THE LIVES OF BEES by Thomas D. Seeley


The Untold Story of the Honey Bee in the Wild
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This examination of how wild honeybee colonies thrive in nature offers insight on how to improve beekeeping.

Seeley (Biology/Cornell Univ.; Following the Wild Bees: The Craft and Science of Bee Hunting, 2016, etc.) delivers a scholarly account of the behavior, social lives, and ecology of bees, focusing on colonies in the “deciduous forests of the northeastern United States, a place where they have thrived as an introduced species for nearly 400 years.” An expert on honeybees, the author has spent decades researching how these wild colonies are able to survive without pesticides and how this knowledge can be applied to managed beekeeping. In densely written chapters, the author reviews his extensive research into nest architecture, annual cycles, reproduction, collection of food, control of temperature, and defense of the colony. He also looks at the cultural history of beekeeping, examining how it has disrupted the natural lives of bees. Although each chapter opens with accessible quotes—from Charles Darwin, Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau, Wendell Berry, etc.—the text is largely technical and laden with academic jargon, requiring close attention by readers. For many, the most memorable message from the book will come from the concluding chapter, “Darwinian Beekeeping,” also known as natural or bee-friendly beekeeping. Here, Seeley illustrates the many ways in which managed beekeeping stresses the lives of bees and suggests ways that beekeepers can change their practices, putting the needs of the bees before those of the beekeeper. The author helpfully describes the 21 ways in which wild colonies differ from managed colonies and then offers 14 practical suggestions for ways in which the beekeeper can help their colonies live better lives (“1. Work with bees that are adapted to your location”).

A wealth of information about honeybees based on decades of scientific research. The book will be valuable to beekeepers and of interest to fellow entomologists but likely information overload for general readers.

Pub Date: May 14th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-691-16676-6
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2019


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