177- Olivia Messinger Carril - A field guide to the common bees of North America?


Andony Melathopoulos: [00:00:00] An episode that I constantly think about is when we had Dr. John Asher, and he made the bold claim that the study of native bees today is where the study of birds was in the 1970s. And at that transition point, what happened was a whole lot of people started making observations on birds and their location. People who weren't from the university and a key dimension of kind of bringing all these new people into the study of birds was the bird guide.

Everybody remembers the Peterson bird guide; it has a little map of where the birds are, a picture of them, and some descriptions. We lack a bird book for the bees until now. I'm really excited to finally have on the show. Dr. Olivia Messinger Carril. Now the book that she was a coauthor on with Dr. Joe Wilson, is the most recommended book on pollination: The Bees in Your Backyard.

I got wind that Dr. Messinger Carril and Dr. Wilson were working on a bird book for bees. They are going to be releasing later this year, in the spring, The Common Bees of the Eastern United States with a Common Bees of the Western United States to follow.

In this episode, you're going to hear about that initiative and the challenges associated with doing something like this. We're also going to dive into the book in the second half, and we're going to describe some of the pages which are remarkable. And so without further ado, here's Dr. Olivia Messinger Carril, finally, on the show this week on PolliNation.

Okay. It's been six years since The Bees in Your Backyard came out. And for me, this book's release really marked a period where, people were just starting to become aware of native bees. And I wonder as one of the co-authors of that book, and looking back, and having all the engagements that go along with being a coauthor of The Bees in Your Backyard, have you noticed is there a change in terms of public attention around native bees?

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:02:09] Absolutely. But if I really think about it, I would say that change probably started a long time before The Bees in Your Backyard. I don't think the two are cause and effect in any way. I think it came along at the right time, but that change was already happening. I got my start studying bees when I was 19 working in sort of central California in a place called Pinnacles National Monument, which is like, two to three hours from San Francisco, maybe a little more, something like that.

But anyway, it's close enough that this tiny little monument got a whole lot of visitors, and here I was this young person that with a net, a bunch of vials strapped to my body, like looking for bees and stuff. And so a lot of people would stop and want to talk to me about what I was doing. And so once we got past sorting out the fact that I wasn't collecting butterflies or fish, and got down to the heart of it, which is what I was looking for bees. The first thing that would happen was that people would want to talk to me about being stung. That's where the conversation went every time. It was either they wanted to tell me about the worst sting they'd ever had, or they wanted to know when the last time I'd been stung was. Which I get. I totally understand that because when you don't understand something, you fall back on that personal experience. And if that's all you've got, that's what you're going to talk about.

But. Anyway, we got to the same stories and I would inform them a little bit more about bees, but now I'm still out in the field a lot and still collecting a lot of bees and I'm still running into people and talking to them. And the stories aren't about being stunning anymore. There's still that sort of begrudging respect for the bee and the horrible sting that it can give you, but a lot more of it is a curiosity and a concern that wasn't there before. And I think that's because their personal experience has changed to include not just that horrible, painful moment, but also maybe a story they heard on the news or a book that they've picked up and read about or something.

I even had one guy in here in New Mexico. I was working in a national monument here, and he came up and told me that maybe I ought to check into Pinnacles National Monument and the work they'd done on bees in Kansas.

 It was wonderful. But it was a different conversation than I used to have with people about bees. So there's definitely, as the experience, as the available information for people changes, there's different conversations happening for sure.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:04:31] I remember that as coming from a honeybee background, you used to get, it was the sting conversation, but there came this moment when you could get in a taxi in Manhattan and say, I work on bees. And the person's like "Oh, how are they doing?" Like suddenly it was a shift.

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:04:45] Yeah, it seemed to happen fairly fast. I'm sure it was a pretty gradual thing, but it did seem to be from my point of view, a little more fast. I still gotta work on that honey bee thing.

That's what we talk about now. People still assume that I'm out there looking for like wild honeybees and feral colonies or something. And so I still have to educate them about how they should be proud of New Mexico and proud of the Southwestern deserts cause there's so much going on here. But, we're getting there. It's a trend in the right direction.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:05:13] I suppose that...  I'm just thinking about your early experience out doing very hardcore native bee survey and inventory and biodiversity work... and it is a different register to be able to communicate to a broad audience. I wondered what prompted you in the first place to make that jump. Not a lot of people do that. And it's obviously necessary and the book came out at a real important moment. What's motivating you to do this?

