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!
I just returned from a great week in New York City. Although I was in town for a commercial shoot, I also had plans to search for bees in the city too. As luck would have it, I did see some really extraordinary species, they just happened to be in the invertebrate collection at the American Museum of Natural History. Native bee expert Hollis Woodard kindly introduced me bee expert Eli Wyman (pictured) who generously spent an afternoon showing me some of his favorite species in the collection. My mind was blown when he produced one of the only known specimens of Wallace’s Giant Bee (Megachile pluto), which has only been encountered on two collecting trips: once 1858 by explorer Alfred Russel Wallace and then again in 1981 by entomologist Adam Messer. This bee, which makes its nests in active termite mounds on the Indonesian island of Bacan is thought to be the largest bee in the world. A huge thanks to Eli for also introducing me to renowned bee specialist Dr. Jerry Rozen. Dr. Rozen was also very generous with his time and I left the museum feeling both very inspired and also aware that I have a long way to go with my understanding of of bees.
It was great to have an opportunity to be interviewed by Boyd Matson for National Geographic Weekend Radio a few weeks ago and now the segment is available online. In this short interview I ramble on about photographing bees, how much I love them and get very excited about Lemon Cuckoo Bumble Bees. 🙂 Have a listen here!
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.