The Bee: A Natural History

Have you seen the new book The Bee: A Natural History by Dr. Noah Wilson-Rich with contributions from Kelly Allin, Norman Carreck, and Dr. Andrea Quigley?


Dr. Wilson-Rich is an urban beekeeper and although (as the cover suggests) honey bees are the main focus of the book, it includes information about all kinds of bees. After discussing the evolution and development of bees, as well as their biology and behavior, the authors review the history of bees and humans and also beekeeping. The authors follow up with “A Directory of Bees,” which is a pictorial field guide to solitary bees, bumble bees, stingless bees and honey bees. The directory is illustrated with large color photographs of preserved specimens from around the world.

The final chapter goes into the challenges currently faced by bees, including weather, climate, pests and diseases. Finally, the authors discuss some of the research initiatives aimed at helping bees and what individuals can do to help protect our bees, such as plant flowers and participate in citizen science projects. (My personal suggestion is to let your dandelions grow because they provide honey bees a meal late into fall and even early winter.)

The book is exceptionally appealing visually. Almost every page has a mix of color photographs and old-fashioned line drawings or wood cuts, with sidebars and other interesting features. Obviously, a lot of care was put into the design.

If you already know something about bees, you might be interested to find out that the book doesn’t just hash over old material. For example, as Dr. Wilson-Rich also mentions in his TED Talk (see below), beekeepers are finding honey bees in urban environments, such on the rooftops of city buildings, are doing better than those in rural and suburban areas. It might seem counter-intuitive, but two out of three overwintering hives survived in the city compared to two out of five in the country. The urban honey bees also produced more honey. They have some suggestions why this may be the case, such as the cities are warmer overall and probably the honey bees are exposed to less pesticides, but the bees are also likely having less interactions with other bees that might pass diseases or compete for resources.

Bees have been in the news and people are interested in learning more about them. The Bee is a quick and easy-to-read overview of a topic that would be equally useful for the layperson who knows little about bees and the beekeeper who wants to learn about bees from a more general perspective. Be prepared for a visual treat.


You can get a taste for how passionate Dr. Wilson-Rich is in his TED talk:


Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Princeton University Press (August 24, 2014)
ISBN-10: 0691161356
ISBN-13: 978-0691161358


Disclosures:  The book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

First-Rate New Book: Beetles of Eastern North America

Look what came out this week: Beetles of Eastern North Americaby Arthur V. Evans.

What’s a myremecologist like me doing talking about a book about beetles? Ants and beetles actually get along well.

This book has something for everyone, in fact, hard-core coleopterist to lightly-interested amateur. If you are new to beetles, it is a fabulous place to start learning. There is an extensive introduction covering anatomy, natural history, where to look for beetles, how to observe and collect them, etc. On page 52, Evans discusses how to become involved in beetle research, encouraging students and amateur naturalists to participate.

The majority of the book, however, is devoted to the beetles themselves. It covers a “goliath” number of species: 1,406 with representatives from all 115 families of Coleoptera. Even better, each species description is accompanied by a full-color photograph. Most of the photographs are of live specimens, showing the shape and posture as no drawing can. The photographs are by a number of different photographers, but care was obviously taken that the images are of uniform composition and quality. This is not a lightweight field guide, but a desk top reference you will go back to again and again.

Let’s do a test run and see if the book describes some beetles I’ve chosen at random.


Does the book have the thistle tortoise beetle, Cassida rubiginosa? Check, listed on page 435.


What about the lady beetle, Coleomegilla maculata? It is described on page 315.


How about the spotted asparagus beetle, Crioceris duodecimpunctata? On page 433 there is another Crioceris species, but not this one.

How about these?


The tumbling flower beetles were easy enough to key to family Mordellidae, even from this photograph. With only 17 species shown out of a possible 149, I couldn’t identify them any further.

I’m pretty familiar with beetle families, so it probably took only a few minutes to find the first three beetles and less than 5 minutes to key out the last one to verify my guess. The photographs add a lot of information and make searching easy for the visually-oriented. With the Glossary, family classification list in the Appendix, and a full Index, the book is a breeze to use. The page numbers are even easy to read and find.

If you are interested in beetles, then this is a must have. Are you still using those two old volumes of Dillion and Dillion? Are still thinking of bark beetles as Scolytidae? Get up to date with Beetles of Eastern North America!

Paperback: 560 pages
Publisher: Princeton University Press (June 8, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0691133042
ISBN-13: 978-0691133041

Disclosures:  This book was supplied by the publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

Nature’s Compass: The Mystery of Animal Navigation

Have you ever lost your car in the mall parking lot? Our family avoids this problem by standing next to our parked car before we leave it and taking what we jokingly call “an orientation flight,” named for the circling flight wasps take to assess local landmarks when they leave their nests (first described by Niko Tinbergen). We don’t really fly, but we do turn around and note a prominent, stable landmarks in the area creating a visual map (although my husband inevitably laughs and says, “We’re parked next to that blue car.”)

After reading the new book, Nature’s Compass: The Mystery of Animal Navigation (Science Essentials) by James L. Gould and Carol Grant Gould, it becomes apparent that our way of navigating the parking lot is not that uncommon for humans. Our internal navigation capability is, however, fairly unsophisticated compared to the navigation systems many other animals use to achieve some pretty amazing feats. For example, the celebrity migrant monarch butterfly must fly a couple thousand miles to a mountain in Mexico without an electronic global positioning system. What it does use is an internal compass, clock and calendar to arrive at the right place at the right time.

In fact, a number of insects have sophisticated navigation systems, particularly those with nests that they need to return to with some accuracy, like the honey bees and ants. Researchers have shown that both honey bees and ants use the sun’s position against an internal clock to help keep their bearings. In the absence of the sun, the insects can use patterns of polarized light. (Polarized light is the light that vibrates in a definite pattern in one direction, rather than in all directions.) Certain ants have also been shown to have a method of “step-counting,” which allows them to assess distances based on stride length (more about that in an upcoming post). Finally, a number of insects, honey bees and monarch butterflies being prominent examples, use magnetic fields for navigating.

The authors review the scientific literature for vertebrates as well, from cahows that must navigate across vast expanses of water to a tiny island near Bermuda, to migrating sea turtles. The navigation abilities of homing pigeons are featured prominently, as well as some of the details of the controversies that arose around the study of vertebrate navigation. My favorite section is an examination of the possibility of magnetic map sense in humans, which clearly and humorously points out the difficulties of experimenting with human subjects.

After seven chapters about how animals navigate, the final chapter is a poignant look at why understanding how animals navigate is so critically important for conservation efforts. Well-intentioned efforts to reintroduce threatened and endangered migratory species have little likelihood of success if they do not take into account how the animals find their way.

James L. Gould and Carol Grant Gould have written other popular science books that explore the potential cognitive abilities of animals, including The Animal Mind and Animal Architects. Nature’s Compass expands this interest in a new direction (pun intended). If you are intrigued by animal behavior or need to brush up on your understanding of the field of animal navigation, this book will be a handy reference.

More books by the Goulds:

This book was provided by the publisher for review purposes.