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:05:41] This is a hard question. I think there's probably a bunch of answers, probably all partially true.

I guess to break it down. I am lucky enough to have in my mind, a body of knowledge that not many people have, but they want to have. And I like people a lot. I know we give ourselves a bad rap and we tend to think that humans maybe aren't all that great. But I think when armed with the correct knowledge, we have the capacity to do some pretty cool things, either as individuals or as communities.

And I think the missing link there is the information. And so as someone who cares about bees and cares about bee health and the future of our pollinators, it seems like arming people with the correct information might be a good way to get the results that I want to see so that people can make decisions based a little more in ecological reality.

So yeah, number one, I guess I like people and I like telling them this and I am confident that it will be used in a good way if people know these things. But I also, again, I'm such a fortunate person to have the background that I did and to have had mentors to learn something a little bit before most people wanted to know the things that I did.

And so when I was working through my PhD, I often saw people really struggling to move on from like the golden book of insects they had as a kid to The Bees of the World. That's a huge jump. There's not much really. So I could feel that would be fun and to break it down and a fun way to talk about compound eyes converging or something like that.

And turn that into something that instead was a heart shaped face on a bee, and super easy to understand, but the same message across, seemed like a fun challenge to take on. And I think maybe the last thing is that I really love writing. I scientists write a lot, but science runs very efficient and there's not a lot of room in there for expanding and exploring, saying something in a fun way that really catches people's attention.

And this book was a perfect sort of avenue for tackling that a little bit and turning the word loquacious into something a little more interesting. Not to belittle, those words, they're very important and very useful in keys, but it was fun to take that scientific base and turn into something.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:08:03] Yeah. And I have to say that the book is really great. I know a lot of people that, that was their introduction. We had a podcast earlier. Either it's already aired. I don't know when this is going to come in, but Michael O'Laughlin, who is going to be on an episode on Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation District, where he's been doing some pollinator seedings, he was talking about for him that, picking up that book was allowed him into a world that seemed inaccessible previously.

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:08:30] Yeah, and I don't think there's any reason that it should be inaccessible.

Why not get this knowledge out in as many different ways as possible? I'm an educator; when I'm not working on bee stuff I'm educating in other ways. And there's something about this sort of spiral learning, where you come back and circle back on something in as many ways as possible. And this is just one, one of many ways to learn about bees.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:08:51] Me and many other people were excited to hear that you and Dr. Wilson are embarking on next phase. There was a, you made a face... but the face is justified. This is a big undertaking. A guide to the common bees of first, the Eastern, and then Western bees of North America. And it's a huge undertaking and it's it hasn't been done. I'm just what, in a way that's accessible. What possessed you, where did this idea start? Where did it come out of?

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:09:25] What we thinking?! I don't know. It was a moment of weakness.

We weren't the ones possessed I'll say that to start with. The book, The Bees in Your Backyard had just come out. It had been out for about a week and Princeton approached us and asked us if we'd be interested in doing this. Yeah. And our agent at the time called us up and he said something about the book is selling like the Harry Potter of field guides. And I was like, okay? I don't know what that means, but I think it's good. Anyway. And then they asked if we'd be interested in doing these other two and I think it's a great idea. This isn't out there and it's someone needs to try it. I don't know if we were successful, but what possessed us was a moment of high after hearing that our last book had done fairly well.

We'll see if it works. One of the drawbacks to The Bees of the Backyard was that it was so big. It's really hard to lug around in the field; it's hard to put in a backpack, it's hard to take out to a field site. And our hope with these other two was that maybe we can make something a little smaller that felt more like an actual field guide that you could tuck in your pocket and take with you.

Maybe be a little more useful.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:10:42] Yeah. I guess it is interesting that's the genesis of it. And I love the Harry Potter of field guides, and it's true. And I guess you must have sat down and contemplated this. What were some of those early conversations about some of the challenges of tackling this kind of a project? Just give me an insight to a few years or years ago when you started talking about this.

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:11:07] Yeah, so Joe and I originally were just like, "Yay, we're going to do this cool thing." And then, we sat down, had a couple of phone calls. It was like, "wait how are we going to do this? What's this gonna look like?" and we Princeton asked us to give  them a rough draft of what a chapter might look like.

