Today’s guest is Krystle Hickman. Krystle is a TEDx speaker, artist, photographer, and community scientist. However, it is her passion for native bees that has led her to appear on Nature’s Archive today.
Krystle has combined her tenacity and photographic talent to make a number of discoveries about native bees. She’s determined to raise awareness about the decline of native bees and their habitats, and she was recently profiled in the LA Times for these efforts.
Today, we embark on a journey of discovery with Krystle as she introduces us to the native bees of California and the beyond.
We will explore several genera of bees and delve into their habits and remarkable life histories. Krystle will also share her expertise on photographic techniques for bees and how to find them in the wild.
Also, Krystle has just launched a Kickstarter campaign for a new project featuring photographic flashcards of 40 of the most common native bees, complete with interesting facts and identification techniques.
To stay connected with Krystle and her work, you can find her at beesip.com, or follow @beesip on Instagram, or @beesiponline on Facebook and Twitter.
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Links To Topics Discussed
People and Organizations
BugGuide – one of the original online communities for insect enthusiasts to share, learn, and identify insects
Discover Life – resource for learning about bees (and other organisms)
Books and Other Things
Note: links to books are affiliate links
Bees of the World by Charles Michener
Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide
Krystle’s Kickstarter campaign for her native bee flashcards
My Garden of a Thousand Bees – documentary
The Bees in Your Backyard: A Guide to North America’s Bees by Wilson and Carril
Emily Smith provided editing assistance for this episode.
The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Spellbound by Brian Holtz Music
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/9616-spellbound
License (CC BY 4.0): https://filmmusic.io/standard-license
Artist website: https://brianholtzmusic.com
Transcripts are automatically created, and are about 95% accurate. Apologies for any errors.
[00:00:00] Michael Hawk: Krystle, I really appreciate you taking the time to join me today.
[00:00:03] Krystle Hickman: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to talk with you today,
[00:00:07] Michael Hawk: Yeah. And as we were chatting about, right before I hit the record button, I saw you speak at the California Native Plant Society Conference in San Jose last year, and I was so blown away by it. Your presentation, your photographs, your personal story, like all of it was just so amazing that I was actually nervous about asking you to be on the podcast.
[00:00:31] , I’m happy that you accepted
[00:00:32] Krystle Hickman: Yeah, definitely. No, I was really excited when you asked me, cuz I, I just had, I had told you before, but yeah, I just started listening to your podcast and absolutely loved it. So Real pleasure.
[00:00:41] Michael Hawk: It’s great. It was it was meant to be
[00:00:43] Krystle Hickman: was meant to be. Yes,
[00:00:45] Michael Hawk: Those puns, I can’t control it. Sometimes they just come out. But that’s one of the things I really hope to dig into today is the diversity of bees, the amazingness of bees, which is part of your journey, but also as you spoke about at C N P S your own personal journey that led you to the bees.
[00:01:01] So can you tell me about your early memories with nature and when you really recognized that you had this connection to.
[00:01:08] Krystle Hickman: Yeah, so I I’m from Omaha, Nebraska, originally born and raised, and. My connection with nature started out just in my own front yard. So I remember as a toddler just going out and my mom had some rose bushes in the yard and there were ladybugs and there were box elder bugs and there were spiders, and I was absolutely obsessed with all of them.
[00:01:32] So I would spend hours just sitting by the rose bushes just looking at the insects that were in them, which is odd cuz I do the exact same thing now. Not with rose bushes anymore, but you’ll find me pretty much outside, almost every day looking into a plant, into bush or something for insects or for bees.
[00:01:50] But yeah, as I got older, I started going to hiking and camping trips with girl scouts. Started going into the woods more, just seeing nature that wasn’t basically in a box made by people.
[00:02:02] Michael Hawk: And it’s funny, these days when I think about rose bushes, my first thought is, Ooh, non-native. But it sounds like they were attracting some interesting things
[00:02:10] Krystle Hickman: Yeah it’s funny too, cuz I look at rosebush is completely different now. Like back then I was like, oh, this is nature. But now I’m like maybe avoid those. So yeah it’s definitely changed a little bit. Yeah.
[00:02:20] Michael Hawk: And there are native roses in much of the US there is that. They don’t look the same. But once you get over that, they attract lots of cool things. But I know that nature wasn’t your only interest growing up and into adulthood, of course. Because when I was poking around on your website, I saw that you’ve been a ballpoint pin artist you’ve done some crazy some crazy , some amazing artwork using different medium.
[00:02:45] Can you tell me about that journey? Did you did you lose touch with nature and get into art, or was nature always there? And how did all that come to be?
[00:02:52] Krystle Hickman: So nature and art, were both always there. I always loved to draw. I feel like I just of came out in the wo womb loving nature and art. But as I got older, like college age, that’s when I stopped doing both because I had to focus on the real world because, those aren’t careers.
[00:03:07] . So yeah, I ended up like just sitting behind a desk for a while and it was like about two years of me doing that night. I felt like I was just getting dumber and I started drawing with a ballpoint pen because I didn’t have a pencil, so I was actually while I was sitting at my desk, I’d say the last few months I picked up a pen and started drawing and I ended up just quit.
[00:03:28] My job, it was in finance, and for a while I just stumbled around, didn’t really do anything. But then I was like, I gotta pick up something. So I started drawing more regularly with a ballpoint pin. I actually uh, was obsessed with this British TV show called Skins. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it , but it was really good.
[00:03:46] You should check it out. I think it’s on Netflix or something. But yeah, I basically drew all of the cast members from that show. And then after that I was like what I’m going, what am I gonna do with these drawings? I ended up putting it into a video on YouTube. Then after I finished that, I found the creator of the show on Facebook, and he was like, Hey, we’re making an American version of the show.
[00:04:07] Do you wanna be the. So about a month after I started drawing again, I got my first art job and then it took me into 10 years of developing my ballpoint pin work. And then I also started working with sugar, which led me to the the Ted talk. Cuz that was the, basically the first person to start working with sugar.
[00:04:27] But yeah, just kind of kept moving me forward, in like new and unique places.
[00:04:32] Michael Hawk: I watched the TED talk here recently and, and that’s the thing that just struck me was how the creative through line, I think that you have to come up with using sugar as a medium. let me back up a little bit. So, When you picked up drawing after your career in finance, , it sounds like you already had some background in art or was this just suddenly you discovered this talent that you didn’t realize you had?
