03 Dr. Joseph Wilson – The Bees in Your Backyard


Speaker 1: From the Oregon State University Extension Service, this is Pollination, a podcast that tells the stories of researchers, land managers, and concerned citizens making bold strides to improve the health of pollinators. I'm your host, Dr. Adoni Melopoulos, assistant professor in pollinator health in the Department of Horticulture. Today's podcast is about the bees in your backyard, and I'm joined by Dr. Joseph Wilson from the University of Utah. Dr. Wilson actually grew up in Utah and was biologically inclined from birth or so he tells me, and in fact, at age two, he declared to his parents that when he grew up, he wanted to be a lion.

Again, while he didn't make it quite to line hood, his academic studies in biology at Utah State University provided the train to be the next best thing, an assistant professor of biology. His research focuses primarily on the evolution and ecology of bees and wasps. Why bees and wasps? Well, Joseph says that the lives of bees and wasps provide as much drama, mystery, humor, and intrigue as any prime time TV show, but without the commercials. As a way to share his fascination of bees, Joseph, along with his colleague, recently authored a book, The Bees in Your Backyard, A Guide to North American Bees, which we're going to be talking about extensively in the podcast. Now, he's an excellent communicator and has been invited to share his knowledge about bees on NPR, Canada Public Radio, and at speaking events across the country, you may want to also, in the show notes, we're going to link you to a TED talk he did, which is really wonderful. Joseph loves that his research enables him and his wife and three kids to travel around the country, collecting and photographing the beautiful bees and wasps that live all around us.

And those photographs, I have to say, are remarkable. So I hope you enjoy this podcast about bees in your backyard with Dr. Joseph Wilson. Thanks so much, Joseph, for joining us on the podcast. Now, as a researcher, you asked some fundamental questions about insect evolution, but your first book, which was co-authored with the botanist, Olivia Messenger Carroll, is written for people interested in bees in their backyard. What motivated the two of you to write this book rather than a more technical book about insect evolution? Yeah, it's a good question.

Speaker 2: So Olivia and I have both been working with bees on and off for the last 15 or 20 years, and early on when we would be out collecting bees, Olivia, for her master's degree, worked on bees, and I was a technician for her. But we would be out collecting bees out in the deserts of southern Utah, and people would want to ask us about bees. And it was pretty clear that they didn't know much about it, but they were interested. And then more recently, we've seen a lot of news stories and various blogs and other posts about bees and saving the bees. But we realized as these were coming out that a lot of people, including these news agencies, don't really know what bees are.

And there was a lot of misinformation getting spread around. And so we wanted to make a book that was more accessible to people. There are several technical bee books available, but they're really, really thick, both physically and metaphorically. And so we wanted something that was more easily digestible by regular people, not just for the academic bee researchers out there.

Speaker 1: Well, it's funny. I'm an academic bee researcher, and I find the book captivating. But I've talked to so many people who are amateurs who've just been... I was at a meeting the other day, and I just saw it tucked into somebody's knapsack, a beekeeping meeting.

Well, it's great to hear. You guys go through a lot of trouble at the beginning of the book to help readers understand what bees are. And what are these fundamental characteristics that make a bee? And, you know, added to sort of what you mentioned earlier, what are the most common misconceptions that people hold when they talk about bees?

Speaker 2: Yeah, so it's kind of a tricky thing. And it's a problem that we see a lot is people misunderstanding what bees are. And so you see a lot of news stories, for example. We've been to kind of collect screenshots of various articles that say something about saving the bees or new studies shows pesticides are harming bees, but have a picture of a fly on it, for example. I saw this t-shirt for sale online.

I wanted to buy it. It says save the bees. But underneath that has a picture of a cicada.

Oh, wow. Just all these misunderstandings about what bees are and what they're not. It can kind of hinder the progress about saving bees if we're just kind of missing the whole, sometimes missing the whole insect order. So first, what is the characteristic of a bee? There are several kind of technical characteristics, but it's easiest to talk about the differences between bees and things that are often mistaken for bees. For example, there's a lot of flies that look like bees. And those are often what we see in news stories that says save the bees and it's a picture of a fly. And it's because there's some really good bee mimics, flies that have evolved to look like bees so they don't get eaten by birds. But flies can be superficially similar to bees, but we can tell them apart in our gardens by looking at some key characteristics.

