The BeeSearch Blog

The BeeSearch Blog (31)

A collection of tales from the bee search.

On to the Bug of the Week.

One of these days, I'll actually post one of the Hemiptera (that is, a bug) as the Bug of the Week, just to prove that I know what one is.  Today, I'm going to demonstrate my embrace of the vernacular by adding a couple of legs.

This week’s bee is short and sweet: it’s an Andrena, a mining bee, and a relative of the bees nesting in the alley behind my house.

It’s doing something very unusual.

I mostly write about native bees, but I also work with honeybees.  I don’t keep my own hives – I travel too much, and under Seattle law, I’d have to build my apiary on the roof – but I stay in practice by working with the beekeepers-in-training at the UW greenhouse.  Since their blog is on the quiet side right now (hint, hint, y’all,) I’ll talk about UW bee events from time to time.

Checkers and Chafers

Which came first, the flower or the bee?

Despite the setup, that is not a trick question.  It has an answer, and as is often the case where insects are concerned, the answer is best expressed with a beetle.  Or, in this case, two beetles.

When I first started studying pollination, I assumed that I would just be studying bees.  For the most part, that’s how it worked out, but I also assumed that there would only be bees to study. That turned out to be wrong.

Sure, I knew about the odd moth-pollinated orchid or bat-pollinated cactus, and I knew that the adults of many insect species live on nectar, and so provide opportunities for incidental pollination.  Still, I thought that the only real pollen specialists – that is, species that can digest pollen, that have specific adaptations for carrying and living with pollen, that show up for pollen even if the flower doesn’t have any nectar – are bees.

Then I saw this thing.

Early Miners

In the Spring, a young bee’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.

This week’s bees are the six-legged Lotharios that are swarming around a rock wall near my house.  They are about as young as bees can get: as far as I can tell, they started hatching out this morning.  So far, only the males have emerged, and they are waiting with great enthusiasm for some company.

It’s time for a quick public service announcement.

I am completely thrilled that the Western Bumblebee (Bombus occidentalis) has provoked so much interest over the past few months.  I intend to spend the next few months collecting data on as many local populations as possible, so I strongly encourage anyone and everyone to report any workers, and especially any nests, that you see.  The more populations we learn about, the better our chances are of understanding their decline and (I hope) their recovery.

That said, it’s easier to report a sighting of B. occidentalis if you can tell it apart from other bees, so here you go:

How to tell Western Bumblebees apart from Anything Else*

(*) On the West Coast, between San Diego and Vancouver Island

This week’s bug is a stroppy little beast I ran into on a hike outside of Wenatchee last May.  I’ve heard these referred to as bombardier beetles, but they’re not: all the two have in common is the attitude, and the ability to make potential predators who approach from behind wish they had done something else.

Hail to the queens

This week’s bees are bumblebee queens.  Specifically, they’re some of the queens that have just started to emerge from their winter hibernation.

In temperate latitudes, bumblebee nests go through an annual cycle.  The details vary a bit from place to place and species to species, but this is the general story:

I have a few prints up in the Clarridge Gallery at East Shore Unitarian Church in Bellevue.  It’s a joint show with my friend Ron Hammond (who has done some really creative work with albumen prints made from old glass negatives) and Richard McGehee.

My contribution is a series of large canvas prints of native bees.  Those of you who have seen my fine art prints know that I’ve been working on techniques to bring a touch of the fantastic to documentary photography.  I’ve done bee prints before, but this is the first time since the Fountains series that the technique and subject matter have really come together as well as I could have hoped.  I think it’s my best work so far.

(The last image is a print of the photograph that ran in the Seattle Times.  It's also the image that I sent to the UW and the Xerces Society to establish that there was an established population north of Lake Washington, and that a recovery might be underway.)

We’re having a reception at 6 PM on April 23, followed by a talk at 7.  The title of the talk is “Six Legged Bigfoot: the Rediscovery of the Western Bumblebee.”  It is the story of our most prominent native pollinator, its fall from the brink of domestication to the realm of rumored sightings and blurry photographs, and the effort to understand its possible recovery.

All prints are for sale.  All proceeds will support our effort to collect DNA samples from surviving populations of Western bumblebees.


Clarridge Gallery, 12700 SE 32nd St, Bellevue, WA 98005 (across I-90 from Factoria)


April 23, 6 PM (reception) and 7 PM (presentation)

Come one, come all!

For obvious reasons, I talk about bumblebees a lot.  For rather distressing reasons, the conversation often turns to the mysteries of jet-setting parasites and intercontinental gene flow.  Sometimes it seems like these are forces that operate in the background, either by agricultural mistake or in somebody’s unscreened ballast water, but this week’s bugs (yes, beetles) are reminders that species invasion can take place right out in the open.

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