[00:04:59] Krystle Hickman: Well, I was always creative growing up, so I was very good at just making things with my hands. So it could be drawing, it was also pottery. Just coming up with new ideas. And then I guess one of the things too, when I left that career slash job is I really didn’t know what I wanted, so I just decided every single idea that I have.
[00:05:18] I’m gonna go forward with it, like full force just to see where it’ll take me. So drawing was one of those things and I was like, let me just see where it goes. And it ended up taking me to some like very cool places, getting really cool connections. Yeah,
[00:05:33] Michael Hawk: By the way that Ted talk, I’ll make sure to link to it in the show notes. Like all of the things that we talk about that are linkable, I try to make it easy for the listeners to go find it. So I’ll do that. So now how then did bees reenter your.
[00:05:48] Krystle Hickman: Completely randomly, and it was through Facebook. So there was this quote that was put up on Facebook that really motivated me for a very long time, and it turned out to be completely made up. It’s, if the bee disappears off the surface of the globe, then man only has four years of life left. No more bees, no more man.
[00:06:07] Something else like that. And it was attributed to Einstein. I saw that online and I thought it was real , like pretty much everyone else who’s read it. And it got me very motivated to get back into nature. Specifically bees and I like pretty much everyone else who read it thought it meant honeybees. So I was like, oh my gosh, I have to save the honeybees.
[00:06:29] I didn’t have a camera at the time, but I did have my phone. I think I was out there with a Samsung S six and I just went out and took a whole bunch of photos of honeybees just for longer than I would like to admit. And then I think it was a weekend when I was pretty close to getting a camera.
[00:06:50] So I was renting one, I went out to the Sepulveda River Basin which is in Van Nuys, California. And I photographed a bee that was not a honey bee. I was okay, wait, what is this? And then I ended up going back to my beekeeping friends and they were all like it is a bee. You’re right. We don’t know what it is though.
[00:07:07] So then turned back to Facebook. There was a group called native Bees of the Americas, and I’d never heard of the term native bee before. Ended up joining the group. There was a bunch of entomologists and melittologist in the group. And melittologist are people who study bees. And again, new terms for me at the time.
[00:07:27] And they identified the bee right away as andrena, which is a mining bee. And it just opened up my whole world. Like the conversations I had with these people. They were talking about the differences between native bees and honey bees and why native bees are important to native plants, and just why they are potentially threatened or endangered and.
[00:07:50] Kind of took me back out into the world to, to look for these native bees again. And or I guess the native bees were the first time and actually I’m not sure if it was them or um, the horticulturalist at the Crescent Farm. Cause I ended up going to this farm called the Crescent Farm at the La Arboretum.
[00:08:06] And that was the first place where I actually started seeing native bees regularly just because they have native plants there. And I think that really instilled in me in the connections between native bees and native plants and just the idea that saving native bees also means saving native plants and vice versa.
[00:08:23] And then also saving native plants means saving not just native bees, but animals in general cuz they’re so closely.
[00:08:31] Michael Hawk: Absolutely. I think finding these personal discoveries is so important to develop this connection because we can tell people until our faces turn blue about how cool all these, Native vs. Are. But you kind of have to go experience it for yourself with so many of these nature topics.
[00:08:50] And it, it reminded me when I moved back to California for the second time, know, I wanted to plant some native plants and we were renting at first and we ended up buying the house that we were renting. So I, it’s kinda limited in what I could do, but I planted a California coffee berry and it is such a magnet for pollinators in general, but also the native insects use the plant for many different purposes too.
[00:09:14] But anyway, long story. , I was out there with my camera one time. I had always enjoyed photographing birds and I noticed that there was this one I thought be, that would return to the same spot and hover and just hang out there. And it’s like, you know, I bet you I could take a picture of that. And eventually I caught it and I showed it to some people at work engineers and program managers, like not nature people, and they’re Oh, that’s so cool.
[00:09:39] That’s so cool. And like, look at this bee i that I took a photo of and only like two years later did I realize it was a hoverfly. It It wasn’t even a bee. Yeah. But that was my, eye-opening experience to the diversity of native insects that are out there, contributing to this food web.
[00:09:55] And I think that’s a big part of why I ended up doing what I do now. So we need to figure out how to get everybody to do this. . So You had these, the series of experiences that were kind of like, it was an aha moment after aha moment it sounds like, of oh wow. There’s more and there’s more and there’s more.
[00:10:09] You now consider yourself a community scientist and what’s that transition like? When did you say, you know what, yes, I’m contributing to the knowledge of Native bees.
[00:10:21] Krystle Hickman: It’s funny I didn’t actually give that title to myself initially. I was just going out there and doing things, but I think people started assigning it to me and I started identifying with it when I left gardens, like the Crescent Farm and I actually started going to places like the Santa Monica Mountains or the Mojave Desert or Joshua Tree and inadvertently, when you start photographing nature, year after year, you start noticing changes.
[00:10:49] And I completely, not on purpose, but now it seems inevitable. I started documenting climate change. and changes in the phenology of bees from year to year. And that also connected me in more in a professional way with a lot of these ologists. And then that’s when the term community scientists started being assigned to me.
[00:11:11] And then I didn’t really see myself as a scientist, but like now I, identify with it more because I’m, I feel like I am contributing something.
[00:11:20] Michael Hawk: Yeah. So when you mentioned phenology, for anyone not familiar with phenology, it’s how an organism changes based on seasonality and time, in association with their environment.
[00:11:35] Krystle Hickman: Yeah, I started noticing it. The very first bee was a bombas melanopygus, which is a blacktail bumblebee. And the first year I noticed it was this bee I had seen pretty regularly starting to show up in February.
[00:11:50] And then about three years ago, which was the first year in California where we, the drought became like very major. It showed up about a month earlier. , which is a pretty big difference. And then it just, every year it’s been showing up earlier and earlier. And I was like, this is really odd.
[00:12:08] So I ended up going back to a friend of mine who’s a Bumblebee expert and I was like, Hey, I’m seeing this happening, what’s going on? And he mentioned yeah, this is what happens in drought years. This specific bee actually starts showing up earlier. But even last year there were, there was some bumblebees specifically that I was looking at that they don’t seem to have that relationship or as far as I’m aware, but they’re also showing up earlier too.
