The best part of winter is snuggling beside the fireplace with a good book. I love wintertime reading because it brings light into the dark days and long nights. Alongside a mug of hot chocolate, I keep a handy notebook to help me remember things I learn and ideas to remember.
As many of you know, I strongly believe the best beekeepers know bees—their biology, lifestyles, morphology, habits, diet, and environment. Knowing about bees allows you to make good management decisions, decisions based on fact rather than hearsay, decisions based on observation rather than recipes. Furthermore, the more you know about all bees—all 20,000+ species—the better you will understand honey bees. No bees exist in a vacuum, and honey bees are no exception.
My favorite bee books
Except for the first three, which are new this year, the books listed below are in no particular order—just the way they came off my bookshelf. All are available on Amazon and I’ve included links to the format I have, but other formats are usually available.
So curl up by the fire with some brandy-laced hot chocolate and revel in the life of a Megachile or ponder the life of a Coelioxys or a honey bee queen. These are great books and I wish I could have read them twenty years ago. But now is better than never. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
Without a doubt, my favorite new book of 2019 was QueenSpotting by Hilary Kearney. You might think of this as a children’s book—and indeed children love it—but personally, I haven’t had as much fun with a book since my parents gave me the type I could chew on.
Not surprisingly, Queenspotting is about honey bee queens, their biology, life cycle, behavior, and appearance. Often books like this are filled with factual errors, but this one is accurately researched and meticulously written. Kearney explains everything a beginning beekeeper needs to know about queens and tops it off with a wealth of explanatory photographs.
But wait! The best part is yet to come. The book contains 48 queen-spotting challenges—full color fold-out images of frames of bees. Your mission—should you choose to accept it—is to find the queen in each spread. This may sound easy until you see the photographs.
The photos are grouped in order of difficulty from easiest to hardest, and the last ones will challenge your best technique. I couldn’t read the book until I found every last queen, and I’m sure I’m not the only beekeeper who has ever done that!
By the way, you don’t have to be a beekeeper to enjoy this book. Anyone, young or old, who likes nature, gardening, bees, or just something interesting to read would love this. Hillary Kearney certainly got my attention with this work, and I can’t wait to see her next offering. Queenspotting
Other new books
The Solitary Bees by Danforth, Minckley, and Neff. 2019. This is a heavy book, both figuratively and literally. It’s a dense, scholarly treatment of the solitary bees—those that do not live in social groups. For bee nerds like me, this is a welcome addition to the library. I’m still plowing through it, line by line, and find it truly fascinating. If you want to understand the lives of solitary bees, and the wide range of their behaviors and adaptations, you will love this book. Excellent illustrations, graphs, and definitions. Most likely, you will need that little notebook I mentioned earlier. The Solitary Bees
The Lives of Bees: The Untold Story of the Honey Bee in the Wild by Thomas D. Seeley. 2019. This book answers the complex question that has bugged beekeepers for decades: Why do some wild colonies thrive while their managed brethren collapse? Seeley meticulously guides us through the natural history of honey bees while examining the tension between what is best for the bees versus what is best for their keeper. You and your bees will benefit from this compelling, well-illustrated work. The Lives of Bees
The Bees In Your Backyard: A Guide to North America’s Bees by Joseph S. Wilson and Olivia Messinger Carril. 2016. The book is chock-full of identification tips, including photos of wing veins, detailed depictions of facial patterns, tongue diagrams, and photos of similar genera. Each genus has a pronunciation guide, a size-range diagram, a distribution map that shows not only where the bee occurs but also the likelihood of occurrence in that area. Best, the book contains hundreds of little highlighted text boxes that reveal bee trivia, and the whole thing is well-written and easy to understand. The Bees in Your Backyard: A Guide to North America’s Bees
Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial insects with Native Plants by Heather Holm. 2014. This book looks at native plants and the pollinators and beneficial insects that are attracted to them. The author divides the native plants into different habitat types, shows what they need to thrive, and describes what pollinators and beneficials you will most likely see. Lots of helpful identification tips. Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants
Field Guide to the Common Bees of California Including Bees of the Western United States by Gretchen LeBuhn. 2013. As soon as this book arrived in my mailbox, I read straight through it three times. The author selected the most common genera of bees in her location and for each genus she provides detailed illustrations by Noel Pugh, a genus summary, description, similar insects, food resources, nest particulars, and flight season. She even includes a pronunciation guide. Field Guide to the Common Bees of California: Including Bees of the Western United States (California Natural History Guides)
