Cannot See the Forest for the Bees
Written by National Geographic Young Explorer Lauren Ponisio.
Osmia bee visiting a phacelia flower.
Deep in the backcountry of Yosemite National Park, the flora and fauna in the understory form a mosaic of vibrant colors in constant motion. Buckwheat flowers, pinkish-white pom-poms on naked stems, sag with the weight of visiting bumblebees bees probing for nectar and rummaging for pollen; I like to watch as they spring upright again when the bee leaves in search of another bloom catapult. Glistening green-blue mason bees disappear into a clump of phacelia flowers. Metallic black sweat bees crawl from the scarlet, tube-like flowers of gilia. Leaf-cutter bees with pollen-covered bellies rummage in wild sunflowers. With a flick of the wrist, I scoop one of these unsuspecting visitors into my net. I coax the struggling creature into a small jar that I keep in an elastic belt across my shoulders.
This has been my life for two months. Using my net as a walking stick, I begin heading back to the campsite. I make slow progress — continuously walking around or crawling over fallen, charred trees. Once there, I remove today’s bees from their jars and pin them into an insect box to preserve them. Bees in Yosemite are incredibly diverse; around 200 bee species occur in the Illilouette alone. My pinned specimens help me identify the overwhelming variety of species I catch each day.
Bees are incredibly important. Along with other animals, they pollinate a third of the crops humans depend on—including some of the most important ones, like coffee and cacao (which is used to make chocolate). Pollinators are also critical for maintaining the diversity of plant communities like those —> Read More