15 Bee-utiful Pictures Of Bees

A new book highlights the diversity of these fuzzy pollinators
Orchid Bee
The 132 species of the Orchid Bee genus Euglossa glint in almost all the colors of the rainbow. The gaudiest of bees, it zips through the tropical jungles of the Western Hemisphere in polished, metallic glory. Matching the showiness of these bees, are the complex and beautiful forms of orchids that have evolved to entice visits by the males. Males come to these plants not to collect pollen or nectar, but to gather what amounts to chemical perfumes. These aromatic compounds are stored in the hind legs of males and are used during the courtship of females. The orchid, in turn, glues its twin sacks, which are filled with pollen grains, onto the backs of these bees. The bees then transport them to the next orchid, where the placement, size, and shape of these orchid pollinia are designed to transfer the pollen to the stigma of the recipient orchid, effecting pollination. Collected by Sam Droege in Guyana | Photo by Sam Droege

If you read science news, you’ve probably heard a lot about the plight of the honey bee. These pollinators are responsible for producing a huge portion of the fruits and vegetables that we eat, including apples, berries, almonds, and broccoli. The species is mysteriously on the decline in the U.S. and Europe, which could spell trouble in our food future.

But honey bees aren’t the only bees out there. Earth is home to some 20,000 named species of bees, and there may be another 20,000 waiting to be discovered and named. We don’t know much about these species, what they’re like, or how they’re faring in the “global pollinator crisis.” In a new book, biologists Sam Droege and Laurence Packer shine a spotlight on some of that incredible bee diversity–for example, did you know that some bees have a tongue longer than their bodies, or that others drink sweat?–while also highlighting our shortage of knowledge about these important species. And they do it all through amazingly vivid images, as you can see in the gallery above.

The book’s hundreds of photographs were all snapped with off-the-shelf camera parts and a bit of ingenuity. When zooming in on a small insect, usually the increased magnification means that only a tiny part of the bee will be in focus. To overcome that, Droege programmed a microprocessor to move the camera, taking the same shot from multiple, slightly different distances that give slightly different foci. Then a computer program stitches the photos together, creating images with incredible depth of field.

In addition to the book’s eye-capturing photos and interesting bee trivia, the captions are peppered with anecdotes–including several bee stings and a visit to the White House lawn–that make it a surprisingly fun read.

Bees: An Up-Close Look At Pollinators Around The World goes on sale July 7.

Black-Winged Cuckoo Orchid Bee
Australian Minute Baldy
Neon Cuckoo
On-And-Off Bee
Vectored Sputnik
Atlas Morning Glory Bee
Tricolored Morning Forked-Tongue
Pendant Long-Horn
Long-Nosed Sandlover
Unknown Cute Bee
Sichel's Crenulated Bee
Pure Augochlora
Black-Bottomed Osmia
Blue Orchard Bee