New Bee Book Review: The Buzz About Bees – Jürgen Tautz

When you’ve been into honey bees for a while, don’t all the bee books start to look the same? Well, The Buzz about Bees by Jürgen Tautz, translated into English just this summer by David Sandeman, is a honeybee book with a real difference.

To begin with, it’s almost impossible to choose between the text itself or the remarkable colour photographs that illustrate it. Together, text and photos create the most beautiful bee book you’re likely to see — filled with fresh and fascinating information.

Did you know, for example, that the genetic make-up of a colony will change over time — even if the hive is far away from other bees with which to interbreed? That “heater bees” will hunker down on top of capped brood for as long as 30 minutes? Or that honeybees mark the flowers when they’ve taken the last drop of nectar, so other bees won’t waste time in trying to forage there?

part of page from honeybee book Or that the purpose of those “living chains” of bees — you’ll often see them in a swarm or as you lift out a frame — is still unknown? A full-page close-up photograph shows exactly how the bees cling together, and yes, they do appear to be “holding hands”!

(My own favourite photo in the book shows a bee flying through a narrow tunnel with patterned walls — one of the experiments that help researchers to understand how bees know and communicate the distance and direction of nectar sources, and find their way around.)

In short, The Buzz about Bees: Biology of a Superorganism is not just another “how to” manual about various methods of beekeeping. It’s a fresh look at the nature of the honey bees themselves.

Based on the latest scientific data The Buzz About Bees overturns the common view of the bee colony as a society of individual insects ruled by a queen to show us “a self-organizing and complex adaptive system based on a network of communication; a fascinating result of evolution — a mammal in several bodies.”

honeybee book cover There are a few sample pages shown on, but I think those “sneak peek” pages were poorly chosen for a non-academic audience such as beekeepers and the general public. They really don’t give a fair impression of this book — if anything, they makes it seem dull and could put you off buying and reading it. And that would be a shame. The first chapter is perhaps the most technical for a general audience, but after that the book rolls right along with endless surprising insights into how bees see, forage, communicate, and fulfill their ever-changing roles within the greater organism that is the colony.

And Helga Heilmann’s stunning colour “action” photographs take you inside the bee colony as never before, right up close: You can see the tiny new eggs standing up in their cells — the touching of tongues as a field bee bribes a guard to gain entrance to the hive — the tiny hairs on the body of a queen as she hatches out from her cell — even the plates of beeswax being produced from the wax gland of the worker bee’s body!

Jürgen Tautz has a real knack for bringing science to a general audience, without “talking down” to those of us who never quite made it to high school biology class! It’s an interesting read — dip in, and it’s immediately clear why Apis mellifera is one of the most fascinating and complex creatures on this planet.

The Buzz about Bees: Biology of a Superorganism is one of the very few good honeybee books that you won’t be satisfied just to borrow from the library: you’ll want to have a copy on your own bookshelves, to pick up again and again.

~ Book review by Rebecca Leaman

“With spectacularly beautiful colour photographs and an easy understandable text, The Buzz about Bees tells the story of honeybees in a new perspective. Based on the latest data, notably from his own research group, Jürgen Tautz provides a wonderful insight into the realms of bees…

“The entire range of astonishing bee activities is described. Remarkable action photographs never shown before present bees busy with cell cleaning, caring for the brood, serving in the queen’s court, visiting flowers, receiving nectar, producing honey, comb building, entrance guarding, heating and cooling. Spotlights include bees grooming, swarming, fighting, telephoning, sleeping and communicating by high-toned beeping, scents and dances.”

The Buzz About Bees: Biology of a Superorganism
Tautz, Jürgen; illus. Helga R. Heilmann; trans. David C. Sandeman
ISBN 978-3-540-78727-3 (hardcover 284pp)
Springer: 2008.