Chasing the Wild Bee, with Dr. Olivia Carril

by Anita Amstutz

Recently I sat down for an interview with Dr. Olivia Carril, co-author of the beautiful compendium, The Bees in Your Backyard: A Field Guide to North America’s Bees. Olivia lives in Santa Fe with her family and is a national treasure with her depth and breadth of knowledge about wild bees, having studied and done field research for over 25 years.


Olivia grew up in a family that valued being outside, and she chose to study biology so she could be paid for being in nature and doing what she loved. Initially she thought she’d follow the track of flowering plants, but then she landed a job in a lab studying bee specimens already organized with their pins in drawers—bees from Poland to Zimbabwe to North America. Esteemed research entomologist Dr. Terry Griswold noticed her fascination and enthusiasm, and she landed her first project in central/western California. There, Olivia documented bees landing on flowers and became curious about the unique symbiotic relationship of bees and flowers, noticing patterns in how bees were drawn to certain plants at specific times of day and exploring the importance of colors, scents, and shapes of flowers.

Olivia realized she loved not just organizing wild bees but also exploring and stalking them. She and her family settled in the high deserts of the Southwest so she could research her specialty in bees and their co-evolved landscapes.

Co-Evolution of Wild Bees and the New Mexican Landscape

North America has over 4,000 species of wild bees; of these, at least 1,000 are indigenous to New Mexico! This is what makes New Mexico such a fine place to study wild bees. Because we have many bioregions, including some warmer southern climes that have longer flowering seasons, it’s a great place to Bee! Wild bees like warm soil and dry climates so their ground nests don’t get moldy. These microclimates, which have evolved different niches and flower species, have in return caused adaptations in bees of body types and antennae. Thus, wild bees have evolved here in unique ways.

In the desert, the most critical pollinators of flowers and wild landscapes are the wild bees which have co-evolved with them. Dr. Carril reminds us that in the desert, it’s the wild bees who are most responsible for pollination. For instance, two mason bees are more efficient pollinators than 100 honeybee workers! And think about this…they are independent, free agents! No need for management. Now you may meet some of them!

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The Beekeeper’s World

by Amy Owen

As a beekeeper, I felt out of place when I walked into the New Mexico Pest Management Association Conference. We have some similar interests—we all like to learn about insects—but our goals for our work can seem opposed. As a beekeeper, my goal is to keep honey bee colonies alive, healthy, and vibrant. On the contrary, pesticide applicators try to eliminate colonies of insects that the public views as pests.  

I was invited to speak on the subject of protecting bees and other pollinators from pesticides (which include insecticides and herbicides). This is something I am passionate about, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to raise awareness about the negative effect pesticides have on bees. Before I began my talk, I saw a man with a sign that advertised a pesticide that I would soon be talking about: IGRs, or insect growth regulators. I’d share how insect growth regulators harm bees by rendering them unable to move from one stage of their life cycle to the next, thereby causing stagnation in a colony. My anxiety level grew. 

We had a short break, during which the man advertising IGRs let me know that he would be introducing me as the next speaker. I thought to myself:  could this get any worse? I was about to show a slide, just feet away from his sign, talking about how harmful his product was.  

He shared that the company he represented once developed miticides for beekeepers. We then had a lively chat about the use of miticides, the importance of them, and how they are often misused and consequently lose their efficacy.    

Confession: as a beekeeper, I use organic miticides in my hives to keep varroa mite levels down. Varroa mites are parasitic mites that feed on a honey bee’s fat stores. If mite levels in a colony aren’t kept below a certain threshold, the honey bees will likely succumb to the infestation and the diseases that are vectored by the varroa mite.  

As a beekeeper, I try to follow an integrated pest management (IPM) approach to control mite levels. My primary methods of control include finding bees with genetic traits that are mite resistant, spacing hives at least 4 feet apart, keeping apiaries small, and allowing colonies to have natural brood breaks. I monitor my hive’s mite levels regularly, and take notes so that I know which hives have genetics or conditions that are most conducive to keeping mite levels below a recommended threshold. If a colony’s mite level goes above this threshold, I use an organic miticide (formic or oxalic acid) to lower the mite load. If I see that I am consistently having to treat a hive, I will requeen it with a queen whose genetics are more mite resistant. 

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Homemade Insect Repellent

There are a variety of strategies to repel insects which people swear by. None listed contain DEET. Each of these comes recommended!

Internal repellents for mosquitoes:

     Eating lots of garlic or taking apple cider vinegar

External repellents for rubbing on your skin:

     Apple cider vinegar or garlic

     Oils such as citronella, tea tree, peppermint, almond, and jujuba `– Make your own mix!

     Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) is recommended by the Center for Disease Control

     Cedar oil is useful for ticks.

For itching (in case you do get bitten):

     Ice, which will also decrease swelling

     Meat tenderizer

     Lemon juice

     White vinegar

     Pastes made of baking soda or oatmeal