Friday, May 22, 2015

A Sting in the Tale - Dave Goulson

Are you afraid of bees?  In particular, bumblebees?  If you're allergic, I can understand.  I adore bumblebees.  When I was growing up, some sort of bumblebees burrowed into the wooden bannister around our porch every summer.  My late father said the ones with white faces wouldn't sting and, as usual, he was correct.  Those bumblebees are males and only the females are capable of stinging.

Dave Goulson likes bumblebees, too.  He studied them for years and founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in England to educate people about bumblebees and their importance to our lives  and to increase habitat in the hope of increasing declining populations of some types of bumblebees.  Bumblebees thought to be extinct may even reappear.

This is a book written by a scientist for the general population.  Goulson often throws in humor, too, quite funny.  Large numbers of insects and birds and small mammals have become rare or extinct because of large-scale intensive farming, which reduces the variety of food plants available to these creatures.  As humans, we should also be worried because relying on a monoculture of food plants invites the same sort of devastation that occurred during the Irish potato famine.  Any sort of factory / intensive farming is dangerous for many reasons.  When will we learn that nature always does it better?

But bumblebees, as well as honeybees, are bred commercially because there aren't enough wild bees to pollinate most of the fruits and vegetables we eat.  And there aren't enough wild bees because of monoculture farming.  Breeding is a big industry, but shipping bees around the world is dangerous because they can escape and outcompete native bees.  Shipping can also transmit bee diseases to other bumblebees.

There are facts galore, too much about genetics for me, but many interesting facts about bumblebees and their short lives.

I was most interested in reading about their behavior.  I've always enjoyed watching insects go about their business.  Coincidentally, while reading this book at a cottage in Maine, I watched a bumblebee go into a small hole in the ground.  Because I read this book, I believe it was a queen bee looking for a suitable nest.  On the way to Maine, we stopped at the rest area farthest north on the Garden State Parkway.  When travelling through here other times, I had noticed lots of bumblebees around one area of benches  -  and there they were!  I happily ate my sandwich with male bees hovering around.  Jack ate his sandwich in the car.

If you're interested in nature, I think you'll like this book.  It's very easy to read and you'll learn a lot.  And probably laugh a little, too.  Next time you encounter a bumblebee, thank her!


  1. I'll have to look out for this one as I'm a bit of a bee fan, I have lots of bee friendly plants so I feel I'm doing a wee bit to help them. Sadly Fife libraries don't have the book, I might recommend that they buy it.

    1. It's very readable book, a nice mixture of science and insect behavior, and personal anecdote. He has a slightly newer book that I've just put on hold at the library: A Buzz in the Meadow: The Natural History of a French Farm. I assume this is about the small farm he bought in France. He's been restoring the house and the meadow for about a decade. That should be an interesting one, too.

  2. Yay for bees! I was so happy last summer to have the bumblebee nest in my compost bin. I garden with bees in mind and love to see the big fat fuzzy ones covered in pollen. I think I might need to read this book sometime!

    1. I know you like bees and bugs. I actually thought your blog might have been where I read about this book. I just put his other book, the one about his farm in France, on hold at the library. I'll let you know how that one is, too.