Patrick Chwalek

The South American Bombus dahlbomii is one of the largest bee species in the world. It can grow up to 1.6 inches long and, because of its size and furry appearance, is colloquially called a “flying mouse.” Native to Chile and Argentina, it is endangered due to invasive bee populations. The Bombus terrestris (European bumblebee) has been imported for decades to promote commercial agricultural growth, but it has spread across the region and competes for territory with native populations.

With BuzzCam, we aim to develop a noninvasive system to monitor wild bee populations to gain further insight into their population density and behavior patterns. Currently, unscalable human observations are the standard for studying and identifying bee species. We propose using novel acoustic sensors and cameras to detect bumblebees and capture their buzzes, which are unique to each species. This multi-modal system could enhance conservation monitoring for bumblebees in their natural habitats.

We've designed the acoustic system from the ground up, paying special attention to reducing any noise artifacts that can influence the quality of the wildlife recordings. With material assistance from SAATI, we designed and tested a mechanical enclosure around our microphones to reduce wind noise while not significantly impacting the audio quality and system robustness to the elements. Our system also integrates a variety of environmental sensors and capabilities to run on-device machine learning algorithms to increase the duration of deployment in remote regions. All the data is efficiently stored on large-capacity SD cards provided by Kioxia but the systems have the ability to stream data wirelessly.  

In March 2024, we deployed this system alongside National Geographic Explorers and professors Marina Arbetman and Cristian A. Villagra Gil in Puerto Blest, Argentina. We collected over 100 hours of recordings and over 10,000 10-second annotated bee buzzes from native and invasive bee species.