We really don't have a good idea of how well wild bees are holding up to habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation plus whatever effects climate change, imported bees, parasites, and diseases may be having. We do know that some bees are in decline. The data on the current status of most bees are patchy at best, and few areas have been well studied. Bee surveys take a huge amount of time and money, and someone has to identify all those bees.
~from. p. 148 of Our Native Bees
Our Native Bees: North America's Endangered Pollinators and the Fight to Save Them by Paige Embry is just what it sounds like - a book about bees that are native to North America, their declining numbers, and what bees do for humans -- and one woman's quest to learn all about them. But, it goes well beyond that, into talk about how little research has been done about bees, how many species of bees exist (20,000!!!) , why honeybees (which are not native to North America) and bumblebees get all the attention but aren't the best pollinators, how poisoning bees that carry worms damaging to trees interrupts a natural cycle without actually helping the trees, whether burning or mowing certain areas is better or worse for bees, etc.
The author, Paige Embry, has a passion for learning about bees and visited with experts across the country to interview them, view bee collecting and identification in person, and basically gobble up every bit of bee information she can. And, Embry describes her experience with a marvelous sense of humor:
The method I learned at Gordon's bee class involves puting the bees in a tea strainer (hopefully one dedicated to lab use) that functions as a tiny bee tumble dryer as you blow hot air from a hair dryer at the strainer. The purpose of the rinse and blow dry is to fluff up the bee's hair. You can see the colors better, it's easier to move the hair to look for markings, and, well, the bees just look better. I know they're dead and the last part shouldn't matter, but I've acted as a mortician for quite a few bees at this point, and I don't want them to be preserved forevermore in the midst of a bad hair day. So I coif dead bees. My children find me creepy.
~from p. 105 of Our Native Bees
I was out in the field with an old bee biologist once, and a bunch of little bees were zipping about. He said they were halictids (sweat bees). They were tiny. I wondered how he knew that they were halictids and not, say, Ceratina or Hylaeus. So I asked him. His response was something along the lines of "they have a certain gestalt." Gestalt? Well, pish, that's not going to help me learn to identify them.
If you have even the slightest interest in bees, you should definitely read Our Native Bees. It'll give you a well-rounded idea of what's going on with bees -- the threats they face, the way they're managed by humans and how important they are to American crops, what "colony collapse" is all about, and much more. Our Native Bees is crammed with gorgeous photos. It's a beautiful book on high-quality paper.
Highly recommended - One of the books that helped break my brief February reading slump, I could be found leaning forward, rapt, for days as I read Our Native Bees, occasionally smiling at something funny the author said or reading favorite parts aloud to my husband. The most important takeaway from this book:
The one thing you can do to help bees, no matter where you live: plant flowers. Even if you live in an apartment and only have a small outdoor space, planting flowers can make a huge difference to bee populations. We've just potted some spring flowers. I don't know if we're near anything that needs pollinating as a food source but the author said sometimes city flowers are closer to areas where food sources are planted than fields in the middle of the boonies, so you never know . . . you could be helping provide the food at your local market and helping strengthen your local bee population.
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