TITLE: Native Bees of the Texas Rio Grande Valley
AUTHOR : Paula Sharp
General Book Description: Native Bees of the Texas Rio Grande Valley is a guide to the novel and rare bee species found along Texas' southern border with Mexico. The book is illustrated with photographs that capture, with beauty and scientific precision, the dazzling world of native bees.
Author Information: Paula Sharp is a photojournalist and writer. She is the author of the national bestseller Crows over a Wheatfield and four other novels, and she has traveled throughout the United States and Brazil, photographing and documenting life here and in the Amazon. Sharp is the co-creator with photographer Ross Eatman of the highly-regarded websites Wild Bees of New York and Wild Bees of Texas. An exhibit of Sharp and Eatman’s photographs of native bees is currently on a national tour of prominent museums and botanical gardens.
Sample pages: The above links provide sample pages of the book. These include:
(1) A proposed table of contents, with page-number estimates for various sections
(3) Sample guide entry
(4) Sample section divider pages
Number of pages: The estimated length of the printed book is approximately 275 pages.
Information on Subject Matter:
Texas spans a wide and varied geographical terrain that incorporates, at its southern extreme, a subtropical climate that harbors bee species unknown in other parts of the country. The Texas Rio Grande Valley, located on the Texas-Mexico border in the floodplain of the Rio Grande River, contains a multitude of distinct habitats acclaimed for their biodiversity. The Valley harbors unique mammals and birds; more than 1,200 varieties of plants; and hundreds of butterfly and bee species.
Many of the bee species found in the Texas Rio Grande Valley are rarely seen north of the Mexican border; others occur exclusively or nearly exclusively in Texas. Even those bee types recognizable to many North American naturalists and gardeners – carpenter bees, sweat bees and leafcutters, for example – tend to appear in a surprising array of species and exotic colors specially adapted to the Rio Grande Valley’s long growing season and remarkably varied flora.
There is little pre-existing photographic documentation for many of the bees that will be showcased in Native Bees of the Texas Rio Grande Valley. A number were first recorded in the late 1800's by prominent entomologists such as E. T. Cresson, and Wilmatte and T.D.A. Cockerell, who described bee species in detailed written accounts unaccompanied by illustrations.
Since that time, some of the Texas Rio Grande Valley species uncovered by 19th Century entomologists have become the subject of study, but many remain under-researched, their habits largely unknown. Whenever possible, this book will supplement existing knowledge about the remarkable native bees of the Texas Rio Grande Valley, with detailed photographs and notes on their behavior.
Organization of Book:
The table of contents accessible via the above link is self-explanatory: The book has a short preface (2 pages); an introductory section on bee identification (20-25 pages); and a bee guide (250 pages). These are followed by an appendix, glossary, reference section and index.
North American bees divide logically into 6 families, and thus the guide is arranged into six sections, by family. These sections are subdivided by common name – e.g., “bumble bees,” “leafcutter bees,” “chimney bees,” “digger bees,” etc. The subsections provide general information on a given genus or bee tribe, followed by entries showcasing individual species.
Number of native bee species covered: 80 - 100 species.
Note from author: Most popular books on bees tend to describe whole genera in general terms (e.g., bumble bees, leafcutter bees, etc.). As far as I know, there are no popular guide books on native bees that offer identification snapshots of hundreds of species, as is common in bird and butterfly guides. I assume this is because individual bee species can be impossible to tell apart with the naked eye. Species differentiation often hinges on ridiculously minute traits that require a microscope or macro lens to discern, such as the number of teeth on a male bee’s jaw or the structure of its wing veins.
Given this challenge, I decided that it makes more sense to thoroughly cover fewer species – around 80 to 100 rather than 200-300 -- selecting out those that are unique to the Texas Rio Grande Valley and easily identifiable to the naked eye. The alternative would be to provide a regional ID guide that contains thumbnails and short blurbs for hundreds of species that are monotonously similar.
By focusing on rarer and more eye-catching bees, the book will attract a more national audience and a broader range of readers– professional and amateur conservationists; gardeners and other nature-lovers specifically interested in pollinators; and nature photographers. Despite the book’s regional focus, it covers many under-documented bee genera that are found both within and outside of Texas. Its detailed photographs and descriptive text are thus likely to interest readers far beyond the Rio Grande Valley, while also serving as a useful local guide.
Closing Comments: What makes this book particularly worthwhile is that so many of the bee species featured have never been photographed or thoroughly studied since the late 1800’s. This is despite the fact that bees of the Texas border tend to be singular and uncommonly beautiful. We usually had to seek identifications by piecing together dry written descriptions from the 1800’s; afterward we would consult entomological experts who checked identifications against their own collections.
We found this information gap surprising, given the national enthusiasm for pollinators currently sweeping the United States. We imagine that gardeners and other pollinator-lovers might appreciate having such obscure information served up in a well-illustrated, informative guide.
It is notable that, insofar as the book does describe individual native bee species, it would be unique. I can’t think of another book out there that provides any kind of guide to individual native bee species, other than a single example limited to bumble bees.