Bees are important. You knew that. We did not need to tell you. But how many bee species are there in the world? Give it your best guess before reading further. And how different do those species look, one from another? We had no idea. We first encountered these images here so credit where due (we had recently started to wonder) for where we learned about these amazing photographs and the story behind them:
Sam Droege is head of the US Geological Survey Bee Inventory and Monitoring Laboratory in Maryland, and for the past seven years he and his team have been photographing bees and other insects to create online reference catalogues to help researchers identify the thousands of species across North America. Here is a selection of their work.
Then we did a search to learn more and found that they have been broadcast far and wide for some time. Jordan G. Teicher, who writes about photography for Slate’s Behold blog, had what we thought was the best presentation of these so we chose the photo above from his post:
The photos of native bees and wasps taken at the U.S. Geological Survey Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab are used for scientific purposes, but they are created with an eye for artistry.
“I tell the interns and techs that when they are taking these pictures, they are artists,” lab chief Sam Droege said via email. “We have powwows over the pictures after they are taken to discuss lighting, positioning, and the perennial problems of bad bee hair and dirty specimens.”
Droege’s team at the lab develops survey techniques, runs statistics, and creates monitoring programs to determine whether bee populations are declining. “There are likely species of bee much more threatened than honeybees. For most species we really don’t have any idea what the population status is, but for the relatively well studied bumblebees, we know that some species have crashed to the degree that we can no longer find them and may now be extinct,” Droege said.