[00:12:31] Or maybe it’s later cuz we started seeing Queen bombus vosnesenskii December. So is that a very late queen or is it a very early queen? Because that’s definitely off season,
[00:12:41] Michael Hawk: Interesting. And then you have the challenge of course, of separating out what might be a strange one-off occurrence from a general
[00:12:49] Krystle Hickman: Exactly. And then I guess, what’s the barrier between a one-off and I don’t know, maybe there’s 10 of them or I don’t know, what’s the barrier between like something’s actually happening and then just a odd occurrence.
[00:12:59] Michael Hawk: So that begs the question do you submit your observations to tools like iNaturalist?
[00:13:06] Krystle Hickman: I used to submit a lot more of them than I do now. At the moment, I look for more rare bees, so a lot of those photos are going straight to projects or they’re going straight to melittologists who specialize in those bees. And if there’s something that I’m probably not gonna use personally, then yeah, I will post them.
[00:13:26] Michael Hawk: Yeah. I’ll have to make sure I find you on on i a and follow
[00:13:29] Krystle Hickman: great. Yeah,
[00:13:30] Michael Hawk: so we’re talking about native bees and how they are so different from the European honeybee that I think most people are most familiar with. So maybe can you just tell me a little bit about the characteristics of native bees? There’s so many gen of native bees that the, this is hard to say, but maybe a little compare and contrast at a high level and we can talk about some of the specific types of bees in a little bit more depth afterwards.
[00:13:59] Krystle Hickman: To start off, in the world there’s over 20,000 species. . In the US there’s 4,000. The Western United States, there’s 3000. In California there’s a little over 1600. So there’s a lot of bees. Most of them are solitary, meaning they live by themselves, but they can also live in groups called aggregations, which is like a neighborhood.
[00:14:20] So basically they all live together, but they have their own little house. Because they’re native, they can potentially have symbiotic relationships, or mutually beneficial relationships. With native plants where , they, one or both can rely on each other for survival. Like There’s some species of native bees that will only pollinate one family of plants.
[00:14:41] So if something happens to that family of plants, wherever they’re located, the bee might not have a resource for pollen or nectar even. . Yeah. Also I think about 70% of native bees are ground nesting and 30% are cavity nesting.
[00:14:56] Michael Hawk: Yeah, that’s really interesting. Cause I think growing up, the misconception is that all bees live in these hives and they’re colonial, but the fact that so many are solitary and live in the ground, , I think is the one of the first eye-opening things that, that people have on this journey of discovery.
[00:15:13] Now, the cavity nesters I know they can choose a diverse array of places in which they do nest. Do you have any examples? Like where might you find the non ground dwelling bees?
[00:15:27] Krystle Hickman: For example, there is a bee called the Ceratina. Which is a small carpenter bee opposed to the Xylocopa, which is a large one. So they’ll nest in pithy stems, which are plants that have a stem with a spongy or soft center. So they’ll actually excavate the center of the stem, then create a a little cavity nest in there.
[00:15:49] very, Very cute bees. So if, in your yard, for example, if you have native plants it’s recommended that you leave maybe about 12 to 18 inches of stem if you’re cutting back your plants, and they’ll use those to nest in. There’s also ones, let’s say some osmia, some megachile. A lot of people actually take advantage of the fact that they nest in cavities to make bee houses or bee hotels for them so they can observe them there.
[00:16:15] Yeah. And there’s also some bees that, oh, dianthidium. This is a really cool bee. So this is a stone bee. So their nest is actually a bunch of little pebbles that they’re, they’ll seal together and they’ll create a single solitary nest and these little pebbles, and they’ll attach the pebbles to a stem above ground.
[00:16:35] And I think it’s really cool cause you, like right now you can actually walk around trails and I’ve run into a couple of those. There’s also um, another bee called Anthidium that will make a resin nest, which is very cool. It’s like a brown gumdrop, it looks like, and it’s just one single cell that’s also attached to flora outside.
[00:16:56] Michael Hawk: I think this is such a great taste of the variety that you find out there from constructing a nest to taking advantage of existing stems. there’s just so much variety. . Now what about the large carpenter bees you know, they have a reputation for sometimes drilling into wood structures.
[00:17:14] Is that accurate?
[00:17:15] Krystle Hickman: That is very accurate. Yes. , in California we have three large carpenter bees and it’s interesting cuz they all have different preferences for wood that they like. But yeah, so these bees are actually semi-social, so they’re not it’s just like a different form of sociality.
[00:17:32] So the females create a nest and they actually show cooperative brood care. it’s really cool about them. But yeah, they don’t actually, I know the holes can be unsightly, but they typically don’t really cause structural damage, so I don’t think there’s any reason to technically remove them
[00:17:50] Michael Hawk: So let’s. Again, no pun intended, drill into the large carpenter bees a little bit more. So they have these holes in wood and sometimes wood structures. Are they overwintering in there?
[00:18:02] What does their life cycle look like?
[00:18:05] Krystle Hickman: So I think. Carpenter bees across the board in California anyway, I think they can live up to one to two years. So they are, I don’t know if I would say they’re overwintering cuz you can actually see them all year depending on if there are flowers. So it, again, it depends on what’s going on with nature.
[00:18:24] Although they do have certain personalities, like for a lot of them you’ll typically see them march through November. Yeah, so I it really depends on, on the individual bee, but yeah, they are basically, their brood are,
[00:18:36] I guess they ate e close or they emerge as adults in the early part of the year. But adults can potentially live for one to two years.
[00:18:46] Michael Hawk: and I have another somewhat random. Question on my house, it, we have a stucco house, which is like kind of a hard concrete material.
[00:18:57] And I don’t know the history, but in a few places there are holes in the stucco that look like maybe somebody drilled a nail in or, something like that. They’re about the size of a nail. And last year I noticed some bees that were , going in and out of this hole. In the house. I never did figure out what kind of bee it was.
[00:19:16] I guess I could have tried to capture it and observed it more closely. I never did that. But very random question. Any ideas of who would be taking advantage of a hole in a concrete stucco
[00:19:28] Krystle Hickman: in a concrete okay, so it could be in concrete. I would typically not say a carpenter bee because they do prefer wood. It could be a megachile bee, it could potentially be an osmia bee. It could be a lot of different cavity nesting bees. Honestly, it’s something you’d have to get a picture of.