What are those characteristics? Also, for example, flies, eyes, well, especially the flies that look like bees, their eyes almost fill their entire head. They have really big eyes and a really short antennae.

So a bee will have kind of, I guess I call them regular sized eyes, but relatively smaller eyes than a fly. And they have long antennae sticking out the front of their head. The flies have a head full of eye and hardly any antenna. And also flies only have two wings. Bees have four.

Now that's kind of hard to count when you see it crawling around on a flower. Also, flies don't have big hairy legs. A lot of bees have hairs covering their legs to carry pollen and the flies don't have that. And so if you see something that looks kind of like a bee, has small antennas, big eyes and skinny little legs, it's probably a fly.

Speaker 1: You have this really great diagram in the book that has some very, very clothe, you probably curated them very carefully because they are, if you were just to look at them on the surface, wasp, bee and fly, they look identical. Yeah.

Speaker 2: And so ever since I was an undergraduate years ago, I was fascinated by this mimicry of various insects with bees. And so I've kind of collected pictures of things that look really similar, but there's some amazing mimics out there that are flies that look just like bees.

And so that's, of course, that's another subject, maybe for another book in the future. Wasps also look a lot like bees, or I guess you could say bees look a lot like wasps. And the reason for that is they're closely related. Wasps are close cousins, evolutionarily. And so physically, there's very few differences that are consistent between bees and wasps. A lot of times people think of wasps as hair lists, they have skinny wasps and people often say they look mean. And while it's kind of true for a lot of wasps, including that they look mean, it's not always true. There are some wasps that are kind of hairy and there are some bees that are kind of hairless with skinny wasps. So the technical difference is that bees have branched hairs on their body and wasps have simple hairs. So a branched hair is kind of like a hair with a lot of split ends. And so somewhere on a bee's body, you'll be able to see these branched hairs.

Sometimes it means you have to look really close with a microscope or a magnifying glass. But that's kind of why bees get the stereotype of looking fuzzy because they have these branched hairs. But that's also kind of hard to tell when there's a bee or a wasp on your flower in your yard.

You don't want to get a magnifying glass and try to find a branched hair. But as you get familiar with looking at bees and wasps, you can kind of get this, this body image or a search image for what a bee is and what a wasp is. Another kind of telling characteristic with some wasps that look similar to bees is wasps often have some shiny silver hairs on their face, kind of above where their lip might be if they had lips, kind of like a shiny silver mustache.

And so in certain lights, you see this silver hair shining back at you. No bees have silver mustache. And so that's something that kind of helps when you're on your quest to tell if it's a bee or a wasp.

Speaker 1: But the key thing I think is that there is a way in which if you start with a concern for bees and you really may be missing a lot if you don't know what those bees are and there is something to be gained from being able to differentiate them. Exactly.

Speaker 2: And then other misconceptions that go along with bees, a lot of them are centered around a misunderstanding of how many bees there are. So most people in the world are familiar with honeybees and they will often spout out facts like honeybees live in hives with the queen and they make honey and they can stay once before they die. All these things we kind of seen the movies like the cartoon bee movie, right?

There's thousands of workers and they're working hard and all that. But those facts are only true for the honeybee. The other 3,999 species of bee in North America don't make honey. Most of them don't live in hives.

Most of them can sting you once before, I mean, sting you lots of times without dying. And so all these kind of facts we think about bees really aren't true. Most bees, for example, live in the ground. They are solitary and they dig a hole in the ground. So solitary means they live in a hole. A single female bee digs a hole, makes little rooms in that hole and that's where she lays her eggs. And so there's no queen or hive or workers or any of that stuff. And so these misconceptions can lead to misguided efforts to save bees because we don't realize that these holes in the ground with bugs coming in and out of them are bees. We just think of a paper mache nest hanging from a tree like we saw in Winnie the Pooh. Yeah, right. Which is actually a wasp nest.

