Science Friday is on the Hunt for Desert Bees

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During our recent Science Friday segment about springtime wildflower blooms, UC Riverside bee biologist Hollis Woodard talked about the wild desert bees that profit from this year’s abundant flowers. While she was on, she shared some awesome bee lore: like the fact that deserts are actually bee biodiversity hotspots; that the majority of bees are solitary and live underground; and that one desert-dwelling bee, Centris rhodopus, has a really weird diet: it collects oil from the fuschia flowers of the Krameria bicolor bush to feed its larvae.

That unusual relationship between the Centris bees and Krameria was first characterized in the 1970s by a couple of bee science giants, the husband-and-wife team of Jack Neff and Beryl Simpson. Now Woodard and her colleague Kristal Watrous are hoping to study that relationship in more detail, to learn more about the unique high-fat diet of these wild bees.

Last week, they invited me out to see these desert bees for myself. The trip was a recon mission to scope out potential study sites and to collect wild bees near the Steele/Burnand Anza Borrego Desert Research Center, a desert outpost about three hours southeast of Los Angeles. And there, among the blooming brittlebush, creosote bush, ocotillo, indigo bush, and Krameria, is where we went hunting.

See the photo essay here.

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