[00:19:47] Michael Hawk: Yeah. I’ll try harder if they come back, I know exactly where it is. It’s a spot I can easily observe. So I’ll try harder this year and solve that mystery.
[00:19:55] Something else that I wonder about, so what the colonial bees with the European honey bees, you have different roles that. Bees take on as part of that colony, and it makes sense.
[00:20:08] You think about the evolutionary pressures and they’ve specialized in a way, depending on where they’re at in their life cycle. Do you see in the solitary bees, like are they just doing everything or when they have these family groups or these neighborhoods, these aggregations, do you see any sort of specialization or roles that that they fulfill?
[00:20:29] Krystle Hickman: So I would say no for solitary bees. again, there’s not just solitary and social or like eusocial. There’s for example um, there’s bees called halictus, which are some sweat bees. And sweat bees are either eusocial or generally eusocial. So they have a colony as well, but it’s much smaller than what you’d see with a honeybee or with a bumblebee.
[00:20:57] So typically there’s a a bee that would be called a queen or a foundress. And the colony also has her daughter or sister workers who typically don’t reproduce. So there, and there’s also a overlap in generations like they cohabitate and they can share in the care of the young. So typically these colonies, it’s sometimes there’s one founder, .
[00:21:21] Some of the species there can be more than one queen, but there’s normally I’d say about two to four bees in that colony. Where as far as just solitary, again, you can have the aggregation where it’s just one female taking complete care of her, brood by herself. But then you can also have some other bees like an Agapostemon for example.
[00:21:44] So they have, it’s basically like they live in an apartment complex, so they have one entrance for their burrows and then communal. There we go. Communal. They have basically one entrance and then they have their own like apartment that kind of branches off where they take care of their young independently.
[00:22:04] Michael Hawk: Oh, that’s interesting. I can visualize like a cross section of what that might look like.
[00:22:09] Krystle Hickman: It’s really funny cuz like you’ll see them um, I filmed some Agapostemon and melliventris actually in my friend’s backyard. And at the time this was closer when I was starting out and I kept seeing more than one going in this burrow and I was like, I thought this was a solitary bee.
[00:22:25] then that’s when I found out about communal bees.
[00:22:28] Michael Hawk: Super cool. And yeah, it seems like you have the entire spectrum from what you were just talking about. It was good to, I think, to point out that it’s not just solitary and social. There’s all these shades of gray.
[00:22:40] These topics, they just, they always blow my mind because it reveals the nuance and you can start to form stories and hypotheses about how all of these systems are working together. So I’m hoping that you’ll play along a little bit more with this and. Talk about a few other common types of bees out there and how they live and what they’re doing.
[00:23:03] So if you’re game, we can run down a couple on the list.
[00:23:06] Krystle Hickman: Yes
[00:23:07] Michael Hawk: Bumble Bees. Bombas Bees. I think that they hold a special place for a lot of people. They’re probably the second most well-known bees after Honey Bees. And they’re like these little friendly, fuzzy bears flying around that
[00:23:24] Krystle Hickman: Yeah, I think so. I think so. . They’re, I think they’re like really funny and bumbling and Yeah I love them.
[00:23:32] Michael Hawk: And it’s easy for me anyway, it’s easy to associate human traits to them. Bees, you can see them better and you can see what they’re doing. They’re a little bit slower sometimes too. And to your point, they look sometimes come out in cold weather too. And When we’re thinking about California bombas species, where do they fall on this social spectrum?
[00:23:49] Krystle Hickman: So they are eusocial, so they have, again, a colony with a queen and the daughters.
[00:23:57] Michael Hawk: Okay. And as a larger bee, I’ve always assumed that gives them some flexibility for colder temperatures. Is that why we see them in the winter
[00:24:05] Krystle Hickman: I’m, that’s a good question and I’m not sure why it is exactly. They also can be at a higher elevation b as well, where it’s cooler. So I’m not sure if it is their size that allows that. But also too, I, I did say their eusocial, some are actually parasites as well of other bumblebees, which is pretty cool.
[00:24:24] Yeah. So there’s a, a Bombus insularis, that’s one that people in, I’d say Northern California, maybe Oregon and Washington also would be more . Familiar with. So the queen will actually find another Bumblebee colon. and she will kill the queen of that colony. And I’m not ex a hundred percent sure how this works, but something with pheromones where she basically becomes the queen of this other queen’s workers.
[00:24:51] And she has these workers collects resources, pollen are used to raise her young. So she never produces workers, but she will produce other queens and male.
[00:25:06] Michael Hawk: Wow. That’s fascinating. And it also makes me realize that we haven’t talked about like a, another common misunderstanding people have is the purpose and use of pollen versus nectar for bees. Can you describe that for listeners?
[00:25:21] Krystle Hickman: Yeah, so typically some, I have seen some adult bees consume pollen, but typically pollen is just for baby bees or growing bees. And then nectar is what adult bees consume.
[00:25:34] Michael Hawk: So you’ll see the adults out nectar in their desire to have fuel, to go collect pollen, to raise the next young,
[00:25:42] Krystle Hickman: Exactly. Yeah. And typically when bees are specialists, they’re pollen specialists. However, there are some bees. are specialists on flowers that do not produce nectar, like a poppy, for example. So there’ll be a specialist on maybe a poppy, but then they also might have another plant that they collect nectar from Typically.
[00:26:03] Michael Hawk: And another one that you mentioned that I’ve always found really interesting is uh, leaf cutter bees.
[00:26:08] megachile. Why are they out there cutting leaves?
[00:26:12] Krystle Hickman: Yeah. So I guess first off, so megachile aren’t just leaf cutter bees. There’s also resin bees as well that are in the megachile gen. so leaf cutter bees use either leaves. and sometimes flower petals to line the cells of their brood chambers.
[00:26:28] Michael Hawk: Is that for comfort? I mean, It’s not for food. Right.
[00:26:30] Krystle Hickman: It’s not for food. it is, I guess for comfort, quote unquote . Yeah. So it is, it’s just a protective lining that they use to seal in their brood in the, their nesting chambers.
