PHOTO: ‘Vancouver Island Bumble Bee’ with ‘mystery Carder Bee’ on the left. Article and photo © Carol McDougall.

You should meet my bee guy. He’s an assistant prof in Singapore and really knows bees.

Before using iNaturalist 8 years ago, I didn’t know much about bees. I definitely knew mammals, especially African ones and birds quite a bit—but the rest of nature… I guess I hadn’t really paid attention but I did manage the odd photo. But my bee guy, he’s made over a million identifications of bees. He’s also made quite a difference in the world among citizen scientists. He’s making a difference right now on Gabriola.

I’ve lived in a few places and travelled to more but Gabriola is my favourite place to date. It’s a rare day that I’m not hiking, photographing and learning about this paradise. One day last summer, I saw a tiny bee in a little yellow flower and…


Enhance. Crop. Enlarge.

Post an observation.

Since I don’t really know my bees, I selected the suggested identification ‘Oblong Wool Carder Bee’. Someone else, who knows more about bees suggested, ‘Subgenus Dianthidium a member of pebble bees’. I viewed the ‘Compare’ button read ‘About’ looked at the ‘Map’ and I pressed ‘Agree’.

By this time, I’d worked with my bee guy while living in Asia, Africa and Newfoundland. I would take my best guess and he would virtually arrive and identify accurately. He inspired me to notice more. What is it about this bee that makes it different from other bees? Slowly and persistently, my bee guy taught me about bee subspecies, invasive bees and endangered bees.

For two months, the tiny bee on Gabriola just hung there with a sad indefinite identification. During that time, I started introducing Gabriola and members of GaLTT to the value of iNaturalist. We offered a few outdoor workshops and then my bee guy came to the rescue once again. Now the tiny native bee had a new name, important conservation status and was on the map of biodiversity. Except, now it was fall and we all had to wait for bee season to arrive again.

Winter is the perfect time for planning and GaLTT was interested in a first BioBlitz for Gabriola using iNaturalist in 2023. We puttered away on our plans and then spring came and the bees arrived. It’s very hard to plan a BioBlitz after the bees arrive because nature is so wonderfully distracting. This June just under a year later, I was thrilled when I saw the tiny native bee again in the same place. My bee guy confirmed it. Now, I really wanted to know if the tiny bee lived in other places on Gabriola. Fortuitously, the Nature Conservancy planned a Canadian wide BioBlitz and GaLTT tagged along.

August arrived and Gabriolans embraced their first BioBlitz. That’s when the tiny bee showed up, noticed by a new user to iNaturalist and this got my bee guy’s attention. Then, the new user noticed it in a new location and that became valuable research data.

Here is how you can attract the tiny bee to your backyard. This tiny bee (and others) have been known to pollinate three native plants—Oregon Gumplant, Douglas’ Aster, and the near threatened Columbian Whitetop Aster. Look for these flowering plants and/or plant more of these. Then grab your phone or camera and do your citizen scientist best hanging out on iNaturalist. You might just meet a tiny bee and my bee guy. What is the name of the tiny bee and my bee guy? Well, you’re just going to have to discover that for yourself.

Hope to see you on the trails.

Meet the Neighbours

This article is one of a series of occasional “Meet the Neighbours” articles written to tell you about some of the critters (and plants) that we share our island with. If you’d like to learn more about how to be a good neighbour by preserving habitat for native species on your own property, visit our Nature Stewards page.

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