Different species of bees exhibit a range of social complexity from solitary to highly social. For example, blueberry bees are solitary while honey bees have large highly structured colonies. A new study by Dr. Karen Kapheim and colleagues compared ten bee species representing the spectrum of social complexity in order to discover the underlying genomic basis for the evolution and elaboration of social structure. The research discovered that there are multiple pathways toward sociality, but the evolution of social complexity always involves an increase in genomic complexity.
This study was published in Science last week, and the authors asked me to illustrate the species represented in the study. Illustrating these species involved research into the behavior and social structures of each species. Some of the solitary bees pollinate only specific flowers while the social bees have fascinating behaviors associated with their queens or honey pots. I incorporated some of these particularities into each illustration. The paper can currently be found online and will be published in print later this year.