[00:26:42] Michael Hawk: And continuing down the list here of some interesting bee lifestyles, cuckoo bees.
[00:26:48] Krystle Hickman: Yes. I love cuckoo bees. I, these are actually some of my, I’d say top five favorite bees. But yeah, these are really cool because they’re kind of like cuckoo birds, so cuckoo bees, they do not collect pollen for their own brood. What they’ll basically do like. I’ll bring up like a nomada for example.
[00:27:08] A nomada is typically a parasite of a mining bee called an andrena. So they, their phenology really lines up with andrena, like you’ll find them close to them. So basically andrena will create a ground nest and she’ll collect pollen for her offspring. And then a nomada will sneak into the burrow, lay her own egg, and then that egg will potentially hatch first.
[00:27:34] It’ll consume the pollen and potentially the egg of the andrena bee. And yeah, it’s like population control. And then there’s other ones like uh, Brachymelecta, which are parasites of anthophora, and there’s celis that are parasites of megachile so a lot of times if you wanna find the cuckoo bee or the parasite B, you look for the bee, that it’s a parasite of.
[00:27:57] Michael Hawk: Do you have any other interesting life history ecology, stories from bees you wanna cover?
[00:28:02] Krystle Hickman: The Perdita nasuta is one that I bring up a lot. So this is a bee that you’ll find in dry deserts. I would say. It’s, I’ve seen it one time, I think three years ago in Death Valley in the Mojave Desert. And this be was really cool cuz I can’t remember exactly when it was.
[00:28:21] Found, but one of the things that was very unique about it is it’s that the males have a facial feature called a clips, which kind of looks like a duck bill. So a lot of times people will call them like a duck face be, but one thing that was not known about this bee was what the use was for that facial feature.
[00:28:40] Because the way bees are collected primarily right now is people will go out and net them or they’ll put down a dish with some liquid in there called pan trapping them, and then they take them to a lab to adida species later. So there’s not a lot of observations on behaviors of bees. I feel like that’s changing, but with this bee, like it was just, no one knew what that facial feature was for.
[00:29:01] But since I don’t go out and like net or pan trap within 30 minutes of seeing this bee, I saw the males using the facial feature. I just, I thought that was really cool.
[00:29:10] Michael Hawk: So you were able to, back to being a community scientist, you were able to demonstrate then how this facial feature fits with the flowers that they.
[00:29:19] Krystle Hickman: So it was actually with the uh, the females. So the male actually when he’s trying to mate with her, he’ll actually trap her and I on either side of his little duck bill facial feature so she can’t fly off and attempt to mate with her. And yeah, I got some cute photos of that
[00:29:33] Michael Hawk: On your journey to learning more about bees and combining that with your photography, I know it’s taking you to delving into some of the threatened and endangered species and seeking them out and trying to learn more about.
[00:29:48] Those. So I guess there’s maybe lots of questions to unpack with what I’m about to say, but what has driven you to really want to learn more about these threatened species?
[00:29:59] Krystle Hickman: I think it was just initially like learning about the changing phenology of these creatures and drought years and just seeing the impact of climate change and just wanting to go out to farther. And farther places and just seeing what was out there. Because I think that’s one thing specifically with the West coast that there’s an issue with is there’s just, there’s a lot of land, but there’s not a lot of people looking.
[00:30:24] And we have we’re a biodiverse hotspot, it’s a Mediterranean climate. We have just so much biodiversity here. And I just wanted to see what was out there. And it’s a combination of just like curiosity and just loving to spend time alone out in nature. So yeah, I just I kind of get a thrill out of seeing like very rare plants and then if there’s a bee on there that I’ve never seen before, just learning about it and then hopefully getting some beautiful photos that people can use to like actually Id to species with too.
[00:30:54] Cuz that’s a big thing cuz with a lot of the bees that I photographed, people are like, this isn’t something that you can id to species. But then I take that as a challenge. Like, I’m gonna go out there and do this. And so far it’s, it’s been working out pretty well, but Yeah, it just it’s thrilling and it’s also very relaxing to get away from people and technology.
[00:31:12] Michael Hawk: So it ticks a lot of boxes. it sounds like, in terms of personal discovery and personal health, but then also, the science side. So what have you discovered so far and what else are you looking for in terms of the threatened species?
[00:31:26] Krystle Hickman: Oh, okay. As far as I’ve, I found a lot more vulnerable and rare species as opposed to threatened species. I’d say this is the first year where I actually, so I made an Excel spreadsheet last year where I basically mapped out every single month what bees I’m gonna be looking for. So I was like, I’m gonna find, one of my goals is to find the four endangered bumble bees in California.
[00:31:48] I’ve gotten one of them. I tried to get another one in the Trinity Alps in 2021. I’m gonna try again this year, but I’m. I’m working really hard to just go to locations that people aren’t visiting a lot, just to try and find these bees. And also working with some bumblebee experts or other melittologist who are potentially going to these locations to try and find them as well.
[00:32:08] So just dedicating a lot of time.
[00:32:10] Like for example, there’s a, the Bombus franklinii, which is the one that I went up to the Trinity Alps to try and find.
[00:32:16] No one’s seen that bee since 2006. I think it was August, 2006, but it was just listed as endangered in 2021, which there’s a pretty big gap there. So I feel like specifically with bees or with creatures that aren’t like very cute and fluffy or larger, people aren’t paying attention to them as much The line between when is vulnerable, when is endangered, when is potentially extinct, is blurry.
[00:32:41] Michael Hawk: I think there’s a high bar hard with the smaller organisms to reach the bar. So there, there are very likely things going extinct. all around us that we don’t even realize all the time.
[00:32:52] Krystle Hickman: Oh, a hundred percent. Yeah. And I think like we could definitely look at like the rate of extinction for plants to reflect with the rate of extinction to things that have relationships with them. Yeah I think that probably does apply to a lot of
[00:33:06] Michael Hawk: So I like your approach of making a spreadsheet and having targets like that sounds so much like what I do for whatever the tax of interest at the time is. I’m constantly doing that. What does it look like for you this time of year? So we’re talking in January. Do you have targets this time of year or is it just you’ll take whatever you can get when it’s a little bit cooler and maybe flower activity is tamping down a little.
