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Bees, Bees And More Bees! Researchers Find Over 650 Bee Species In Grand Staircase-Escalante

A yellow and black bee (a mallow bee) lands in a red flower (a globe mallow flower).
Olivia Carril

When most people think of bees, they think of a honeybee, but there are hundreds and thousands of other bee species found in the United States. 

Olivia Carril is an independent bee researcher whose recent work investigated how many bees, and which bees, live in Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument in southern Utah.

"We found a lot of bees, so many bee species, it is kinda incredible!" she said. "We found 660 bee species within the borders of the former Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. So Utah has around 1,000, it is a good 60-something percent of the bee species that can be found in Utah, also occur within that monument. Another paper that was done a few years ago tallied up all the bee species east of the Mississippi River and found 770. So if you take all of the states east of the Mississippi River they have about 100 more species than were found in this tiny little monument that’s the size of Delaware.  So we found a lot of bees, which was really exciting!"

Because of this research, there is an increased understanding and quantitative value of the importance of this protected area for biodiversity. According to Carril, part of what makes Grand-Staircase Escalante a diverse hotspot for bees is the floral diversity and long growing season.

Three people spread out in the desert with a few trees in the background at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Credit Olivia Carril
Three bee collectors looking for native bees in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Even in seemingly barren landscapes, miniscule flowers and their even smaller bees can be found.

"We do know in general that dry areas tend to have a lot more bees. There’s species in flower from March through November, but in addition to that, there’s a lot of floral turnover so the species that is blooming in March is very different from what flowering species will be blooming in April. And each time there’s this turnover in the flowering species there’s also a turnover in the bees that are visiting them," Carril said. 

Bees are not just present in desert ecosystems; Carril encourages everyone to look for bees in their own backyard. 

"Bees are everywhere, they are superabundant, we are just not used to looking for them. I encourage people to go beyond just what we see in our national monuments and take a look right around their house and see what bees they can find," said Carril.