“Piping Hot Bees..” Reviewed.

The author, Professor Tom Seeley collecting the first copy from his local post office. Photograph by Robin Hadlock Seeley.


The temperature soared to the dizzy heights of 10°C the other day and the bees landed heavily at their hives weighed down by enormous loads of yellow willow pollen. I checked the nearest willow tree a few hundred yards along the road and it looked magnificent against a clear blue sky.

We’ve all been looking forward to Professor Tom Seeley’s latest book and here it is and about to hit our UK bookstores. Northern Bee Books is awaiting their first consignment and soon you can order your copy from them at https://www.northernbeebooks.co.uk/ . I recently reviewed this excellent book which is a pleasure to read because it is like a conversation between an author and reader. The answers to many of our questions are revealed in its chapters and it covers a lifetime of scientific work.

Title: Piping Hot Bees & Boisterous Buzz-Runners 20 Mysteries of Honey Bee Behaviour Solved.

Author: Thomas D. Seeley

Publisher: Princeton University Press

Year published: April 2024.

Hardcover: 312 pages.

ISBN 978-0-691237-69-5

Cost: £25. Available from Northern Bee Books and other good bookstores.

The author of Piping Hot Bees & Boisterous Buzz-Runners is a renowned behavioural biologist who is well known in the scientific and beekeeping worlds. Emeritus Professor Thomas Seeley has delighted readers worldwide with a number of highly acclaimed books including Honeybee Democracy, Following the Wild Bees, and The Lives of Bees, and he will do so again with this latest book which discusses how twenty mysteries of honey bee behaviour were solved.

Seeley has written Piping Hot Bees for the general public, but especially beekeepers. His main aims are to share discoveries made over the last fifty years that have shaped our understanding of honey bee behaviour, and to describe in detail what it was like making these discoveries. The experiments are described in such detail as to inspire replication, and they show how good discoveries can be obtained through careful observations and low-tech experiments.

This a most beautifully illustrated book with superbly clear, high-resolution photographs, and many masterfully-executed drawings. The attractive eye-catching cover in bold orange and white marks this book out as different from all of Seeley’s previous publications, and indeed it is.

Each of the twenty chapters is a readable short story in itself, though several chapters are closely related and expand on the previous chapter’s discoveries. This is story-telling and nature writing at its best with beautiful prose and descriptions of key study sites such as Appledore Island and the Cranberry Lake Biological Research Station. There are accounts of adventures in Thailand to study the different species of honey bee there, and readers will see how satisfying and effective it can be working closely with fellow scientists. 

We catch a glimpse of Seeley’s interesting life and learn what it was like for him to watch, when he was a child, for the first time, a swarm take up residence in a walnut tree near his family home. We learn how this experience fuelled Seeley’s curiosity and inspired a successful scientific career studying honey bees in the field, rather than in a laboratory. We discover just how much Martin Lindauer’s book Communication among Social Bees influenced his career path, and how Seeley hopes that Piping Hot Bees might do the same for interested young people today.

This story charts the career path and discoveries of a scientist, and at the same time it mentions and pays tribute to the many people who contributed to the findings and body of work that we now enjoy. In chapter one we find out that Seeley’s undergraduate work on fanning bees was built on discoveries made in 1941 by a Dutch scientist, Engel Hazelhoff, who first demonstrated that a high level of gaseous carbon dioxide triggers hive ventilation.

From the studies of unmanaged colonies in the wild, we learn that many of these colonies have swarmed from managed hives where there has been some selection made for desired traits by the beekeeper. What is interesting and reassuring from this work is that honey bee colonies can swarm and live in the wild by themselves because their fundamental traits have not been altered by human beings.

Seeley’s studies on what makes an ideal home for swarming bees led to the birth of bait hives which many of us successfully use each season to attract and obtain swarms. Most of the experiments that we read about involved painstakingly intricate work and patience to label bees and observe them. Seeley and colleagues once labelled 4,000 bees in 3 days to create a swarm to discover how nest scouts choose a new home. 500 person-hours were then needed to examine and decode 1,348 dances.  “Every investigation that I have ever undertaken was time-consuming, many were physically demanding, and a few were frustrating”.

The author has achieved his aims in describing how scientific discoveries were made, and making the information easy to read by everyone. There is so much to learn in every chapter, and this makes Piping Hot Bees ideal for beekeepers researching accurate and up-to-date material for magazine articles, or studying for beekeeping exams.

3 thoughts on ““Piping Hot Bees..” Reviewed.”

    1. Yes, it is Philip. Is is fascinating to discover how scientific experiments are carried out in the field.

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