[00:33:31] Krystle Hickman: I have pretty much every, what is it? I’d say maybe November through, like mid-February, just a lot of free time when I’m really not looking for anything. It’s, I’m just plotting out what I’m gonna do next year. Or maybe if I’m like looking back on stuff that I filmed before, I’m like editing.
[00:33:48] So if you see my social media during this time, it’s like basically dormant. . But yeah, February is when I like actually start going out and looking for a lot of bees. But you could find bumblebees right now.
[00:33:59] Michael Hawk: Yeah, I had a bumblebee in my front yard yesterday. In fact, I think it was a pyrobombus, You mentioned your social media and your photos throughout this and using photos to help advance the identification techniques. So you have some amazing photos and I want to ask you about your photography technique.
[00:34:19] So how do you approach it when you want to go out and get photos? Aside from coming up with a spreadsheet, what sort of preparation work do you.
[00:34:26] Krystle Hickman: well The first thing I normally do is figure out what time sunrise is, and then I’ll show up at a location about 30 minutes before that happens, and I’ll look for male bees sleeping on. , cuz they don’t move. So they’re very easy to photograph . And then when the sun starts coming up and the female bees start showing, I guess this is kind of a thing too cuz like certain bees are morning bees, certain or midday bees, and there’s certain ones that are like afternoon bees.
[00:34:53] So I kind of have to know what time of day your bee will be present. Some of them could be all day, but if you just spend a lot of time looking at them, you’ll start to notice patterns in their behavior. Like they have a ro routine, routine like people do. So for example, there’s certain flowers like I think it’s called a Pride of Madea, which is like a stock which has flowers just wrapped around it.
[00:35:15] I’ve noticed a lot of bees that will be visiting those, they’ll just kind of circle them going up or going down. So if you watch them for a while, you’ll just know which flower they’re coming to next and you can focus on that flower and take photos of them. Also if you spend a lot of time watching bees, there’s other bees that’ll start watching you back.
[00:35:33] Female, an thora bees, I’ve noticed particularly, like I’ll stare at them for a while or I’ll point my camera at them. They’ll start like looking at me in the face. They’ll start looking back at my camera and you can get photos of them hovering while they’re looking at you cuz they’re like curious.
[00:35:48] But yeah, that’s also one way I like a cheat I would say to Id that be. And then I guess just knowing their life habit habitat. Like this bee has a relationship say like a Diadasia for example, has a relationship with a mallow and you know, at this time of day the sun’s about to go down.
[00:36:06] This bee sleeps in the mallow. , look for a patch of meows and you’ll start to see them like curling up and they won’t attempt to fly away from you as much. Also if I see a bush that’s just covered in bees, one thing I do is I’ll wave my hand over the bush. It creates like a shadow. You’ll see a lot of bees just scatter, but then there’s other bees that will just stay there.
[00:36:26] They’ll completely ignore you. And then that’s a bee that you wanna photograph, cuz it’ll completely ignore you. So yeah that’s a tip with the Perdita minima, which is the smallest B in North America, potentially a world. That’s what I do with those guys. I just wave my hand over the sand mat that they’re on and then some of them will stay and then I just okay, I’m gonna focus on you.
[00:36:43] Michael Hawk: It’s a filtering technique. You eliminate all the other ones
[00:36:46] So that’s so interesting. So some of this is from your own personal observation and discovery and, and I suppose like the seasonality aspect you can find from sources like iNaturalist, unless it’s one of these very rare bees, like you’re talking about not seeing since 2006. There’s prob probably not enough data on i a for that.
[00:37:03] But this like diurnal aspect where some bees are afternoon bees or morning bees. H how do you discover that again? Is it personal discovery? Are there resources that people can look at?
[00:37:14] Krystle Hickman: Yeah, so sometimes it’s accidents. Sometimes you can look on discover life. A lot of times what I’ll do, cuz I’m looking for very specific bees that don’t have a lot of information online, I’ll actually reach out to the person who specializes in that genus or that sub genus and they’ll say like this.
[00:37:31] Be will only be present when the, the sun’s at its highest point between these temperatures. And then I go out there and look for the bee on that flower exactly when the sun and temperature is that way. And then a lot of times you’ll find the bees. What’s another thing too that’s really interesting is like with Perdita minima, for example just from them for, I guess this will be the fourth year males and females are out at different temperatures.
[00:37:55] So if you wanna get both bees you’ll have to go basically day what that has both of those temperatures. Or if you’re of on a cooler day, you might only see females.
[00:38:05] Michael Hawk: So much , , so much to learn.
[00:38:07] Krystle Hickman: And by cooler I mean like minimum 80 degrees
[00:38:10] Michael Hawk: Yeah. Good point. And so I, I suspect then you also have that variety across different species because if there’s a seasonality aspect, there’s probably a temperature driver that leads to some of the seasonality
[00:38:20] Krystle Hickman: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Yeah.
[00:38:22] Michael Hawk: I. And do you have any techniques to get specific compositions of the bees or do you put cards in the background to clean up the photo or, anything like that?
[00:38:35] To to help you get clean photos? Both for artistic purposes, but also for identification?
[00:38:41] Krystle Hickman: The only thing I do is just spend hours outside. Yeah, so the, I just, I try to get a good composition just based, a lot of it’s luck, but I try to focus on their face or their eyes. Cause I, I feel like it, it’s like a portrait. of the B cuz you can get more of their personality through that.
[00:38:59] But yeah, I don’t go out with like cards or anything like that or I don’t net
[00:39:04] Michael Hawk: For a lot of insects, some of the identifiable characteristics are Wing Van Nation or different other elements of their of their structure. So is that is that also part of what you do? You just try to get every angle you can.
[00:39:20] Krystle Hickman: I do, yes. And the only angle that I typically don’t get is from below, which is one of the with megachile bees. That’s definitely helpful for ID and then some halictus as well. But yeah, wing Van Nation can get you down to, for some, Even sub genus, eye shape is also very helpful. If you get um, a shot of the antenna, you can tell male from female.
[00:39:43] Also the bands on the abdomen that can help you differentiate between different halictids. Like you can tell a difference between a heus and a Lasioglossum. If you get a shot from the bee from behind, you can tell males from females for some, some genoa. Also shots of the legs the face shape, the eye shape like how big of a jaw the bee has.
