I love a book about natural history. Nature is one of my favourite things. I love a slow walk through woods, parks, around lakes, along beaches all to check out the nature. What lives there? How does it change with the seasons?
I find reading about natural history really enhances my experiences when out walking. I can now identify trees, lots of flowers and even some mushrooms. I can predict where mushrooms will grow and when. I can understand that certain plants and trees go together and if you find oak trees and ferns there will usually be birch trees around as well — they all love the same soil.
Now my view of bees is totally transformed. I guess I used to think they were those fuzzy things which lived in hives and make honey. I knew they ate nectar and that flowers have evolved a symbiotic relationship with them. I have heard that often quoted statistic that they are responsible for two thirds of the food we eat and if they all die so do we. Bees have become tied into politics & climate change & the ethics of food production. They have been linked in our own consciousness with our destruction of the planet and ourselves.
What I loved about this book is that although these huge issues about the future of bees are addressed lots of the book is about bees as insects. Here’s a few amazing facts about bees (cos everyone loves a list these days):
- Most species of bee are solitary
- Bumblebees can shiver their muscles warm and fly before the warmth of the day
- Cuckoo bees lay their eggs in the nests of other bees — just like the birds
- Carpenter bees chew wood to build homes
- Male bees cannot sting as the stinger started life as part of the female reproductive system
- If you plant it, they will come. In areas devoid of bees restoring hedgerows has resulted in their reappearance and they will thrive again of the hedgerow is maintained
The world of bees is hugely rich and varied and this really comes across in this book as the author tells us all about his various bee investigations. They live all over the world in lots of different climates and have evolved from wasps into almost twenty thousand distinct species. Thor Hanson has travelled all over to meet people researching bees, farming with bees and has carried out some experiments of his own to see how prolific they can be.
Every chapter is interesting and well researched and takes us through bee basics such as anatomy, to evolution and how we evolved alongside them to modern farming and conservation practices. I particularly enjoyed the stories of the bees where he lives. Connecting with local nature can reveal things which nobody knew. Thor found a giant colony of digger bees close to his home when he noticed that the bumble bees on the roses weren’t bumble bees at all. Digger bees were thought to be solitary and they really are but Thor discovered they can live alongside each other in very close proximity. They were living in holes as densely packed as 60 per square foot. He spent some time counting and found that the colony numbered around 400 000 individuals — much larger than any ever seen before.
I really enjoyed these stories of discovery mixed in with scientific research. If you want to know more about how to help bees, how and where they live and what you can do to support them then this is a great book. It will leave you in thrall to the magic of bees.
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