And we came up with something that was really beautiful, but of course we picked the group anthidium, the wool carder bees, which are super easy to do. If I had started with lasioglossum or something, we might've backed out right then and there.

So the audience challenges are one. How do you pick the most common species? Obviously, even for the East, which only has what, a third of the species that you find in the West, roughly speaking Western States? How do you pick from those almost 800 species, the ones to include in a book so that it doesn't turn into something you can't take into the field?

Especially when you consider that like the bees that you would see in Pennsylvania are completely different from the common bees in Florida. So how do you address that? In the end, what we decided was to go with a lot of bees that are fairly common in more urban environments, knowing that those would be the bee seen by the most people.

And then we included some specialist bees where you could be like, "I'm looking at an ipomea or I'm looking at hibiscus." And the most likely bee, might be something like this. And then the other thing was how to take that language, that really technical difficult language, and turn it into something that could be understood by someone who is still just getting started.

I've been looking at bees for a long time and sometimes I still have to go back wait, what is that thing again? Putting in enough of sort of the background information about bee identification and then lots and lots of pictures so that people could look at where the arrows are pointing and figure it out.

And then we put a bee key at the end, hoping that maybe that would help people just to the genus level for the Eastern US with some pictures again. So we'll see, I don't know. I'm hopeful that it's helpful to people, but it's a challenging book to write.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:12:57] Yeah. It certainly involves taking some risks that I just can't... I think I sent you some questions in advance, but I remember we had an episode with John Asher and he made this bold claim that we're at a transition point.

He said, we're where birders were in the 1970s. And if you were a scientist in 1968, looking at the bird guides, you probably say that can't be done or you would have some kind of trepidation. There'd be some kind of "I don't think it's going to work," but they did. It worked and it was great.

It was a good model. No, what's no risks, no gain or what? I can't remember the phrase.

No pain no gain, yeah. I'm sure the pain's already passed to the press.

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:13:38] For better, or for worse.  It's almost more painful waiting for people to get it and get some feedback on whether what we envisioned and tried to do worked out. So we'll see.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:13:46] In the Eastern book is 125 bees so if you're a listener East of the Mississippi, these are the bees that, you know, and I think this is a great model, personally, I think for somebody who's starting out and wants to get into... you need to start with a pallet of bees to get gestalt.

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:14:05] Yeah. That's exactly right. And it's funny you say the word gestalt, because that's such an important word when it comes to bees. That sort of repetition builds up this sense of what a bee is.

The force helps you feel out what it is without you actually being able to put your finger on it. I was reading the key to hylaeus written by Snelling back in the 1970s, the other day. And in the start of it, he says something about after looking at a whole lot of females, I was able to sort them into sub genus based on general habitus.

I'm like, what does that mean? And then he follows up with something about obviously that's not going to work in a key.  Yeah, no kidding. But that's just it with bees; there's so much. So it's that general sort of that feeling and how do you turn that into a book? So we tried to do this thing where we would have several pages of the same bee over and over, a bunch of lasioglossum dialictus, a bunch of different anthophora species so you get a sense, a feeling for what this bee is. And with enough practice, the same way that you can flip through your bird guide and be like I'm pretty sure it's on the fly catcher group. You can get to that section and then page through slowly. That's the hope. We'll see.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:15:12] My technician, Sarah Kincaid always emphasized, and like Bill Steven torture and Bernhardt because it had all those bee heads, it had an array of bee heads lined up so that, you weren't just looking at the key, you were like - general characteristics- as a way to get started. So this book, unlike how it's traditionally done, the key at the front and maybe descriptions later. Here, like the bird book, you're flipping through the mallards and then you're...

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:15:38] That's exactly right. Yeah. And we sorted it by family and the families are, the short tongued and the long tonged are together. But  it doesn't matter which one came first from our point of view, it was just putting things in there in a way that was accessible to people. So it starts with halictids and then on from there.

 And then at the very back, there's the actual bee key, so you can pull through. And we did it in a way so like the head characters, the thorax characters, wings characters, are laid out really easily. So you can flip back and forth between the two. And hopefully if our key works, gets you to the genus. And if you can't do anything else, you could get to the genus and flip to the section of the book that is that genus and figure it out.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:16:17] That sounds amazing. Here I got a suggestion. Let's take a break and let's flip through some pages of the book so I get a sense of how things are laid out. And then let's come back and let's talk about the details, the nitty-gritty about how the common bees of the Eastern United States is going to look to somebody when they pick it up. Okay. We'll come back in just a second.

