As I knelt beside a Ceanothus, eager to photograph bumble bees, I was distracted by a little black fly. But when the tiny creature bustled into my field of view, I was amazed to see not a fly, but a bee. She was fully formed with all the signs that, taken together, indicate bee-ness: double wings, bent antennae, five eyes, and two loads of pollen.
The little creature was no bigger than a thought—a mere wanna bee. She could have walked beneath a honey bee’s belly with an umbrella. It was love at first sight. I called her Lolita.
I don’t have the equipment or the skill to photograph such an imp of perfection, but I kept hitting the shutter anyway. How could something so small have so many features? Lolita was built like the iPhone of the future.
The incident got me thinking about pollinator conservation. Nearly all the press—and therefore all the conservation money—benefits large furry mammals with doleful eyes or great teeth: lions, tigers, polar bears, rhinos, and whales. Even in the invertebrate world, our attention is riveted on bulky bumble bees or rakish butterflies, as if something big is more important than something small, as if largeness is its own virtue.
Meanwhile, we are out there poisoning everything in sight and lots of things that aren’t. If toxins in our environment are harming Hymenopterans as large as honey bees, think what they must be doing to this figment of a bee. She’s pollinating her heart out for us while we don’t give a damn. We’re killing things we don’t even know exist and the waste is staggering.
To the best of my limited knowledge, my little bee is an Andrena or mining bee. According to “Bees, Wasps, and Ants” by Eric Grissell (2010), about 1500 species of these live in North America alone. She was about a quarter of an inch long and carried two loads of pollen that looked like saddle bags on a motorcycle. Before long she was joined by other Lolitas—all perfect and all perfectly amazing.