A honeybee behaviorist takes a break from hard science to introduce the sport of bee hunting.
Seeley (Biology/Cornell Univ.; Honeybee Ecology: A Study of Adaptation in Social Life, 2014, etc.) has been studying honeybees in the wild for decades and in the course of his research has made something of an art of finding—and leaving undisturbed—feral colonies. That he’s had a grand time doing so is abundantly clear in this slim volume, and he does his level best to make squadrons of converts: “after…finally spying the glitter of the bees’ wings as they dive inside their tree-cavity home, I always experience soaring feelings of success…even triumph!” In similarly enthusiastic, almost antique prose, the author describes the necessary equipment, the most important being a custom-built “bee box” for capturing foraging bees; while the book’s photographs are largely negligible, aspiring bee hunters will be grateful for the cutaway diagram included with its description. Seeley proceeds to outline successful bee-hunting strategy, from choosing the optimal moment through establishing a “beeline” (a delightful etymological lagniappe) to homing in on the bees’ tree-trunk home. While he emphasizes that bee hunting is a sport anyone can pick up, it’s hard not to suspect that without the author’s specific advantages—a professorial job with plenty of unrestricted time and apparently unlimited access to an expansive swath of wilderness, in this case, Cornell’s Arnot Forest—most will experience frustration rather than soaring triumph. Seeley confirms this with an admittedly tongue-in-cheek statement that a bee hunt can take “somewhere between 58 minutes and 3 years.” Still, the author knows his stuff, and he shares his research accessibly and generously along with his enthusiasm—armchair hunters are almost certain to learn something, be it how bees navigate or flashes of hope amid news of massive bee die-offs.
Motivated readers may well find themselves setting aside sunny weekends to go tromping in the goldenrod, hoping to “engage the most intelligent insect in the world.”