Starting Bee Book Week

Although I’m always on the look out for cool books about ants, other than the awesome thrill ride of a movie that came out recently (Ant-Man), not much as crossed my desk. On the other hand, the pile of intriguing books about bees and pollination is growing by the day. This week let’s feature a few. (See the Books about Bees tag or click on the icon below for a list).

Bee Books

First up is Bees: An Up-Close Look at Pollinators Around the World by Sam Droege and Laurence Packer, published in July.

Right on the first page, Droege admits that the photographs in this book reveal an unusual look at bees. Rather than glimpses of live bees, the photographs capture the up-close view of preserved specimens under a microscope against a black background, as generally seen by scientists. The results are both eerie and wondrous, as you can see from the example below (not actually from the book).

Hoplitis-tigrina-Greece
Public domain image of Hoplitis tigrina from Greece

If you are interested in seeing more images, check out the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Flickr photostream. The good news is that the photographs in the photostream have been generously released into the public domain.

In the book, the photographs are organized by region of the world where the featured bees are found. The bees are identified by scientific and common name, if available, plus the name of the collector and location collected. Each species grouping is accompanied by a paragraph or two of text discussing some of that insect’s unique features. Otherwise, the book has a brief “Contents” page, some information about the photography, and  resources for further study, but no index.

Bees: An Up-Close Look at Pollinators Around the World is a unique look at the diversity of bees found throughout the world. If you are interested in Hymenoptera in general, and bees in particular, you should check it out.

Hardcover: 160 pages
Publisher: Voyageur Press (July 7, 2015)
ISBN-10: 0760347387
ISBN-13: 978-0760347386

 

Disclosures: This book is my own copy. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at not extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

A Century of Honey Bee Anatomy Books

How very far we have come in the last 100 years or so. If you haven’t thought about that fact lately, compare Anatomy of the Honey Bee by R.E. Snodgrass (1910) (or Cornell University Press, 1985), – parts of which are available at Extension.org – with the ultra-modern Bee by Rose-Lynn Fisher, with a foreword by Verlyn Klinkenborg (2010, Princeton Architectural Press).

Featuring an outstanding series of scanning electron microscope photos, Bee is a visual treat. As you can see from Fisher’s examples on her website, this is a mite’s view of a honey bee where eye hairs look like forests and pollen grains resemble boulders. It is a world Snodgrass could only dream of glimpsing.

The text that accompanies the photographs is sparse, but to the point, which is direct contrast to the text-heavy Anatomy of the Honey Bee.

Anatomy of the Honey Bee, however, still remains relevant. It covers far more than just external structures, including development and internal anatomy. Carefully labelled cut-away and exploded views make identification of individual structures much easier.

In fact, these two books complement each other nicely. A serious student of honey bees will want to look at them both ways.

Bees_Collecting_Pollen_2004-08-14
Bees Collecting Pollen 2004-08-14” by Jon Sullivan – Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Doesn’t comparing these two books make you wonder what the next 100 years will bring?

The Facts and The Fiction of The Bees: A Novel

Whenever a book features honey bees like The Bees: A Novel by Laline Paull, it is likely to catch the interest of apidologists and others who find bees fascinating. Although this book falls definitively in the realm of fiction, that does not mean it has nothing to say about honey bees or, for that matter, our human perception of them. For this particular novel, however, separating the fact from the fiction is where things get sticky.

Told from a third person limited point of view, Flora 717 is a member of the sanitation caste of her honey bee hive. We soon learn that she is no ordinary sanitation worker when she is allowed to feed the new larvae in the Nursery. There, in a bit of foreshadowing, it is revealed that only the Queen may breed and Flora 717 is introduced to the gruesome fertility police.  What else will this special worker bee do?

The book contains facts, such as honey bee workers produce wax from glands on their abdomen or that drones are kicked out of the hive in the fall, mixed with highly imaginative elements. Sometimes the creative aspects of the story are easy to discern, for example there is a Greek chorus of spiders that exchange glimpses of the future for honey bee sacrifices. Other parts, like Flora 717’s changing tasks through time, will be more difficult to decipher. Anyone familiar with honey bees will understand that they exhibit age or temporal polyethism, which means that the tasks they perform are generally determined by their age. The youngest honey bee workers are likely to clean cells, and then tend brood. Once the workers are a bit older they maintain the nest, as needed. Finally the workers process food, and the very oldest honey bees go outside the nest and forage for nectar and pollen. Thus, ironically, Flora 717 is not an unusual bee as she is described in the novel, but actually is the only bee in the hive that is exhibiting more or less normal honey bee behavior. Trying to avoid spoilers, it should also be noted that an event in the end will seem (to those that understand haplodiploidy) rather like those children’s cartoons that show male cows with udders.

The New York Times Review reveals some of the foibles of reading a work of fiction that is built on a foundation of reality. Emma Straub, the reviewer, suggests high school environmental science and biology teachers add the book to their syllabuses. In all due respect, I think they’d be better off with more authoritative text. How about Sue Hubbell’s A Book of Bees, or something similar and newer?

Many of the reviewers (who understand the novel is fiction) try to tie The Bees to other classic novels, such as  Watership Down, The Handmaid’s Tale, or even The Hunger Games. It is as if the readers need to put a tag on the novel to understand it more fully. In my view, The Bees is actually as individualistic as its main character Flora 717. If it needs a tag, then I would say “magical realism” might be the best choice.

If you read The Bees, keeping in mind that it is novel and suspending a bit of disbelief, then you are likely to find it entertaining and maybe even thought provoking. What more can a reader ask of a novel?

Have you read it? What do you think?

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A Book of Bees: And How to Keep Them by Sue Hubbell

Disclosures:  This book review was based on a personal copy of the book. I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.