Seven good books on honey bee biology

Bee on book.

After my last post, I received inquiries about good honey bee biology books. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet found what I consider the perfect book on bee biology, although some are quite helpful. Below is a list of seven books I often refer to when I have a biology question.

Bees, Biology & Management

Bees, Biology & Management by Peter G. Kevan (2007) is packed with information. According to the preface, the book developed from lecture notes the author used while teaching apiculture at the Ontario Agricultural College. It includes anatomy, physiology, behavior, diversity, and ecology of the honey bee among other things. The drawings are instructive and there are some decent black and white photographs.

However, the book would be a lot more useful if it had an index. I don’t know how many times I’ve pulled this book off the shelf and turned to the back before remembering the index doesn’t exist. It does have a table of contents that contains chapter names, but sometimes that’s not quite enough, so bear that in mind. I bought my copy through the publisher, Enviroquest Ltd in Ontario, but it may be available elsewhere.

Honey Bee Biology and Beekeeping

Honey Bee Biology and Beekeeping by Caron & Conner (2013) is a university-level textbook written for a course on bees and beekeeping at the University of Delaware. Roughly the first half is about biology, and the rest is beekeeping. The book is loaded with color photos and illustrations, and the text is easy to read.

I like this book to get me started on a topic, but I find I often have to go elsewhere for more detail. Nevertheless, for someone new to bee biology, it will give you a good solid grounding. The book has an extensive table of contents, index, and glossary. It is available from Wicwas Press.

The Hive and the Honey Bee

The Hive and the Honey Bee edited by Joe M. Graham (2015) is a monster of a book with extensive sections on bee biology and behavior. I recently read this book word-for-word, cover-to-cover (all 1057 pages) and I can say with authority that it contains heaps of information. It has excellent photos and illustrations, but it’s printed on a type of high-clay paper that would be superb for weight training or preventing your hive covers from blowing away.

The downside, other than the weight, is that each chapter is written by different people. In one sense, this is probably a good thing because each author writes about his or her specialty. The problem I found was a huge discrepancy in writing styles. Some chapters are enjoyable to read and some are as heavy as the book. Then, too, some information is repeated by different authors when their subjects overlap. Still, it contains so much information that I can overlook some of its quirks. The book is available from Dadant.

The Biology of the Honey Bee

The Biology of the Honey Bee by Mark Winston (1987) is written in an academic style that may be off-putting to a beginner. Still, it is excellent source of biological information and may be especially helpful for those who already have a good feel for bees and beekeeping. The book contains an extensive reference section, an author index, and a subject index for those you want to follow through with more reading. I don’t recommend this for your first bee biology book, but it is a great resource for those wanting an in-depth understanding of how bees work.

The Buzz about Bees: Biology of a Superorganism

The Buzz about Bees: Biology of a Superorganism by Jurgen Tautz (2008) is one of my all-time favorite bee books. It doesn’t go deeply into things like morphology or genetics, but it explains how the bee colony works as a whole, how chores are accomplished, how bees interact with their environment, and how they see and communicate. The photos are outstanding and plentiful. If you aren’t entranced by bees before you start this book, you will be afterwards. Although the book is an overview more than an in-depth study of biology, I give it high marks. It’s thoroughly enjoyable.

Honey-Maker: How the Honey Bee Worker Does What She Does

Honey-Maker: How the Honey Bee Worker Does What She Does by Rosanna Mattingly (2012) is in a class by itself. It is definitely a biology book, but as the title suggests this book is about worker bees almost exclusively. The author goes from the head to thorax to abdomen and describes each part and its function in incredible detail. Even in my master beekeeping class, whenever I ran into something I didn’t understand, I found myself going to this book for clarification. Things like wing motion and mouth parts are exquisitely explained.

Although the photos are all black and white, they are well chosen to illustrate each point in the text. This book was a turning point in my bee knowledge. Many times while I was reading it, I felt like saying, “Why didn’t anybody tell me this before?” The book is available from Beargrass Press.

The Beekeeper’s Handbook

Finally, I want to include The Beekeeper’s Handbook by Sammataro and Avitabile (2011). Although it is primarily a how-to-keep-bees book, the sections on bee biology are well-written, accurate, and instructive. If you want a good combination beekeeping and bee biology book, this one is always a solid choice. It’s one of those books I often refer to, especially when answering questions from other beekeepers.

Any others?

I hope this list helps. If anyone else has a favorite bee biology book, please let us know.

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  • Well, you pretty well have the honey bee covered with the list, but I found a really interesting book on bumble bees. “A Sting in the Tail. My adventures with Bumblebees.” by Dave Goulson.