Okay, we're back. I am delighted to have now done the very quick scan of the book. And let me tell you folks, it's amazing.

So let's talk a little bit about the, you got your 125 bees, and just a little bit more about how they were selected. So some of these bees, these are the bees that people are going to see, but you also talked about some bees that might be floral specialists that are easily spotted if you went to that floral host.

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:17:10] Yeah. So we picked bees that we thought would be in urban areas for sure. But then in addition, we hooked up with Sam Droege and asked him to tell us what bees he thought should be included. So he threw in his 2 cents on what should be in there. And then we went to bug guide and iNaturalist and looked for the most commonly photographed bees in those areas, because obviously those are the ones that people are queuing into and might be curious to know about.

So all of that together combined to figure it out. And as we were going through, it occurred to us like, Oh, maybe we should be including some of these bees that are specialists on rare or seldom seen plants because obviously whatever bees are associated with that are likely to be, or more likely to the specialists on it.

As an example, there's a plant that grows in swampy marshy areas throughout the Eastern us called the hibiscus. And there's a bee that likes to nest in swampy marshy areas called ptilothrix. So we included both of those. Not that ptilothrix is common or would be seen frequently, but if you're looking at a hibiscus, there is a good chance that you're going to find that ptilothrix on it and that might be fun to know and figure out that feels successful.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:18:14] And I love that idea because I always think that there's multiple ways that people find their entry points. And one is just like seeing some bees and getting, the other one is I'm going on an expedition. There is a bee that I read in this book, and I'm going to go to the swamp. And I'm going to go find this bee.  The treasure hunt is always great. And I love that this has opportunities for leaving the city limits and going on a treasure hunt.

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:18:40] I absolutely love that. I think honestly if all else fails in this book and it's too hard to identify, if there's a lot of great pictures and it continues to be a celebration of bee diversity, so that's a win, no matter what. The bees are pretty and fun to look at and hopefully we'll encourage people to take a look around them and help people remember to be a little more connected with what's going on all around them, even in urban areas. So we'll see.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:19:05] When we quickly did a scan through the book that I noticed it starts with a nice kind of biology morphology section. The other book Bees in Your Backyard had some morphology, but it really foregrounds at the beginning; it's here's what you need to, here's some of the basic kind of features and structures you need to know to be able to get into this.

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:19:23] So I think one of the biggest challenges to bee biology, and I totally understand why, sorry, bee taxonomy. I understand why this is the way it is, but there are words to describe every single feature on a bee's body.

And there are words to describe what kind of angle you're seeing, or the relationship between two different body parts. All sorts of very interesting and intricate details to wrap your mind around. So we thought it was really important to include at the beginning, of a really thorough understanding of the bee body parts that you're most likely to encounter as you read through a description of a bee.

And then just to reemphasize that, we put a glossary at the end that also includes those so that people could look through what was the scape again? And they can look in the glossary and find that and understand what they're reading. There's no way really around bee identification without understanding bee body parts, but any sort of aides and tools to help as you learn those, I thought might be a good idea.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:20:18] The next thing I was really delighted with is then we get past that and then we start to open up these wonderful pages that are organized by family of actual species. I'm always used to, I'm not a very good tech, I'm a terrible taxonomist. Like I can barely do the genus key, but I always stop at genus. And then, I don't know, there's some common ones, but here it's organized by species. So you've got species pages with distributions, and I noticed you have a little picture there with the actual silhouette of the bee, kind of giving you a scale. It's like a bird book you like open up, and you've got your bird there.

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:20:58] It's like a really rudimentary bird book. It's not nearly as complete obviously. And this is the main challenge for it. But yeah, we tried to find as many ways as we could to make it clear what bees you're looking at and to try and work in as many species as we could.

For example, reading through oligochlora, there aren't all that many species, so we just feature the one. But in the similar species section, we talk a little bit about what other species of oligochlora you would see in the East and how you might be able to distinguish between them.

Yeah we tried to include as many as we could while still highlighting the one that was the most common.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:21:31] Were there any groups that were really challenging to depict or to fit into this format that just didn't fit? That Agricola sounds like a an easy one to put in, but were there some that were just really hard?

