Following the wild bees – the craft and science of bee hunting.
Following the wild bees – the craft and science of bee hunting
Tom Seeley is one of very few scientists studying honey bee colonies as they live in the wild – he has been researching honey bees living in the Arnot forest for over 40 years. The book is ostensibly about the fun to be had from the sport of bee lining – the craft of locating where a honey bee colony is living by successively catching and releasing bees, gradually following the bee line back to their nest. While describing this, Professor Seeley provides all sorts of interesting knowledge about bees that his research has revealed. For example, bees arriving to feed on sugar solution weigh 76 mg, and after they fill up and set off home, their weight has increased to 138 mg. Therefore, bees are carrying home payloads equal to 82% of their body weight. On the outward foraging trip, bees fly at 9.5 metres per second (20.8 miles per hour) while after loading up and on their way home, their speed understandably reduces to 6.7 metres per second (14.6 miles per hour). Much other excellent data is given about the abundance of wild colonies (only 2 -3 per square mile), how bees’ work is effectively balanced between foragers and food storers, clear explanation of how honey bees find their way, and how best to acquire wild colonies of honey bees by situating nest boxes of the right design in the right location during swarming season. Here in the UK, it is often asserted that ‘there are no wild colonies of honey bees’. However, many of us know this to be wrong, and Professor Seeley explains how – even when a bee line is well established, it can still be extremely difficult to finally spot the elusive honey bee colony nesting high in a tree – he describes the challenge of finding a nest entrance at 53 feet (16 metres) up a hemlock tree. Yet he is confident that everyone can find wild colonies nesting in trees or buildings if they give bee hunting a try. Genetic analysis has proved that the population of wild honey bee colonies in Arnot forest is not bolstered by immigration from beekeepers’ colonies, and that this population suffered die off in the mid-1990s: it seems that the colonies living today are derived from the handful of colonies that survived the arrival of Varroa around that time. This remarkable book is closed with a quote from Henry David Thoreau: “In wildness is the preservation of the world”. 2016 154 pages Hardback
Thomas D Seeley