The Beekeepers: How Humans Changed the World of Bumble Bees


If you are looking for a book about bumbles bees that the whole family might enjoy, check out the middle grade title, The Beekeepers: How Humans Changed the World of Bumble Bees by Dana L. Church.

Why bumble bees? Honey bees have gotten a lot of press lately, but bumble bees are also important pollinators.

Public domain photograph of a Solanum flower from USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab Flickr Page

In fact, bumble bees are much better at pollinating certain plants, especially tomatoes and other members of the genus Solanum.


After briefly describing the history of studying and keeping bumble bees, Church discusses the business of selling bumble bees to pollinate plants in greenhouses. She explains that the bumble bee you see in your yard may be a native one or may be an import that has escaped from a nearby tomato-growing operation.

Later chapters explore some marvels of bumble bee behavior, before revealing how some species of bumble bees are waning in numbers and on the brink of disappearing. The last chapter summarizes some of the things that are being done to protect and encourage bumble bees. The author also has a page of information for helping wild bees on her website.


Public domain photograph of Bombus huntii from USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab Flickr Page

Back Story/Discussion:

I have to admit, it wasn’t love at first glance with this book.  When I found it in the juvenile nonfiction section of the library, I didn’t know quite what to make of it. Written for middle grades (8-12 year olds), it stood out among the sea of picture books because it is 308 pages long. I thought someone had shelved it in the wrong place.

The title was also a bit confusing, too. Although it can refer to any bee, the term beekeeping usually brings to mind honey bees rather than bumble bees. But, who can resist a book with a bumble bee on the cover?

The Beekeepers would be of interest to adults who enjoy popular science. Because it was written with a younger audience in mind, it is a quick and enjoyable read.  It would also be appropriate for middle graders and young adults who are interested in science and nature, and especially insects. It would also be a great jumping off point for a research paper or science fair project on bumble bees. Check out a copy today.

Reading age : 8 – 12 years
Publisher : Scholastic Focus (March 2, 2021)
ISBN-10 : 1338565540
ISBN-13 : 978-1338565546

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Buzz Pollination for National #PollinatorWeek

It’s  National Pollinator Week (June 17-23, 2019).

Right in time to participate, I caught a pollinator on video last week.

As I was walking past a sweet potato bush (also  known as blue potato bush, Lycianthes rantonnetii) I heard a familiar “bizzzzz” sound.

You may have to turn up your speaker because it isn’t very loud. I apologize for the background sounds. It is near a school.


Do you know why the bee is making that sound?

The answer has to do with the structure of the flower. At the bright yellow center are a tight bundle of anthers, the structures that make pollen. The visiting bee bites down on the anthers, curls her abdomen around them and vibrates. When she does this, pollen comes spilling out like when we shake salt from a shaker.

The pollen that falls onto the bee’s body goes back to the nest to be used as food. If any of the pollen brushes onto or hits the female parts of the flower (stigma), the flower is pollinated.  Because the vibration makes a sound we can hear, it is called buzz pollination.

A number of species of solitary bees –including carpenter bees — and bumble bees will visit this type of flower, but honey bees do not. I’ve noticed that the smaller bees make a higher-pitched sound like this one.

If you have ever eaten a tomato grown in a greenhouse, it was probably thanks to buzz pollination. Growers use bumble bees to pollinate tomatoes indoors and ensure a healthy crop.

So, the next time you hear a buzz, look around. It might be a pollinator in action.


If you’d like to find out more about National Pollinator Week activities, visit their website.

The Bee Diaries Project

As you know, sometimes we let bees creep in here at Wild About Ants.

The Bee Diaries Project is a short series of popular science podcasts about bees in Great Britain.

Prof Dave Goulson talks about the waggle dance in honey bees and bee communication in general.

They left me wishing there were more in the series.

How well do you know bees?

Ties Between Human Agriculture and the Distribution of Squash Bees

The impact of human activity on bees is a hot topic right now, and often the news is negative. In a turnabout,  Margarita M. López-Uribe, James H. Cane, and Robert L. Minckley used genetic markers to show how the native squash bee, Peponapis pruinosa, moved from Central America to the east coast of North America with spread of squash plants through human agriculture practices.

This short video summarizes their study.

Along with evidence that the distribution of bees followed the spread of squash crops, the scientists also found evidence that Peponapis pruinosa populations have gone through reductions in genetic diversity or bottleneck events.

As an aside, this is a prime example of how the use of traditional journalistic techniques (a news release) and social media can generate interest in studies that might otherwise languish inside the pages of a scientific journal.

What do you think?


Squash bee study press release

Margarita M. López-Uribe, James H. Cane, and Robert L. Minckley (2016) Crop domestication facilitated rapid geographical expansion of a specialist pollinator, the squash bee Peponapis pruinosa. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, June 22.

Peponapis_pruinosa(Public domain photograph of Peponapis pruinosa from Wikimedia)