Following The Wild Bees, book review

Following the Wild Bees: The Craft and Science of Bee Hunting, written by Thomas D. Seeley, introduces readers into the pastime of bee hunting, an exciting outdoor activity that used to be practiced widely but which few people know about today. Thomas Seeley, a world authority on honey bees, lives in Ithaca, NY and is the Horace White Professor in Biology at Cornell University. He is the author of Honeybee Democracy and Honeybee Ecology and The Wisdom of the Hive.

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Seeley describes the history and science behind this lost pastime and how anyone can do it. Following the Wild Bees both discusses the pleasures of the natural world and provides a guide to the clever methods that compose the craft of the bee hunter.

Seeley explains how one finds a patch of flowers humming with honey bees, captures and sumptuously feeds the bees, and then releases and follows them, step-by-step in whatever direction they fly, back to their secret residence in a hollow tree, old building, or abandoned hive. Your reward is a thrilling encounter with nature that challenges your mind and body while also giving you new insights into the remarkable behavior of honey bees living in the wild.

Drawing on decades of experience as a bee hunter and bee biologist, Seeley weaves informative discussions of the biology of wild honey bees with colorful historical anecdotes, personal insights, and beautiful photos.

Throughout the book there are Biology Boxes which explain, in detail, the secretes of bees. Have you ever wondered, “Why Don’t Honey Bees Recruit During a Strong Honey Flow? I hadn’t. This is most likely do to the fact that I didn’t know honey bees recruited. In Biology Box 3, Seeley clearly describes how there are two types of workers: forages and the food storers. The bees that are assigned to these tasks depend on the bees age. Young bees forage about, while middle aged bees take the more restful job of storing and feed out the honey. There needs to be a perfect balance between the foragers and the storers. If there are too many foragers then the storers will be overtaxed. If there isn’t enough food coming in from the foragers than the storeres would be just sitting around – and no bee colony wants unproductive bees.

The most interesting chapter, although all of it was very new to me, was Chapter 5: Timing Bees to Estimate Distance to Home. After you learned how to mark the bees safely (you and the bees) with paint, Chapter 5 teaches you how to convert the away times to distance.  Seeley is so series about his hobby he details one story of when he chased bees in a thunderstorm!

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In Chapter 8, the author appropriately describes the ethical issues of bee hunter and urges readers to not ‘take up a bee tree’, which is the act of cutting down the tree which the bees are nesting in.

“Indeed, I hope fervently that most bee hunters will be too tenderhearted to take up the bee trees they locate. After all, doing so kills two living things worthy of respect: a tree that has survived to old age and a bee colony that has thrived entirely on its own.”

He concludes the book with highlighting the fact that wild bee colonies are a valuable genetic resource and how to acquire a wild colony of honey bees.

Whether you’re a bee enthusiast or just curious about the natural world, Following the Wild Bees is the ideal companion for newcomers to bee hunting and a rare treat for armchair naturalists. The book is set to be published May 25, 2016.

 

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