Donning the large bee wings and antennae for the first of many times that day, I realised I was going to be in for an interesting experience helping out at the Festival of Nature, the UK’s largest free celebration of the natural world.
I was volunteering in the University of Bristol tent helping run a fun game of chance, speed and strategy which pitted bumblebee versus child. The scenario: flower meadows are too complex for a bee to remember which flowers in a patch they have visited, so choosing a flower to collect some pollen for the hive is essentially random. Flying to a new patch guarantees fresh flowers but this takes time and energy.
So what’s the best way of getting the most pollen for the hive in a limited amount of time? Do you test every flower meticulously before flying on to the next patch, fly randomly from patch to patch, or something in between?
Dr Andy Higginson, who invented the game, is part of the Modelling Animal Decisions lab that studies the ‘rules of thumb’ used by animals to make decisions. The game is based on the findings of a study by Prof Dave Goulson, the head of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. Bees decide when to fly to a new patch not on the amount of time that they have spent there, but on the number of “failed attempts” in a row. Overall, this simple rule gives a near-optimal result. For more information on the game and how bees play it, click here.
During my breaks, I took the time to look around the other areas – but there were so many areas I simply didn’t get the time to see everything. There was plenty else going on the Bristol Uni tent and Bristol Zoo, UWE, and the BBC Natural History Unit also had exhibits in Millennium Square. Live entertainment and 40 green organisations in Anchor Square, and talks in the Amphitheatre also looked like they were attracting many visitors.
I was even spoilt for choice during lunch, with market stalls specialising in everything from sausages, Indian, smoothies and falafel to name just a few. I had a great time volunteering despite the unsurprisingly poor weather on the Saturday – I’ll definitely be helping out next year, with or without the bee wings!