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:21:43] Absolutely. Yeah. And it's going to be even harder when we've finished this Western one, because there's so many species that don't even really have names, but they're really common around. We'll figure that out. So lasioglossum was definitely a little more challenging because the characters to tell them apart can be variable, and there's so many species.

So even if you do list five characters to distinguish between two, there's probably another 10 that share similar characters as well. We went with just a broad layout of a couple pages to give people a sense for the bee, and the ones that really stood out in terms of having a red abdomen, or having really interesting tegula that people might be able to actually tell to species.

Then we try to really emphasize that if you do want to key something out all the way to species, you should probably use the true taxonomic key. And we include those in the back of the book.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:22:32] It was really great. When we flipped to the back of the book, there were pages and pages organized by family of the keys that were used, that one could actually follow up. If you want it to take the next plunge, the next step after this book, you've got a nice reading list to take you down that hole.

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:22:49] Yeah. I'd say an intense reading list.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:22:54] Yeah. Okay. So just circling back to this, John Asher kind of observation, now we in a couple months, I was on Amazon the other day and they said, July. The book will be available fairly soon.  There'll be a bird guide for the bees.

What do you imagine is going to happen when this kind of hits the world? What do you've seen the readership of The Bees in Your Backyard? And I have an image of what's going to happen, but in your mind what happens when this book is unleashed in the world? What do you envision it being used and how do you see it being?

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:23:28] Yeah, I don't know. I think there are so many ways that it could be used. It could be a nice door weight if you need to prop open...

I guess my hope is that it provides another way for people to connect with what's outside and the fun thing to me about bees is that you can never look at just the bee. So if you've the troubled to buy this book, you're clearly outside looking around a little bit. And if you see a bee, you're probably going to see the flower that it's on. So you've seen two things and you've seen the connection between them.

 And when you see the flower, then you see the soils that flower's in. And, Oh I'm in a swamp. Oh my gosh. How did I end up in a swamp? And now you have another level that you've looked at and become even more aware. So I think I'm hoping it's a gateway to noticing more and more of the things around.

And I guess my hope is that as people become more interested and more excited and less intimidated to learn about bees, they might be willing to share more about what they've seen and what they've learned. And we end up with more than just the eyes of scientists out saying, Oh, it turns out, I'll aughochlora is here. It turns out anthophora occurs on this plant. We thought it was a specialist on this one.

So through the eyes of everybody that's out looking, and with our awesome phones and computers and technology and iNaturalists and whatever, we might learn more about bees than we could have without the help of the people who are buying books like this.

Fantastic. I'm mostlyAndony Melathopoulos: [00:24:54] just circling back to the doorstop question. How big is this book?

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:24:58] It's not that big, that was a joke. Hopefully not too big. How many pages is it? I can't remember exactly. It is 288 pages, but it's little. It's a thinner paper.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:25:11] It's not the same dimensions as Bees in Your Backyard. This is like a field of the pocket guide size.

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:25:16] Yeah. A big back pocket. Not a small back pocket.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:25:21] It's great. I love the format. I do remember we had Dr. Chris Marshall on, and he just remembers, his journey to becoming a museum curator started with field guides. Having things curated in a way where you have the fauna or flora of the place that you're going, and you pick it up, that was an important, point of discovery or a point of beginning for him for becoming a museum curator.   Yeah, there is something about just pulling everything together in a format that anybody with interest and enthusiasm can embark on it's a really important thing.

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:25:54] You are speaking my language. I think that's why I wrote Bees in The Backyard in the first place, was just, I am a collector and this was a fun way for me to collect all of the information. Now I have bee collections and all this stuff, but to pull all of those things together in this really nicely organized way with pretty pictures was very satisfying.

And I totally get it. I have so many field guides and they're so nicely organized. It's really fun to look through them for that reason. And you can see the order. Like it starts to make sense why all of the helictinae are in that group together. You can see it. Even that gestalt shows up there.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:26:28] What about us? Poor souls in the West.

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:26:34] You will remain poor souls. It's coming. So I'm still working on writing it up. There are some challenges. So one of the challenges to the Eastern guide was getting my hands on specimens that we could take photographs of. Joe is phenomenal when it comes to this stuff and he traveled to several museums and reached out to some different people, but Eastern specimens were hard for us to get shipped or to pull from the bee lab to get in for a book.