Speaker 1: Well, I suppose that there's two problems there. There's one of being able to tell bees from other critters, but there is, I think you're right, when people are concerned about bee decline, if they do get a bee right on the icon, it's often a honeybee. And it discounts or shifts the focus to one species when, as you point out, there's thousands of other species in North America.

Speaker 2: Exactly. I'm actually giving a presentation at a local beekeeper workshop next week. And my goal is to teach them about all these other bees. It's great that people care about honeybees and are bringing honeybee hives into their yard. But often that does very little to help save all the other bees. And sometimes it actually has a negative impact of the other bees. Because if artificially increased honeybee populations too much, that can cause competition between honeybees and the native bees. And it can have negative influence on safe bees overall.

Speaker 1: You know, one thing I think is remarkable about the bees in your backyard is how clear and delightful the writing style is. It's really, the metaphors, it's a really readable book. And I think the images are stunning. And a lot of thoughts been put into the diagrams. It's really, it's really accessible for people who are, you know, may have heard about bees and want to learn more. But as I said, right all the way up to, you know, graduate students who are starting a bee project and, you know, want to get a primer. So you must have had something in mind, a reader in mind and how they might be using this book.

What was that picture? And the second thing is you must also be hearing back from people who've been using the book. And are there any surprises as to, you know, how people are actually using it?

Speaker 2: Yeah, that's, well, thank you for the compliments. First off, that's good to hear. And so it was the challenges Olivia and I faced in, even just starting off thinking about this book is you have to think about who the audience is. And that was challenging because we wanted the audience to be broader than most people consider for books like this. We wanted it to be useful for academics.

And we wanted it to be useful for someone who has never read a book about bees in their life, but is interested in bees in their yard. And so we wanted it to kind of be broadly appealing. And so it's good to hear that you think that it is being used that way. And I have to give Olivia a lot of the credit for this. She's probably the influence for a lot of the clarity in this book. She's an excellent teacher. Well, both of us teach for a living. And I think a lot of our teaching styles came out in this book.

We wanted it to be kind of conversational feeling and intriguing and exciting in all these different ways. But we have, it's been out for about a year now. And we've heard back from a lot of people using the book. Sometimes I'll get random emails from people that say that they're enjoying the book and they send me a picture of a bee they found in their yard that they can't quite tell what it is, or they wanted to verify what they think it is based on my book. And so that's kind of fun to get bee pictures from around the country and see that people actually chasing bees around with cameras.

I think it's pretty fun. Some coolest things that have happened is, so there was a national parks employee that bought the book just on her own down in New Mexico. And she enjoyed it so much that she decided to throw what they called a pollinator fiesta. So they were having a pollinator party down in northern New Mexico to celebrate bees and pollination and diversity. It was all because of her reading this book and realizing how neat the world of bees was. We actually found it because Olivia was invited to this fiesta and had a fun time meeting the people that were celebrating bees, kind of all stemming from our book, which is cool.

Speaker 1: We talked earlier about this and the thing that thought was funny about it, it sort of dawned on Olivia as she was at the event that this was the case. Yes, exactly.

Speaker 2: Well, and it's happened, I was just talking to Olivia the other day and she was telling me, she went to this kind of a neighborhood potluck party a couple of weeks ago, and she's in the living room of somebody's house and then she hears someone come in the door start yelling, where's Olivia? And she started getting worried like, oh, what's happening? Like, someone mad at me. And it was someone that happens to live in her neighborhood that bought our book and somehow found out that Olivia was in the neighborhood and he wanted her to come sign the book and talk about it. And so it turned out to be not someone's scary looking for her, but it was a good experience.

Speaker 1: Really love the writing in the book. There's little metaphors like leaf discs for leaf cutter bees being wallpaper or the pollen ball that solitary bees make is a loaf. I don't know, the language in it is just so great. And I think a real treasure of the book is you could work into the families and you get this really, they're not just bees, but they have these very rich lives that go with them.

And I think that's really wonderful. And it does sort of present to the reader this challenge because it has this really great key. But I imagine for a lot of amateurs, it's just daunting to sort of embark on trying to get to those wonderful descriptions from the bee that you're holding in your hand. Can you talk a little bit more about those rewards that await the person who can figure out what that bee is and how to get over that intimidation of using these keys?

