This past spring I officially launched Beautiful Bees: a multi-year project focusing on North America’s native bees. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience so far and I’m only getting started. One species that I hope to draw special attention to is the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee (Bombus affinis). This is an insect that has declined 87% in the last 15 years due, at least in part, to an introduced Eurasian pathogen. This species is the perfect poster-child for many of the continent’s threatened species. Project partner, The Xerces Society, has petitioned to have the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee protected under the Endangered Species Act. In spite of the challenges that bees are facing, not a single species out of nearly 4,000 is protected under the ESA. Much of my focus this year has been exploratory as I’ve searched for stories to tell and I couldn’t let this year go by without at least trying to find and photograph a living RPBB. A window of opportunity opened up this past September and so I flew up to Madison, Wisconsin, at the end of the field season, in hopes that things would work out. As luck would have it, my good friend Neil Losin of Day’s Edge Productions was also in the area on assignment and kindly joined me to film my first day of searching. Although I’ll certainly be returning to WI next year it is excellent to have a video record of this first excursion. Thanks to Neil and everyone at Day’s Edge for editing this piece and special thanks to Rich Hatfield of the Xerces Society and Susan Carpenter at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for all of their help in locating the bees.
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Thistle Long-horned Bee (Melissodes desponsa), Pickens, South Carolina ©Clay Bolt | beautifulbees.org | claybolt.com

Thistle Long-horned Bee (Melissodes desponsa), Pickens, South Carolina ©Clay Bolt | beautifulbees.org | claybolt.com

In case you’re interested in following the project in other places I recently released two pieces: One with some fun facts on North American native bees for Mother Nature News and another detailing some of the wonderful challenges of identifying North American Native Bees for National Geographic’s Voices Blog. Check them out if you have time! And if you’re interested in older posts visit the “In the News” page.

One of the most feisty bees that I have photographed to date: a male Fuzzy-legged Leafcutter Bee (Megachile (Xanthosaurus) melanophaea). Some male leafcutter bees have fur covered front legs, which are used to obscure the eyes of the females during mating.

One of the most feisty bees that I have photographed to date: a male Fuzzy-legged Leafcutter Bee (Megachile (Xanthosaurus) melanophaea). Some male leafcutter bees have fur covered front legs, which are used to obscure the eyes of the females during mating. © Clay Bolt | beautifulbees.org | claybolt.com

This past September I paid a visit to Madison, Wisconsin where I was searching for the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee (Bombus affinis); a species that is in serious decline due to an introduced pathogen. I was fortunate to not only find the RPBB but also many other species that share the same habitat. One insect that really made an impression on me was this male Fuzzy-legged Leafcutter Bee (Megachile melanophaea). Most bees are more interested in escaping once I’ve netted them for photography. However this impressive creature stood his ground with mandibles barred, daring me to come closer. After a few images, I released him to go on his way and find a mate before the season came to an end. Like a few other species of leafcutter bee, males of this species use their very fuzzy front legs to cover the eyes of the female during mating. It is assumed that this occurs to keep her from seeing other males that she might prefer over her current suitor.