The Western guide, we definitely have more than enough specimens to look at, but there's so many. The vastness of Western bees is just incredible. And so we're working through that now, like how to pick out which anthophora for it to include, which ones do we leave out?

And you think about it, we really should have one just for California, cause it's got its own fauna. I guess we do have a lovely one, but it's hard to include that just because there's so many bees that occur just in those regions and not further West in the Sonoran and the Chihuahuan desert, but when we get through all of that, it will go out to be edited by a couple bee colleagues that Princeton picks as peer review sort of editors, and then it'll come back and we'll make those changes and do the actual, like grammatical edits with another person. And then finally it goes to the designer who puts it all together. We read it over one last time before it goes to print.

So I think we're looking at a little over a year before that's all said an done.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:27:53] Oh, I can wait a year. I've waited a year, this year, for everything.

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:27:56] I gave a giant preface, cause I bought a year sounded too long, but if you're okay with it, we'll be fine.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:28:04] Let's take a break. I'm excited. We've got the segment we do, where we ask people for a book recommendation, and Bees in Your Backyard is neck and neck with Xerces Backyard Gardening books. So I'm curious what your... I've got all sorts of questions.

I've seen your bandolier for carrying killing jars. I got a lot of questions. So everybody's like waiting for this section. It's ah, I gotta fast forward to the music and he can do so right now because we're coming back in a sec.

Okay, we're back. And so three things. That book recommendation; do you have a book that you would recommend?

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:29:08] Yes, I have a book I would recommend because I think it's fabulous. It's a rather new one. It's called The Solitary Bees.  I love it so much. It's like a collection. But it's a collection of all of the details, all of the behavioral details. And I think it's a fantastic read. So that's really good.

As far as the book that I use most often, I use The Bees of the World almost everyday. The Bees of the World is definitely my go-to book for taxonomic information, but the one I'd recommend as a nice read is definitely The Solitary Bees.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:29:43] That's really great. I really love the way that there's a lot of literature coming out in the present, but I really love how it reaches back to older literature and kind of puts it in... oh, I'm so glad I really appreciate that effort.

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:29:57] And if you read, I think it's in the epilogue, maybe, that they talk about how they did that and why they came up with that. All of those wonderful little gems that used to be written in these like short format little bits that they pulled together in this that would have otherwise been lost. I just think it's fabulous.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:30:14] Great suggestions. Great recommendations. So the next question I have for you, I'm curious about what your go-to tool is. Cause we did have Dr. Wilson was on actually the second episode, and I think we started the segment with him. He had the, he has his net, which is a golf club.

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:30:35] The same way I got about 15 of downstairs. They're so great. You can't beat them. They're wonderful.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:30:41] Out of curiosity, how do you get a net hoop on a golf club?

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:30:46] It's not as bad as you would think, but just to save myself the time I actually get them from a place in Logan, Utah, that has been custom making them for the bee lab for the last 20 years.

So I just call them up and they literally ship them down to me in New Mexico now, every couple of years. But it's not, it wouldn't actually be that bad. So you cut off the head and it's hollow inside. So then you can do the male/female and just weld it in there and then screw on the hoop.

Yeah. My go-to tool, I know you're thinking I'm going to say the bandolier of death, if I'm totally honest...  I think I would go with and this counts, right? I would go with my database. I have a database now that has all of its information from the hard work that we've been doing around New Mexico that is so valuable to me and able to answer so many questions that I think my database might be the tool of choice for me right now.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:31:41] Maybe go into this a little bit more. This is a specimen database or what is it? Yeah.

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:31:46] Yeah. We've been doing a lot of survey work all around New Mexico for various different projects, national monuments, national conservation areas rare plants, studies in little parks and stuff. And so this is actually how I spend my summers is going out and getting all of those bees. But the act of maintaining the information that you learned from those requires a database that's fairly well maintained. That includes like flora records and dates of collection and the place.

And you can compile it and study it and learn so much in so many different ways that I'm enamored with looking at the data right now.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:32:19] Hey, is this a database that you developed yourself or did you is it a kind of adapted from another?