[00:40:04] Even like coloring sometimes that’s a way to identify a bee to species.
[00:40:08] Michael Hawk: And that was . I was talking on a previous podcast episode, we were talking about field guides and I got this field guide to bumblebees. And they have these like really fun diagrams of the coloration. And I remember when I saw a sample page, I’m like, okay, I gotta get this. Because I thought, oh, this is gonna be easy because they have these great diagrams that show exactly what each band color should be.
[00:40:31] But then when I started looking at it it also showed all the variants that exists.
[00:40:36] Krystle Hickman: Yes. Yeah. So I’m actually making some flashcards and I have be bumblebees in them. So I started making some of those myself and oh my gosh yeah, the variation in some of these bees is just ridiculous. So kind of deciding what to show people. So I just went with extremes and I was like, there’s also a lot in the middle.
[00:40:57] But yeah, bumblebees are. . I thought I had them pretty good when I was just like in Southern California. Cause I was like, oh, these are easy. And then you go up to the, like pyro, bombas you were talking about. Those ones can be of difficult to idea a species. Yeah, keys. Keys are very interesting.
[00:41:12] Also, like the wording of them too. A lot of times p it’s just a person’s opinion. Like for osmia for example you have to decipher the person who created the key. What does shiny mean? Or dull?
[00:41:23] Michael Hawk: So that’s probably a good transition to ask about resources for people that want to learn more about bees in general. And I know a lot of people that listen to this podcast are into like, trying to figure out the identification as well because that unlocks another level of, ecology. So do you have recommendations as to where people could go to learn.
[00:41:44] Krystle Hickman: Besides iNaturalist, which I think is a great place, discover Life is also really great. So as bug Guide, as far as books the Bees in Your Backyard, great book. That was the book that I started out with. There is a West Coast version that is coming. It’s available for pre-order right now. I think it’s available in May.
[00:42:05] Don’t quote me on that. But yeah, an East Coast version came out I think last year or the year before. Um, There’s also this what’s it called? Bees of the World by Charles Michener . , that’s a great book. It’s not a book that you read, it’s like an encyclopedia, so you just like basically look at little parts of it cuz it’s very intense.
[00:42:22] But really good book. Yeah.
[00:42:23] Michael Hawk: and you said that you’re developing some flashcards. Uh, What are those gonna be used?
[00:42:27] Krystle Hickman: So those will be used for IDing, the 40 most commonly seen native B species in the Western United States. So the goal is to, well there’s, there’s wing venation on the back. There’s sociality also plant relationships habitat information, like a few blurbs sentences about details about that.
[00:42:47] Specifically specific B like male, female queen boundaries, whatever. There’s also a size chart and millimeters on the front as well as the scientific name, the common name, and then a photo that is pretty helpful for id I think.
[00:43:01] Michael Hawk: If I understand correctly, you’re also doing a Kickstarter for the Flashcard project. Can you tell me more about that and the bigger picture that you have?
[00:43:09] Krystle Hickman: Yeah, so the Kickstarter is March 1st, so it’s running for about a month. But the main reason why I wanted to do this is because I feel like a lot of information about native bees is not very handy. Especially the ones that you’ll see in your garden, maybe even the ones you’ll see in just various ecosystems in your area on the West Coast.
[00:43:32] So I wanted to make things easily digestible so you. , take your own photos of bees or you can go out in your own garden and you can potentially Id a bee to species but then also get facts about them. So I think two, one thing that’s great about these is let’s say you want to attract certain bees to your yard.
[00:43:51] There’s plant relationships on the back. So if this bee has a relationship with Asteraceae, you can put asters or the flowers in your backyard and hopefully attracted if, if you’re in that habitat, and then you know what months that bee will be present. So it starts showing up then. But yeah, just I feel like these cards are really great way just to start out with bees, but also if you have a lot of knowledge I, I feel like they’ll be useful as well.
[00:44:17] Yeah, I was just trying to make something that’s useful for pretty much everybody.
[00:44:20] Michael Hawk: your primary goal is just to evangelize the bees.
[00:44:23] Krystle Hickman: Sure, yeah. Just yeah. , Get people into them.
[00:44:28] Michael Hawk: So then in terms of the equipment that you use for your photography I, we’ve talked a lot about macro on this podcast in a number of different episodes, and I can link to a few of those for people that wanna learn more about generalities of macro photography and nature. Is there anything special or unique you’ve discovered with the approach to be photography that you’d like to tell our listeners about?
[00:44:51] Krystle Hickman: As far as equipment or,
[00:44:53] Michael Hawk: Yeah, as far as equipment,
[00:44:54] Krystle Hickman: When I was starting out in 2018 with my camera, I got a crop sensor camera, so I have a Nikon D 500 because that was, if you were taking pictures of small things, you wanted a crop sensor, but camera and technology just keeps advancing so quickly. Honestly, you can use a full frame camera body right now and crop them.
[00:45:14] Mirrorless cameras, like Nikon has um, what is it, a Z nine that is a amazing camera that I’m hopefully gonna buy this year. It’s I a hundred times better, I would say, than a D 500. You don’t have to worry about noise on it, which is of like fuzziness when you’re shooting in low lights. So yeah, if I would recommend, I still think that D 500 is a great camera and it’s, it’s definitely more affordable now than when I bought it.
[00:45:36] If, as far as a lens, if you’re just starting out and you’re taking pictures of a lot of things that will run away from you that are small, I would recommend something like a, at least getting like a 100 millimeter, cuz that gives you more working distance from you and your subject. Cuz there are ones that are closer you can get a 50 millimeter as well, but that might be a little bit more difficult when you’re first starting.
[00:45:58] Michael Hawk: Yeah. So you, with a 50 you, you end up getting closer to the subject and you’re gonna scare it away in the process of doing that. , and that reminds me, I was talking to a local entomologist who’s also, as so many are into photography, and we both, we were comparing notes and we both said that we do the same thing when we were approaching a subject such as a B on a flower or something like that.
[00:46:18] We bring our camera up to our face before we start the approach.
[00:46:23] Krystle Hickman: Yes, I do the same thing.
