were dying, like literally nothing,” Puthoff said. “I was like, ‘Oh, there’s colonies that’s something.’ So I invited a local beekeeper, Chris Hart, to class to teach us about honey bees and [he] totally blew our minds.”
Through research and the SUNY New Paltz Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE), Puthoff and Loforté have created 3D printed designs of habitats for solitary bees, a type of bee that isn’t as aggressive or large in size and does not have a colony or queen to protect. For materials, they used acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic, which is designed to be sent out and sold, and polylactide acetate (PLA) plastic as the bases of the habitat.
Ideally, this type of bee would be looking for a series of tubes that are nesting quality, so inside there are cardboard casted tubes made out of reeds to mimic the type of environment a female bee would be attracted to for laying eggs.
“The housing is the same and it has a little lip and has this silicon band and the tops are different,” Puthoff said. “You’ll see in the museum all of our designs. We wanted to base them off of different flower forms, mostly for the humans.”
Although the habitats have yet to be tested in the elements, most of the challenges Puthoff and Loforté face are receiving funding and a general misunderstanding of bees. They’ve realized that the public believes any kind of bee will sting. However, further education will help relieve that fear.
Unlike honeybees, solitary bees do not produce honey or have a territory to protect. They’ll only sting if you step on them, but some of these types of bees don’t have stingers that can penetrate your skin. None of them would affect your pets or children, Loforté emphasized.
“While solitary bees don’t create honey, they’re far more efficient pollinators and they’re non-aggressive,” she said. “They’re much easier to invite and they’ll come and go and won’t bother you. They can do their job under the radar like little bee ninjas. Why wouldn’t a family want to learn about that? Why wouldn’t the public want that if it comes with all the benefits, but a lot less of the risks?”
This semester, Loforté and Puthoff will be testing their habitats in the elements, assigning them to various locations, taking notes, as well as experimenting with different colors and patterns that are made to attract solitary bees.
“I wanted to highlight the importance of working with student researchers,” Puthoff said. “It’s a real high impact learning opportunity that at a liberal arts education college and we need more of that.”
The designs can be found in “Intimately Unfamiliar,” which is open at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art until April 9.
For more information about the HVBH, visit hvbeehabitat.org and follow them on social media @hvbees.