I’m sure like most beeks I have the strange obsession with beekeeping books. A brutal combination of Internet access and a credit card means I have a stack of books on various bee related topics I now own waiting to be read. Some of them naturally fall to the bottom of the pile. Others simply cry out for attention; Prof. Tom Seeley’s wonderful Honeybee Democracy is such a book.
Tom Seeley has spent four decades researching what he refers to as Swarm Intelligence. A process in which animals can solve problems they’d be unable to by utilising complex social interactions with a larger group; the ultimate team work.
In Honeybee Democracy Professor Seeley explains how honeybees swarm then find the best new home for themselves. Writing a science book is a tricky balance. Too much detail it becomes nerdy and dry but not enough it turns into a series of anecdotes; most of which you’ll probably pick up at your local bee club. It is such a delicate balance that although there are an awful lot of so-called popular science books on the market there are very few readable ones. Seeley has just the right combination of storytelling and detailed evidence to keep the book both entertaining and highly informative.
Honeybee Democracy describes how as part of his PhD studies Tom set out to investigate swarming and hive location. He started by analysing feral hives which allowed him to determine that bees overwhelmingly choose hives that were roughly 40 litres in capacity with a 15cm entrance. He confirmed this preference by setting up a number of bait hives of differing sizes and monitoring a single swarm as it selected it’s final home, 80% of time the bees choose a 40 litre box.
However; this book is not a how-to for building the perfect bait hive. Seeley narrates in a clear and entertaining way the processes from the swarm leaving the hive to finding a new home. It’s an amazing story.
Honeybee democracy isn’t just a great science book about bees, it’s a great book full stop – you should buy it.
I’ve embedded a video presentation by Tom describing his work. It’s an hour well spent, check it out.