Speaker 2: Yeah, designing the key was one of the things that Olivia and I stewed over the most in and putting this book together because we both realized that you can't really know what bee you're looking at without a key, at least at some level. It takes a long time to be familiar with the bees. And so we wanted a key in there, but at the same time, like you mentioned, we realized that most people get really intimidated and turned off by keys, especially bee keys. Bees are somewhat tricky to key out.

There's a lot of minor, seemingly insignificant characteristics on the underside of the belly on the left side or things, weird little specific things that most people aren't going to look at. And so we wanted it to be useful, but also not overbearing. So we've tried to, we did a lot of photographs with a microscope and tried to highlight things in various ways with shading and arrow things. But we realized that at one point we wanted to take the key out and not even have it in there. But we realized that the key is such an exciting part of bee biology. For us, it's kind of like a treasure map. And so like all treasure maps, there's riddles involved and there's tricks and turns, because you can't just go right to the treasure, right? You have to go through this adventure to get to the treasure. And so the bee key is your adventure to get to the treasure and the treasure is understanding the bees. And once you get that, I'm assuming if you follow a lot of treasure maps, it gets easier.

And it's the same with bee keys. As you look at it more, it gets easier and easier. And so pretty soon you're skipping over some of these things that used to be really complex, because you're getting more familiar with the terminology and the characteristics to look for. And so what it does is it really broadens your view, almost like putting on magic x-ray glasses.

And so you start seeing things in your yard that you never saw before, because what used to be three gray bees is now three very different creatures that look totally different. And so the advice I would give to someone about using a key is just stick with it. It might seem daunting at first, because most of the words, maybe 50% of the words in the key, might be things you've never heard before. But soon you'll get to know what those words mean, and then it just makes it so much more fun and exhilarating as you go on this adventure figuring out what bees you have.

Speaker 1: I have to say, you've made the Treasure Hunt really enjoyable. The highlighting and the graphic design makes those key characteristics non-ambiguous. It's like, okay, this is what I'm looking for. It's you guys have done a really tremendous job with that. Thank you. You know, and I do think this is a great point to plug, not only the book, which is really affordable and everybody should have a copy, but the Facebook page that you guys have, I'm an avid follower.

I love the posts that you're putting up with some really nice little, you know, short period. I can learn about a new bee species. I think it's a really effective social media outlet.

Speaker 2: Well, thank you. Yeah, we've actually, we took a break from it for a while, because when it's summertime, both of us would rather be out chasing bees than posting stuff. But we've made a concerted effort to try to post stuff fairly continuously on our, we have, you know, Instagram and Facebook and Twitter. So they're mostly all the same post, I mean, on all three avenues. But yeah, it's because it's another way to educate and excite people about bees.

Speaker 1: And listeners, you can get a hold of the links to this on the show notes. They're going to be listed below. So make sure to sign up. They're really great. Joseph, so your research is, you know, the research that you do, when you're not trying to educate and create this awareness of pollinators, the research you do is extremely far reaching and it involves a lot of different insects, not just bees. And you ask some pretty big evolutionary questions. How do you describe what these interests are? Are there any fundamental questions that sort of bind it all together for you?

Speaker 2: Yeah, that's a great question. So I mean, because I am interested in other things. I like bees a lot, but I also study velvet ants, which everyone should look up what velvet ants are. They're actually really cool wingless wasps. So a lot of arthropods in general is what I've studied because I'm interested in overall, interested in biodiversity. So how many species there are and why there's different kinds of species in different areas.

And so my interest in biodiversity is what are the drivers of biodiversity? Why are there more kinds of bees in the deserts of North America than there are in the jungles, for example? Why are there more bees in the West than in the East?

So there's some estimates that say East of the Mississippi River in the US, there's less bee species than just in the state of Utah. Wow. And so these patterns of diversity intrigue me. I'm interested in the evolution of that. What evolutionary events and evolutionary processes led to this biodiversity? But also, so that's the history of biodiversity. But what about the future of biodiversity? What can we do now to maintain biodiversity or to maintain a habitat that promotes biodiversity?

And so that's how my interests are all kind of tied together. I'm interested in these processes that are involved with biodiversity. And bees are one of these super diverse groups. So they're a great group to work on.