[00:46:25] Michael Hawk: Okay. Yeah. It seems to not frighten them away as much because you’re, you don’t have the reflection off the glass or, I don’t know what it is, but
[00:46:32] Krystle Hickman: Yeah. I don’t know if this has happened to you too, so I have a pretty big diffuser on my camera and this is so weird. I don’t know if the bees are just confused, but I have so many photos of bees reaching up to my camera lens. They’re just a lot of them are doing like the y shape where they’re trying to climb on.
[00:46:48] Yeah, weird. Weird. I don’t know if, does it happen with you ever?
[00:46:51] Michael Hawk: I haven’t noticed that.
[00:46:52] Krystle Hickman: You haven’t? Oh my gosh. I gotta show you those photos. They’re so funny. But yeah, I have a lot of those.
[00:46:57] Michael Hawk: So you mentioned a few things already about, resources that people.
[00:47:01] Can look to, to learn more. Just to revisit that real quickly, have you found, because I like sometimes video is enthralling that that can really hook people. Have you seen any good documentaries or videos or even YouTube channels or whatever that, that are great for learning more about.
[00:47:17] Krystle Hickman: Yeah. P b s came out with a special I think it’s called My Garden of a Thousand Bees. It was filmed in Europe and I just found out that it’s apparently not available to people in a lot of Europe. But if you’re in the US I would a hundred percent recommend that it’s a man in Bristol, England.
[00:47:34] It’s just his backyard with a bunch of just native plants and native bees. And a lot of the observations that he observed, like just saw were things that you’ll see in nature and you could use to like, for photographing yourself. Just bees have patterns that they like to repeat or they have certain habits so helpful for photographing and just learning more about.
[00:47:58] Michael Hawk: That one had not shown up on my radar, so I’ll check it.
[00:48:01] Krystle Hickman: Oh, it’s so good. Definitely check it out. Yeah.
[00:48:03] Michael Hawk: I need more time. there’s so many things that I need to check out. You know this one, take it however direction you wanna take it, but if you could magically impart one ecological concept to help the public see the world like you see it, what would that.
[00:48:20] Krystle Hickman: I think the big one would be that nature doesn’t belong to us. It’s not ours, just that nature. It can exist independently of us, and I feel like to continue living on this planet in a healthy way, we need. Be a part of nature, but also not possess it. One thing that like, I, I say this to a lot of people I talk to in person is a lot of people refer to bees as ours.
[00:48:49] They refer to air as ours, water as ours. Or they find a new resource and they’re like, what can we do with it? But I just like to point out like these bees don’t belong to us. They’re the bees or just bees or like the different parts of the environment doesn’t belong to us. A lot of the really good things that we could do with nature is just leave it alone.
[00:49:07] But yeah, I just I think it’d be great if people stop calling Nature ours.
[00:49:11] Michael Hawk: I’ve been doing this a lot, this conversation, because you’re saying things that, that just generate so many deeper side conversations, you know, because I, I’m, I’m thinking about why do people refer to nature as ours and like my bees and these sorts of things, and it’s so deeply ingrained in society and I think our relationship with nature or maybe our lack of a proper relationship with.
[00:49:35] Krystle Hickman: Yeah. I think one thing that’s just really cool when you spend time out in nature is these things evolved over millions of years and they can completely disappear. It won’t affect humanity. We can, we’ll probably affect them eventually, but I just, I think that things. The importance of things shouldn’t be related to how important they are to people or how we can potentially use them.
[00:49:59] And I feel like that’s one reason people like honeybees so much is they’re not a part of nature, at least in the US and they don’t really have an any benefit. I would even argue with farming as well, cuz the way farming, that’s a whole conversation. But I think like farming could be changed a lot.
[00:50:14] But I think the only real benefit is just honey. And that’s, I don’t know, that’s a, that’s more of a want than a need. But yeah think farming should definitely be changed the way it’s done. I think farming should be done alongside native ecosystems instead of destroying them.
[00:50:30] Michael Hawk: So much of, what we do today and our relationship with nature is grounded in habits that were established , decades if not centuries ago with less knowledge and and really no data. And now it’s just momentum, so opening our minds to think about alternative, more sustainable ways to relate with nature is it’s a hard thing to do.
[00:50:51] For that reason. We’ve been doing this for decades, so why change now, which is the wrong way to look at it,
[00:50:57] Okay. So do you have any upcoming projects that you’d like to highlight? Anything? I You mentioned your flashcards anything else?
[00:51:04] Krystle Hickman: Yeah, so I’m currently working on two books. One of them is called the ABCs of California. This is one I’ve been working on since 2019, so it’s 26 different species of bees. Each one is a letter. in the alphabet. So there’s a story that goes along with each bee as well as photos. Also landscape photography.
[00:51:24] So yeah, just basically a, most of the bees are pretty rare, but I just wanna bring the diversity of not just bees, but like ecosystems to people and like a very beautiful way and like a story that goes along with it. So there’s that one, and then there’s a bee book that’s in line with a lot of my talks.
[00:51:41] But yeah. And then this year I’m just working with a lot of people who specialize in plants, especially like rare plants, to try and find these bees.
[00:51:50] Michael Hawk: for the for the books. Do you have publishers lined up release dates, anything to look forward to? Specif.
[00:51:56] Krystle Hickman: One of them has a I’m working with a publisher. The other one I’m probably gonna self-publish cuz the ABC’s book is a coffee table book, which I feel like those typically don’t really generate any profit, but it’s just been like something I’ve been wanting to do. So I’m like I’ll just do it. But yeah.
[00:52:11] Michael Hawk: All right well,, I’ll keep an eye out then for that progress. And actually people could maybe directly keep an eye out by following you on social media or your website. So how can, people find you?
[00:52:21] Krystle Hickman: Yeah. So my website is beesip.com, which is B E E S I P and my Instagram is also @beesip. And BIP wasn’t available for Facebook and Twitter, so I’m beesiponline on both of those.
[00:52:35] Michael Hawk: Okay. Krystle, is there anything else that that you’d like to say before we depart for today?
[00:52:40] Krystle Hickman: No, I just wanna say thank you so much for having me. This has been an absolute pleasure. Yeah, thank you.
[00:52:46] Michael Hawk: It’s been a joy and your enthusiasm really shows, so I’m looking forward to getting this out in the public. Thank you so much. I appreciate you and the work that you’re doing and all the time that we spent here today.
[00:52:57] Krystle Hickman: Yeah, same.