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:32:24] This actually... my sister works a lot with databases. She works for a bank and I actually co-opted her services for a couple of weekends and asked her to build me one. So this one is all her creation and it's amazing.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:32:36] I guess that's the thing. It's like people know you from The Bees in Your Backyard, but I remember there was a paper that you and Terry Griswold put out and I was really amazed by it. It had all the kind of large sample events in the United States on a map. And it wasn't a lot of them, you would expect the whole map to be covered, but where somebody has gone into an area and really intensively sampled the bee community and defined it, there's not a lot of those.

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:33:02] There's really not. There's fewer than I wish there were, but my hope is that in the next 20 years or so, we'll fill in some of those gaps.

I think that baseline data is so important as we move forward with questions about climate change, with questions about landscape level modifications that we might do, what happens after a burn or what happens after a grazing, or when cattle are removed or whatever in Western landscapes. To understand what happens you have to have some information before it happened. And so those kinds of datasets can be really, really valuable, as rare as they are. Here in Northern New Mexico, until I started wielding my net and my bandolier of death every summer, I think most of the bee work in where I am and North and East of me had been done by TDA Cockerell back in 1906.

Yeah, it's really exciting to be adding on and finding new records and Oh, now there's a true Kusa here that we didn't know that your CUSO went this far East or Centris or some of these other fun things. Yeah, I'm very excited about that.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:34:04] Fantastic. I guess it leads to the last question, which is... you are good at doing this now... you had to take a whole half a continent of bees and boil it down to 125. So you would probably have no problem coming down with like your favorite.

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:34:17] This is a terrible question. I don't know why you make  people come up with a favorite.  It's like a color. It depends on the day and my mood, but I think my go-to is the one that taught me everything. And so I have to go with diadasia just to call out to my good bee the diadasia, who got me through my PhD, but it's a wonderful bee with a really cool life history.

Are they are diadasia in the East?

There's one species that occurs across the Midwest, but you don't find it very far into the East.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:34:54] Fantastic.

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:34:55] Sorry. I had to get a drink talking about diadasia got me all choked up here. No, I'm kidding.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:35:02] But your work was in the East, right? Oh, no. But you came out West to do the work.

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:35:05] I got my PhD, but I would drive out to study the diadasia to out here, and look at the floral scent and all of that fun stuff. But if you ask me again tomorrow, I'd probably give you a different bee. There's so many good ones. You shouldn't ask this of us.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:35:22] Yet. I do.

Thank you so much.

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:35:29] Has anyone ever brought up anthoforula ?At ever been a.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:35:34] I know, anthophora, but anthophor...say it again?

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:35:37] It's cute. It's this tiny little thing that looks like a flying spider. That's probably a close second. They're pretty cool.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:35:43] Oh, actually Linc brought it up the other day because he gave a presentation where he showed the 2019  anthophora data. And he slipped them in and I remember him saying something about small little.

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:35:57] They're great. Oh, I'm good. I'm glad that he brought these up. That's a good one.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:36:00] Fantastic. I am so looking forward to getting all the rest of us our hands on this copy. And so thank you so much for taking time to tell us about the book and thanks so much for putting the effort you and Dr. Wilson for coming up with this.

Olivia Messinger Carril: [00:36:11] Thank you. Thank you for your encouragement. It's so nice to hear that you like it before it's come out. I appreciate it.


Why isn’t there a field guide to the common bees in the same way there are field guides to plants or birds? In this episode we hear about an ambitious new field guide from the authors of The Bees in Your Backyard.

Olivia has been studying bees for over 25 years. She got her start at the USDA Pollinating Insects Research Unit, aka the bee lab. Her advisor and mentor gave her numerous opportunities to study bees in ecosystems around the western U.S., including an opportunity to study the bees of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, a project that she used to complete her Master's degree. She followed this up with a move to Southern Illinois to work on her PhD, studying Diadasia and its host flowers. She now lives in Santa Fe New Mexico, where she splits her time between teaching science to middle school students and sampling the bee communities of New Mexico. She is the author of The Bees in Your Backyard, and the upcoming book The Common Bees of Eastern North America.

Links Mentioned:

Princeton University Press: Common Bees of Eastern North America

Book recommendation:

  • The Solitary Bees: Biology, Evolution, Conservation by Bryan Danforth
  • The Bees of the World by Charles D. Michener


Database of information developed personally and with her sister.

Favorite Pollinator:


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