Speaker 1: Well, it strikes me that you go through the history of when people started working on some of these questions, insects were at the four of them. And I grew up reading natural history books like Gerald DeRal's books, but also on Refabre's books on really, in some ways, amateur natural history, just kind of having a piece of land and watching bee behavior and asking questions about it. And it strikes me that bees are particularly amenable to amateurs being able to do some pretty profound questions if they have the right questions and the right, not necessarily, you don't need a big laboratory to do, ask some pretty interesting questions on bees and broader questions like biodiversity, evolution and ecology. Now, I know there's been a lot of interest and some great initiatives, what they call citizen science, where people are engaging in doing some bee biology. What do you see as some of the challenges and what are some examples of what amateurs could do and how they could contribute to this body of knowledge?

Speaker 2: Yeah, so it's a positive movement that I've seen is that a lot of people involved with bee biology. And so one of the cool things about bees, well, bees and wasps in general, because there's so much that's not known still. And so most questions we ask about bees and wasps, or maybe not most, but a lot of them are still unanswered, for a different species or other things like that.

So a lot of the questions we can ask, we don't really know. How many bees go to this kind of flower in my yard? That's a valid scientific question. We can actually investigate that. The challenges with bees and it's bees science in general, but especially these science involving citizen scientists that may have less training is that bees are kind of hard to tell apart. And so, for example, Olivia and I have some research that we've been working on when we surveyed people across the country to see kind of what they knew about bees. And 99% of the people that responded to our survey thought bees were important. So that's really encouraging because everyone realized the importance of bees. But most people were dramatically underestimating the number of bee species in our country. I think the median estimate was 50 bee species.

Oh, really? One to 4,000. Wow. And so most people underestimated by at least a thousand species. And so what does that mean for conservation and for our efforts to save the bees? Well, if people don't realize how many bees there are, it kind of puts some stumbling blocks in the way of helping save the bees because they might be only focusing on the ones they're familiar with. We also asked in this survey, we showed pictures of 10 insects and asked people to identify which ones were bees, not what kind of bee or anything, but just what which ones are bees. And so most people knew a honey bee and a bumblebee were bees, you know, 95% or more. But there are some pretty common backyard bees, like some mason bees or some sweat bees, that most people didn't recognize them as a bee.

They thought they were probably something else. And so the problem there is when we were doing science, especially citizen-based science, we need to make sure that we are educating people effectively to recognize what are bees. If you wanted to do a survey for how many bees there were in a certain area, you need to make sure that the people that are surveying know what a bee looks like. And maybe that they realize that this little, small, quarter-inch-long black bug is a bee and not a fly or something else.

And so those are some of the challenges. But that being said, with the increased interest in bees, we're moving in the right direction. I think Olivia and I hope that in the near future, looking at bees would be similar to people looking at birds in their backyard. And so there are really difficult bird groups to identify. Flycatchers, for example, are not an easy group of birds to tell apart. But that doesn't stop birders from going out and trying to identify flycatchers or finches or sparrows or anything else. And so as more resources become available, like our book and other books that are continually being made, I think it gives people more resources to be able to do that.

Also, birders have a lot of resources online that they can look up pictures or they can take pictures and get verifications of their vacations. And we're getting to that point with bees, too. So there's various websites like iNaturalist or bugguide.net. And people will take pictures of bees and put those pictures up on those websites and the experts will identify them for them. And so I think that's a good avenue to get people involved with bee science is get people excited about taking pictures of bees, for example.

And then as they continue to learn about them, they'll soon be able to identify those bees themselves. Could it be great to do something like the Christmas bird count for birds? They make a big database of birds. And over the years, they can look at different broad patterns and spatial ecology, things like that. It'd be fun to do the same thing for bees, maybe do a summertime bird count, I mean, bee count, maybe a Fourth of July bee count when people go in their yards and how many bees are there.

That's a good idea. Or even in our own yards, we can do like I mentioned before, we can focus on certain kinds of flowers. And we can, as homeowners and citizens, we can try to count the number of different kinds of bees going to different flowers. Because that's a good bit of information for people to know is which flowers are supporting more kinds of bees. You know, then we can have lists of flowers to plant that will be best for a broad suite of bees rather than just for one or two kinds.

