When I read at night, I seldom get very far. Still, I love the late hours. When the night is black and the forest outside my window reveals pairs of glowing eyes, I get to read what I want instead of what I should.
Seizing a free evening, I recently dipped into an e-book by bee researcher and zoologist Kit Prendergast. If you don’t already know, Kit is a riot, a free spirit from Down Under who always has me in stitches, even when she’s dead serious.
Kit has in abundance the one quality I find most appealing, but which is truly rare: she is authentic. No airs, no pretense, no artifice. She is who she is. Take it, or leave it.
So I downloaded one of her e-books, figuring I would read the first few pages. But instead of falling asleep, I read late, plowing into the night, captivated by Kit’s adventure. I giggled aloud and talked to my cat.
Book 1: “Abuzz About Dawson’s Burrowing Bee”
This book, all 89 pages, is a diary of Kit’s quest to see and photograph a bee she had never met in person, and to assist another bee scientist with his research. Amegilla dawsoni is an outrageous and gorgeous bee with a proclivity for living in large aggregations and engaging in lots of sex. But that’s only part of the story’s charm.
Kit shares her journey, detailing problems with her car, camera, computer, and passersby who want to know what she’s doing. The problems are common ones we all share but never bother writing about, so right away I felt like, “Oh yeah, I get it.”
As you read her account, you will learn what bee researchers do with their time. You will absorb a lot about one bee and a little about many others, and you will learn a few tidbits about the flora and fauna of WA. (That’s Western Australia, not Washington state, but you know that.) Kit uses a spattering of words only a melittologist could love, but most of you beekeepers should feel right at home.
The text is well-illustrated with excellent photographs. If nothing else, you will recognize a Dawson’s Burrowing Bee if you ever see one, and you will know the males from the females.
Amegilla dawsoni is closely related to our North American bees in the genera Anthophora and Habropoda, all in the Anthophorini tribe, with similar characteristics and lifestyles. They are large, fuzzy, noisy, amorous bees that you don’t want to miss. I’m lucky to have an aggregation of Habropoda within walking distance that I discovered by following the ruckus they make. Now I can’t wait till spring so I can go back and revisit.
Book 2: “Creating a Haven for Native Bees”
Kit’s other e-book is a guide for building and maintaining native bee habitat. It is the best, most comprehensive book on attracting and housing cavity-nesting bees that I’ve seen, and it includes tons of photos showing good and bad design. As she points out, lots of the commercially produced housing we see in stores and online is not appropriate for native bees, and she explains why.
The book describes effective placement of bee housing, how to maintain proper hygiene in your nests, and how to handle predators and other occupants.
Another section of the book provides tips on developing ground-dwelling bee habitat, and how to build mud blocks and bee walls. Ground-dwelling species frequently get overlooked in bee books, but since most native bees are ground-dwellers, this information is crucial for effective bee habitat.
Kit also includes a section on floral resources for bees and sections on nesting materials, pesticides, climate change, and citizen science. Last, she includes photos aplenty for inspiration and ideas. It’s amazing how much solid advice she has assembled in just 83 pages. I’m impressed.
Remember that even though the species of bees in Australia differ from ours in North America, bees are bees, meaning nearly every word of this book is applicable anywhere bees exist. The world has only seven families of bees. We in North America have six of the seven, but we lack Stenotritidae, an Australian family. Australia, on the other hand, doesn’t have Andrenidae. (If your reference books list some other number of families, it’s because the taxonomy of everything has undergone a massive shakeup since DNA analysis became widely available.)
A word for all beeple
Before I close, I want to mention the word “beeple.” This is Kit’s word. She began using it to address folks like us several years ago. It’s a splendid word, very handy because it sidesteps the distinction between beekeepers and native bee enthusiasts. Kit says it may turn out to be her greatest contribution to bee science. I doubt it, but even if it were true, it’s a badass achievement.
If you would like to order one or both of Kit’s books, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Either book would make a great gift for the beeple on your list!
Abuzz About Dawson’s Burrowing Bee is available only as an e-book for a donation of your choice.
Creating a Haven for Native Bees is available as an e-book for $18 AUD (about $14 USD). She also offers a print edition for $30 AUD plus postage.
Honey Bee Suite