“The Australian bee genera: An annotated, user–friendly key” by Tobias J. Smith

Toby’s book is wonderful in its simplicity and fills a really critical niche. As native bee research in Australia continues to grow, many new researchers are entering the field.

With this influx comes issues surrounding inexperience in bee identification — I am no exception. For those playing along at home, bee ID is seriously tough! The consequences of poor identification of a photo online might be relatively mild. But, misidentifications in a scientific context run higher stakes.

The daunting task of bee ID is made quite a lot less so thanks to Toby’s hard (and unpaid) work. I for one think that his service to the Australian bee research community in this is understated and under appreciated. And I would encourage everyone to thank Toby for his wonderful work. I would also encourage researchers who use his book for identifications to cite it.

Toby is also an excellent macro photographer and has spread some of his lovely macro shots throughout the book. These photos are also accompanied by many wonderful shots from PaDIL.

If you haven’t noticed by now, I very much enjoy Toby’s book. And, while I haven’t read it from cover to cover, like I did with Terry’s book, I have been over every page multiple times and even use his Overview of Australian bees (page 5) to keep track of the bee genera that I have, or have not, imaged. (Only 16 to go!). But of course, the two books are really very complimentary and Terry’s book can provide the detail to a bee genus, once you have reached and ID using Toby’s book.

The book is broken up into a few sections. The first part of the book includes: (i) The acknowledgements — few pieces worth their salt are written in complete isolation. (ii)

The preface — which explains why this book needed to be written. (iii) The identification equipment required (or preferred). (iv) A ‘how to’ for the use of the key, which is particularly good for those just starting out. (v) A brief over-view of the Australian bee fauna — this includes a list of the families, subfamilies and genera which I still use to refresh my memory! (vi) Bee anatomy and Terminology (including mouthparts) — a section which a reader might frequently flip back to when using the key and trying to figure out the [bloody confusing] terminology that taxonomists use. (vii) A “bee or wasp?” page — It’s not a straight forward question, alright? And (viii), a page on how to tell apart female and male bees.

The second half of the book is where I spend most of the time — the annotated, [and well–illustrated] user–friendly key. This is where Toby’s book shines the brightest. The majority of scientific keys are written in a way where one might need to read on page 15 and then go and compare two images, one on page 50 and the other on page 89; that is if you are lucky enough to have illustrations of the character–of–interest at all! Instead of opting for this tired method. Toby has instead provided us with the written key couplets along with images of the relevant morphological (physical) characters — often with big red arrows and shading to guide the intrepid [and possibly inexperienced] bee explorers.

While the first addition of the book had a couple of not quite optimal couplets, Toby has been very proactive in up-dating these couplets online. I for one would love to have a second addition print of the book, particularly if (like the first edition) it is also printed on such durable paper that is resilient to wear and tear in the field. This would also mean requesting Toby to sign another copy of the book for me. I hope that he would oblige.

I’m sure that most people who know Toby have experienced his almost giddy passion for native bees. I know that I feel most comfortable in my own over-the-top excitement for bees when sharing it with Toby. Toby’s passion is often translated into selfless dedication in advancing Australian native bee research and spreading that same excitement to others. For example, Toby was a major driving force for my own inter-est in bees when I was an undergraduate student.
Hence, I am thrilled to strongly recommend Toby’s book to all readers interested in identifying Australian native bees. The lay reader can find the writing and images useful, even in the absence of a microscope. For researchers, this book is a near-indispensable resource to quickly, and easily, distinguish genera. And did I mention it’s free?

$FREE PDF available for download from the Bee Aware Brisbane website.

Review by James Dorey, PhD candidate at Flinders University and The South Australian Museum.