Speaker 1: Oh, right. So instead of, I guess, with a lot of these flower lists, you know that they're good for something. But if you had a lot of different backyard homeowners who could identify their bees, you could say, well, there seems to be a lot of specialists showed up here or.

Speaker 2: Yeah, exactly. And then we can look because in different regions, some bee species are very region specific. And so we could say in different regions, which kind of flowers work best.

And so if you move to a new part of the country, potentially you could look up online what flowers you should put in your yard. And I think those would all be great resources, both for people to be excited about bees and also for for the future of bees in our country.

Speaker 1: I guess, you know, one thing that comes to mind when thinking about ways to contribute is I often think about this in a state like Oregon, where, you know, I'm really curious about, you know, to be able to do do pollinator health. I need to know the background levels of pollinators and know how they've changed over time. And it strikes me that many jurisdictions, few jurisdictions around the world have a really kind of even a solid data set on pollinator levels historically. Is this something that could be tackled in like the next 10 years?

Speaker 2: You know, I'm not sure about timelines, but I think so. And I think this is really where I hope that some of the citizen science based bee research goes is because so there's a lot of research going into bee declines. But most most areas don't have historical data. And so it's like baseline data.

So in order to know if something is declining, if you never knew how much was there in the beginning. And so I think that what's really needed in this this new world of bee interest and bee decline research is we need baseline data. And so I think a lot of citizen science can give us that baseline data as people learn to identify the bees in their yard. It'd be great to have some kind of place to put that information. And so we could use it as baseline data. Then we can look at it over time or not just for declines, but for the opposite. It could also be true. If we knew how many bees were in our yard before we, you know, there escaped or before we took out some lawn and planted flowers, we could see what effect that was having on bee communities.

And so at this point, a lot of it is kind of hand waving. We say if you plant flowers and provide habitat, you'll get more bees. But it's a lot of that isn't quantified data at this point. And so, yeah, I think that would be one of the most important things we could do is get baseline data for different places. So in Utah, we have pretty good understanding of our bee diversity. There's been bee researchers here at various universities 50 years or more. But even even that, when we say in Utah, we often say we have over a thousand species and we say over a thousand because it's somewhere between a thousand and 1200. Because there's a lot of species that either are undescribed or we're not sure about.

And so, I mean, just last or two years ago, I did a small study with a student here just out in the kind of the backyard of our university. And we found a genus that wasn't known from Utah in the past.

Speaker 1: And so it's not just it's not just species level diversity that we're looking at. There's even whole genera that we didn't know were here. And then and as things change climatically and and culturally and we get more agricultural land or less agricultural land, the distributions will shift.

Speaker 2: And so we can see these shifts as if we're gathering this baseline data.

Speaker 1: Maybe one of the last things I want to ask you with this, you know, thinking about creating habitat, that positive idea that you had on the last question. What I really like about the book, another thing I really like about there's so many things is that there's this there's some great tips on developing bee habitat in your backyard, as well as these really kind of crisp, regionally specific plant lists. What are the first steps in developing a backyard bee habitat?

Speaker 2: Yeah, so so often people will go to Pinterest and they'll type in something like pollinator garden to get ideas. And the problem is Pinterest isn't isn't real life in a lot of cases.

And at least it's not my real life. So you see these you see these really immaculate pollinator gardens with little stone paths and all these really cool things. And you think, man, my yard is never going to look like that.

And so it can really kind of discourage a lot of people. But in reality, all you need to do the first step, at least to being a bee friendly yard would be to plant some flowers. And so there are some flowers that are better than others that attracting bees.

But in reality, most flowers will be a good first step. Roses aren't necessarily the best bee flower. Most bees don't go to our cultivated roses. But but there are lists all over the country, both regionally and statewide about good pollinator friendly flowers. One thing to keep in mind is kind of an interesting factoid is bees don't see the color red and so most bees don't visit red flowers. Wow, there you go.

Hey, yeah. So if you're going to plant something red, you might get hummingbirds, which do like red flowers, which would be excellent, but it might not be as attractive to bees. But so lots of different kinds of flowers, sunflowers are one great example of bee friendly flowers that grow in a lot of different areas. But then once we get flowers there, we can take take additional steps to provide habitat for bees.