California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists by Gordon W. Frankie et al. 2014. You don’t have to be from California to appreciate this book. The book details the basic families of bees and the plants they like using colorful photos of both. It also explains the complex relationship between bees and flowers and explores ways to build better native bee habitat. California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists
Other honey bee books
The Buzz about Bees: The Biology of a Superorganism by Jürgen Tautz. This is my number one choice for basic honey bee biology. Amazing photos and excellent descriptions of how the bee and the colony actually work. I refer to this book constantly. The Buzz about Bees: Biology of a Superorganism
Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley. 2010. The book explains in great detail how honey bee swarms decide on a new home and how they agree on when to move. Seeley provides his raw data in charts and graphs, as well as his conclusions and insights. The book is not easy reading (you have to pay attention), but it’s packed with interesting tidbits about swarms. Good photos, too. Honeybee Democracy
Bee by Rose-Lynn Fisher. 2010. This is picture book for honey bee lovers. The photographs, taken with the aid of an electron microscope, reveal the honey bee and all her parts in stunning detail. Whether you are a beekeeper, gardener, photographer or just curious, this book is a joy. There is nothing like seeing the parts up close to understand how they all work together to pollinate our world. Bee
Bumble bee books
Bumble Bees of North America by Paul Williams, Robbin Thorp, Leif Richardson, and Sheila Colla. 2014. This is an in-depth guide to bumble bee identification. Although it will tell you everything you ever need to know about North American bumble bees, I find it difficult to use. Most of the problem lies within the genus Bombus; because bumble bees are so variable, it is extremely difficult to tell them apart. The book includes keys, photos, coloration diagrams, and excellent distribution maps–lots of information but not for the feint of heart. Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton Field Guides)
A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees by Dave Goulson. 2014. Some books I don’t want to end, and this was one. It reads like a cross between a novel and an adventure story as it follows the author’s fascination with bumble bees from childhood to the founding of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. Along the way you will learn more about bumbles than you ever thought possible. A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees
A Buzz in the Meadow: The Natural History of a French Farm by Dave Goulson. 2014. This is a story about how the author purchased a 33-acre farm in rural France and turned it into bumble bee habitat. Insects, flowers, wildlife, nature, and the curious mind of an entomologist makes for entertaining and readable science. I never tire of reading Goulson’s work. A Buzz in the Meadow: The Natural History of a French Farm
The Forgotten Pollinators by Stephen L. Buchmann and Gary Paul Nabhan. 1996. This is a book about plants, pollinators, and their amazing interdependent relationship. Well written in a story-like format, the book follows the authors’ research into the “pollination crisis” and disruption of some of the world’s most fragile ecosystems, including the rain forests. The Forgotten Pollinators
The Bee: A Natural History by Noah Wilson-Rich. 2014. This book has a little of everything–a good overview of bee biology, anatomy, behavior, and evolution, as well as interesting sections on the the environmental challenges faced by bees and the interaction between bees and humans. There is even a section on beekeeping. The book covers a lot of ground without too much depth in any one area, but it is well-written and well-illustrated. The Bee: A Natural History
Bees: A Natural History by Christopher O’Toole. 2013. This is a coffee table book about bees. (Do people still have coffee tables?) Anyway, large format with awesome photos. It’s a good place to start if you know nothing about native species because it’s not too technical yet gives a broad overview. Fairly easy to read, a nice introduction to bees. Bees: A Natural History
Keeping the Bees: Why All Bees Are at Risk and What We Can Do to Save Them by Laurence Packer. 2010. This is one of my favorites even though it has only four pages of photos. The book follows the adventures of Packer and his associates as they study bees here and there throughout the world. The book is packed with information about bees and bee decline. Keeping the Bees: Why All Bees Are at Risk and What We Can Do to Save Them
Bees: An Up-Close Look at Pollinators Around the World by Sam Droege and Laurence Packer. 2015. This is essentially a picture book, but the photos are far from ordinary. The book contains extreme close-ups of some of the worlds most fascinating bees with write-ups about each one. Bees: An Up-Close Look at Pollinators Around the World
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