Hi, I’m Clay Bolt. I’m a natural history photographer who has embarked on a multi-year adventure to tell the story North America’s native bees through words, images and video. North America is home to over 4,000 known species of native bees whose services are worth an estimated $3 billion dollars per year to the US economy in the agricultural sector alone. It’s time to celebrate their extraordinary beauty, their value to our world and the challenges that they face each day. We need bees!
It is often difficult for viewers to appreciate the time and energy that goes into making a seemingly simple natural history photograph. For the past two years I have been photographing the lives of Lasioglossum sweat bees that have been nesting on my driveway. These tiny bees, which are smaller than a grain of rice, are often bombarded by a variety of predators and parasites. This past May, A Beewolf (Philanthus gibbosus) (one of many in time) moved into the nesting aggregation and began to take prey. I immediately began to document the process. These wasps capture bees (most often when returning to the nest) and deliver a paralyzing sting into the bee’s central nervous system. The immobilized bee is then taken almost immediately into the wasp’s nest where it will be stored as living food for a developing young wasp. One larval Beewolf will consume several bees before reaching maturity. After spending days in the hot sun, groveling around on my driveway (ha) I finally made a nice, although seemingly simple image of a wasp with her prey after she paused on a blade of grass before returning to her nest. It only came after a series of near misses. This image illustrates how the bee is held for transport with the Beewolf’s middle legs.
We are all familiar with Bumble Bees, but did you realize that some Bombus species are actually nest parasites of other Bumble Bees? This rather disheveled looking bee is the Lemon Cuckoo Bumble Bee (Bombus (Psithyrus) citrinus) (a male), which is a parasite of the Common Eastern Bumble Bee (Bombus impatiens) and the Half-black Bumble Bee (Bombus vagans). After sneaking her way into the host colony, a female Lemon Cuckoo Bumble Bee dispatches the queen and takes control of the nest’s workers who soon begin to feed her own young until they reach maturity. Nature is incredible! Photographed in Easley, South Carolina.
Where has the summer gone? One of the frustrations of being an insect photographer is the inevitable end-of-season blues, when the cooler temperatures blow in and remove almost all traces of your favorite subject matter. Although we still have some time left for summer here in South Carolina, the first signs of the season’s wind down have begun. The katydids are quieting down at night and the field crickets have begun to hint at their end of season song. I no longer hear the frogs singing in the pond and here and there, the first speckles of color are beginning to stain the leaves. The one benefit of the cooler months is that I will have time to carefully go back through the thousands of bee-related images that I have made this spring and summer. I’l be sharing many of these with you here.
This has been a really great first year for the Beautiful Bees project. In truth, the project has only really been ‘live’ for a few months and it has received a lot of nice press in its short existence, from National Geographic, WIRED, Mother Nature News and The Weather Channel. I’ve begun to gain a better understand of how to identify species thanks to the help of some really brilliant experts like Étienne Normandin and John Ascher and have spent many hours in the field attempting to document the lives of a few species. I’ve traveled to California for National Geographic and photographed Black Tailed Bumble Bees flying in front of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, I also spent time in Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. It is hard to imagine that this is only the beginning.