And so, like I said, a lot of bees nest in the ground. All we need to do there is leave bare patches of ground, you know, avoid putting thick layers of mulch or ground cloth or anything like that. And just leave some dirt. And in fact, bees like kind of messy yards. They like areas with maybe some dead brush and like bare patches of dirt.

And they like old tree trunks with holes in them. And so so we can actually have a pretty messy yard that's a great bee friendly yard. You can besides leaving pieces of dirt for bees to nest in, you can build bee nest blocks.

And I know in the Pacific Northwest, it's fairly popular to have mason bees. And you can order order these nest blocks online. But you can even just build your own.

It's as simple as drilling holes in a piece of wood. These cavity nesting bees that in the wild would seek out abandoned beetle burrows and old trees. They can find these holes and they'll build their nest in them. And so there there's and you can make these bee nest blocks or bee hotels as fancy as you want.

There's some great, again, Pinterest ideas online to make them almost like yard sculptures, or you could have a square piece of wood with holes in them and the bees will nest in either.

Speaker 1: You know, Ron Spendel is one of the master gardeners in in around Portland. He has these great blocks with plexiglass on them. And, you know, I realized then, you know, you get all sorts of bees, will Carter bees instead of, you know, resin bees. But the one thing he's got, you probably know, there's this grass carrying wasp that you have out here that carry these ridiculously long blades of grass. They they collect caddied and put them in with their young. The things you can observe around these little plexiglass blocks is amazing. I just found it.

Speaker 2: That sounds awesome. I have to look that up because it's so fun to be able to watch these things. Olivia and I have said a lot that being able to like the lives of bees in our yard is more exciting. The nighttime sitcom that you could watch, there's this much humor and intrigue and suspense. And so it's and bees and wasps together makes it so much more interesting. You could have National Geographic in your backyard without having to to sit through any commercials.

Speaker 1: Well, I'm all for no commercials. And the last question I had, I have three questions we ask all the guests. And I guess the first one is just stemming from that. Is there a bee out there or a bee group that you kind of you're attracted to? You think or have these pretty awesome lives? Good entertainment. Yeah.

Speaker 2: So so I often tell people so it's not a specific species because that's tricky with bees, but my bee group that I like the most is a genus of bees. The genus name is Perdida.

We've been calling them fairy bees lately. So Perdida is over 600 different species and they're only found in northern Mexico and North America or United States, a few species into Canada. But 600 species, mostly in the desert, Southwest. And a lot of these species are strict specialists. So one Perdida will only go to globe mallows. Another Perdida only goes to sunflowers.

And there are a few that are broad generalists. But they're the smallest bees in North America are in this genus. In fact, the smallest bee is Perdida minima, which lives in the Sonoran Desert. And it's it's smaller than George Washington's nose on a quarter. It's only about two millimeters long.

Speaker 1: I've seen and you've got a great picture of a Perdida and a Carpenter bee sitting on quarters.

Speaker 2: Yes, exactly. So to show kind of the size diversity. But we so we call them fairy bees because Perdida often they're so small, but you often don't notice them because they're just like flying a buzzing around a flower and they look like little gnats or something. And they're they're often kind of metallicy green with some yellow kind of light colored. And so like fairies, they just flit around and go noticed.

And so someone someone I think someone on our Twitter account suggested fairy bees and we really liked it. And so but Perdida Perdida itself, I think it means lost, is related to lost in Latin.

Speaker 1: And so really, I'm sure if it's because they're so small, that they're lost easily, you know, when you're looking for them or what the the author of the genius meant. But yes, so Perdida are my favorite bee group.

Speaker 1: There I have to say, there's this also in the book, you really take the Latin apart in interesting ways. I love how you decode the Latin for a lot of a lot of these groups and yeah. Thank you.

Speaker 2: We wanted it to be more accessible to people because if you know what the the Latin bases of the names are, then sometimes you might not be as scared to try to save them. There are some tricky bee names to say out.

Speaker 1: Oh, yeah. And there's the pronunciations to is there a is there a bee book that or even a ecology book that sort of was formative to you that is a really important book for you?