    More of an overview, than a true biology volume, but Dave is a professor of biology at the University of Stirling. There is not a whole lot written about bumble bees and what makes them tick, so I found it quite interesting.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I’d like to recommend three books which I have found tremendously useful when it comes to honey bee biology.

    The first is a large format book called ‘Form and Function in the Honey Bee’ by Lesley Goodman (IBRA, 21012). This book has stunning macro- and micro-photographs and illustrations of various aspects of honey bee anatomy and biology. It is definitely the most useful book for getting a clear understanding of what the inside and outside of a bee looks like and how and why it functions.

    My other suggestions are a pair of books by the author Celia Davis. They are ‘The Honey Bee, Around and About’ and ‘The Honey Bee, Inside Out’ (both published by Bee Craft). With this pair of books you really will learn everything the average beekeeper might need to know about bee biology and behaviour. There are lots of illustrations and diagrams along with extremely in-depth but very clear explanations about how honey bees and their colonies function. I have approaching 200 books on bees and beekeeping in my collection, but these are the two I first reach for when I want a quick, easy to find and easy to understand explanation. They are fairly new, so the information is fully up to date. I would highly recommend them both.

    Hope that helps!

  • Impressive library! Do any of those books tell us how much of a tilt (in degrees), the honey bees build their honeycomb cells, so honey won’t leak out as they cap them? I can’t find this anywhere???? Seems 40-50 years ago every honey bee article I read had the answer. So what happened? Did we go from everybody knowing to nobody knowing? Did they used to think they were all at the same angle and now think they build them with some degrees of difference?

  • I really enjoyed reading Simple, Smart Beekeeping by Kirsten Traynor. Really breaks down beeping for the beginner as well as being a wonderful resource for established beekeepers. They also have a Facebook page. FLICKERWOOD APIARY. Really nice people to talk with.

  • In “trophallaxis” in winter bees, what do they feed each other? How does this exchange take place? What do they feed the queen?

  • For me, the book by Ian Stell “Understanding Bee Anatomy: a full colour guide” is a must-have. I took the book to a local bookbinder and had the book spine replaced with coil so the book lies flat.
    Also, “Form and Function in the Honey Bee” by Lesley Goodman is a very worthwhile addition to the bee bookshelf.

  • The subject should agree with the verb: “The downsides, other than the weight, is that each chapter is written by different people.” Should be: “downside.”

  • A book — definitely technical but one I really like — on anatomy is Snodgrass’ Anatomy of a Honey Bee. It was written many years ago but still in print lady I checked. The guy drew all the pictures and does a fantastic job describing form, location, and function of every aspect of bee anatomy. It may be that you REALLY have to be interested in anatomy here to like it because it isn’t prose or anything but it is thorough and you will come away the better for it. (I kind of get a kick out of the thought that the pictures he drew for that book seem to be used in every other book you’ve listed, esp. The Hive and the Honey Bee. That pictures he drew that long ago are still looked at as ‘the wheel’ so no purpose in reinventing makes me smile).

    I like a lot of your suggestions — I own all — but I wasn’t that keen on Tautz. It’s great prose. He’s a very energetic author and I enjoyed his book immensely but then I hit the end, with very few references for the science he spoke. The nail in the coffin was after the last ‘research’ I saw him publish about, I think it was something like — the link between solar sun spots, foraging, and CCD, (based upon what seemed to be one observation hive at his library and a few in the field??? or something like that..). How can you base such a big claim on so few colonies, and one being an observation hive!?? It made me wonder what other huge claims he made based upon small data sets and I kind of stopped following him after that.

    Von Frisch and Seely, Celia Davis, Sammataro, Nation, Hoy on mites, etc though…. They are great.

    I’ve got some others I could add but just realized how much I’ve written so am gonna cut it here. Thanks for the blog though. I learn a lot, you challenge me on some things I think I know, and have shown me some things I’ve done wrong. Anyone I can learn from is a welcome source indeed… Thank you. ?

  • Rusty, do you have an opinion on (or have you read a copy of) “The Honey Bee” by Dave Gould & Carol Grant? Published around 1998 I think. I believe it deals with behavior rather than direct biology, but might just qualify as interesting reading.

  • Hi Mike, the honey cells have a five degree upwards tilt so that the nectar is contained until 18% moisture level is reached and then the cells are capped with a thin coating of wax.

  • I have to agree that Lesley Goodman’s book Form and Function in the Honeybee is an amazing book. It continues to fill me with delight and wonder. It is a great tribute to her that others finished it for her after she died. How I wish she could have done a second book. If I look something up in it, I am immediately lost in the amazing photos and illustrations for hours.

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