Book review | Following the Wild Bees

Following the Wild Bees: The Craft and Science of Bee Hunting by Thomas D. Seeley. Princeton University Press, New Jersey. Copyright © 2016 by Princeton University Press. This review refers to the hardcover edition.

Back in college, my literature professor would have called this a “slim volume.” I never understood why such volumes were always slim and never thin, skinny, or just plain short, but that’s the way it was. But folded between the hard green covers of this slender book is a treasure trove of adventure, excitement, and the poetry of honey bees.

The book is the story of Seeley’s nearly forty years hunting for wild bee colonies, mostly in the forests of upstate New York. Bee lining, as it is often called, is a sport onto itself, one requiring perseverance, patience, intelligence, and a thorough knowledge of the ways of the foraging honey bee. As described by Seeley, the pastime has aspects of orienteering, treasure hunting, and geocaching.

The book begins with a history of bee hunting and a description of Seeley’s attempt to find information on how it was done. Practitioners of the once-popular activity left very little in the way of written records, while those who did write about it had little practical experience and questionable methods.

But once Seeley sorted it all out, he was on his way to a lifetime of bee stalking. He shares memories of remarkable hunts as well as the day-to-day movements of the bee hunter. He also provides equipment lists, instructions on building the necessary bee box, and detailed descriptions of how to use it all. Except for the bee box, which is simple to make, most of the equipment can be scared up from your garage or workshop.

The book contains beautiful photographs of bees, equipment, flowers, and bee trees as well as diagrams that explain the bee lining process. In addition, scattered throughout the pages are Biology Boxes, sidebars that contain information about how bees find their way, how they choose a home, and how they recruit other foragers to a food source.

I can’t imagine I will ever try bee lining even though I live adjacent to an enormous state forest. But that is beside the point. This charming story will pull you into the action and make you feel like an intrepid bee hunter without ever leaving your living room chair.

A side note: The book is printed on excellent paper. I was sitting on my patio reading when a honey bee dropped a load from the sky that landed squarely on page 12. I hurried inside, scraped the yellow worm-shaped glob off with a kitchen knife and dabbed the remainder with a dish rag. Just like new.

Following the Wild Bees: The Craft and Science of Bee Hunting by Thomas D. Seeley is available on Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle formats.

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  • My dad told me when growing up on the farm in Florida that they would often see honey bees in the fields they were working. They would sometimes dust some bees with flour, follow the white bees back to the hive and rob it. He never told me how successful this approach really was but I’ve always wanted to try it… except for the robbing part, of course.

  • DGRC, that’s a funny little trick your dad shared with you. Lol
    Rusty, thanks for the review. It sounds like a charming read.

  • Rusty,

    I was just do this same thing this spring near a neighbor with no known kept colony are. I haven’t found the hive site yet, but I know the direction and that the location is less than a mile. There is an old, but active farmstead just a tad beyond the timed distance, so this is where I started searching. Old farm equipment, trucks, old building and such, but no bees. Now, I am going to beeline and time from that location and hopefully get a better idea of the real location. I don’t want the feral colony, I just want to find it, and then set swarm traps out.

    Thanks for continuing your blog posts, which find their way to my Facebook Beekeeping Group often.


  • Rusty, I read your blog, find it very useful (as a fumbling beekeeper) and first, want to say thank you. Also, I was lucky enough to go to one of Dr. Seeley’s talks, which afterward included going out to a nearby stand of wildflowers and weeds, catching a few bees, marking them, and determining from whence they came. It was awesome, and not at all that difficult! Thanks for the heads up on the new book. It’s on its way to my mailbox!

  • The oddest thing…I just bought a new sisal rug for outside the back door which is about 30 feet from our hives… And the bees are all over it! What in the world are they attracted to on this rug? There are at least 5 on it at any one time, bees coming and going. It rained last night, so I thought they might be attracted to the water, but they have 2 ponds, a bird bath and countless plants and leaves still wet…????!!!

    • Binish,

      Probably nothing. They are different species and so a mating between them will most likely not produce viable offspring.

  • This YouTube video of Thomas Seeley finding wild honey bees showed up for me today. I haven’t read the book yet, but I assume it demonstrates his method of tracking honey bees:

  • Thank you, Rusty, for reading my book so carefully and for describing it so thoughtfully in your review. Yours appreciatively, Tom Seeley