Speaker 2: And I think for a lot of bee researchers, they would say that this book, the bees of the world by Charles Mitchner. I mean, a lot of people refer to this as like the bee Bible. It's it's a it's a big book and the bees of the world. But it's it's great because he's not only has Mitchner gone through the like the taxonomy and the physical characteristics that define these bees, but he also goes into the ecology of all these different groups.

So just about any group of bees you can think of in the world, you can go to that, learn the characteristics that define it, and you can learn some about the biology, where they nest, and if they have a floral preference. And so that book, I don't know, after writing our book, I have no idea how Mitchner did his. It seems like it would have taken multiple lifetimes. That's why he did it, not me. Excellent.

Speaker 1: Well, we'll put a link. We'll put a link to the book on the on the show notes. And the final thing is, is there is there a tool in particular that you sort of like? This is like when I'm looking at bees or studying these, I really like to have this tool around.

Speaker 2: Yes, that is that is probably the hardest question you could ask me because I was even I talked to Olivia about this yesterday, knowing that you would ask me this to see what she would think the harder. I mean, the best tool was. And so it's hard because sometimes part of me wants to say a microscope because to identify most bees to the species level, you need a microscope. But then a net, I really value a good sturdy net. I actually make my own net handles.

You do so net bags. I use a golf golf. What's it called? A golf club handle.

Really? The golf club off and I make it that way. So then it's it's fast and agile.

And wow, it feels good. But so a good net is really valuable. Also the net bag, I used to so so the net bags and I've since gotten lazy and I buy them from someone else who sews them. But we use wedding veil material, which have a really, really fine mesh rather than the no seam types of nets that you often buy in biological supply companies. I like to be able to see into my net.

I mean, the wedding veil material works very well. Yes, a good net is really valuable to me. But also part of me to kind of get a little bit more abstract with the question is open space, I really value open space for my own well-being.

But without open space, even if I had a net and a microscope, I couldn't I couldn't do what I enjoy, which is exploring the world of bees around. So so I can't answer the question very precisely.

Speaker 1: No, those are great three great. Those are three great suggestions. Well, thanks so much for being our guest today. And please visit the show notes and you'll be able to get all the kind of references that Joseph talked about today linked below. Thanks so much. Thank you.

Thanks so much for listening. Show notes with information discussed in each episode can be found at pollinationpodcast.oregonstate.edu. We'd also love to hear from you and there are several ways to connect. For one, you can visit our website to post an episode-specific comment, suggest a future guest or topic, or ask a question that can be featured in a future episode. You can also email us at [email protected]. Finally, you can tweet questions or comments or join our Facebook or Instagram communities. Just look us up at OSU Pollinator Health. If you like the show, consider letting iTunes know by leaving us a review or rating.

It makes us more visible, which helps others discover pollination. See you next week.

Assistant Professor of Biology at the University of Utah, Dr. Joseph Wilson has coauthored a marvelous book called The Bees in Your Backyard.

We discuss the book in detail in the interview, including how to tell bees apart from other insects, common bee myths, and more.

Dr. Wilson has conducted research on evolution and ecology of bees and wasps, and frequently guests on radio and news media to discuss this increasingly hot topic.

You can Subscribe and Listen to PolliNation on Apple Podcasts.

And be sure to leave us a Rating and Review!

“Misconceptions can lead to misguided efforts to save bees.” – Dr. Joseph Wilson

Show Notes:

  • Why they decided to write the book The Bees in Your Backyard
  • Some of the fundamental characteristics that make a bee
  • How to identify common myths about bees
  • Why most people don’t know about bees that are not honey bees
  • How they wrote the book so that it appealed to scientists and people who had never read a book about bees
  • How they made a key to help people understand how to identify a bee
  • About the research that Joseph does that goes beyond bees
  • The positive movement in citizen science when it comes to bees
  • Why bee research is hard because many places don’t have baseline data on bee populations
  • How to develop a backyard bee habitat
  • Why Joseph is fascinated with a type of bee that is only 2mm long

“As people learn to identify the bees in their yard, we can use that as baseline data.” – Dr. Joseph Wilson

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