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Bees: Nature’s Little Wonders

by Candace Savage

The latest book by best-selling science writer Candace Savage (Prairie: A Natural History) celebrates bees, arguably the most beloved of all insect groups. We love them, stings and all, for many very good reasons. Bees provide an essential ecological service – pollination – upon which countless species of flowering plants depend. They produce honey, the only concentrated sweetness a person might ever have encountered in the days before refined sucrose. For many cultures, bees’ well-organized, hive-based society symbolizes harmony and hard work.
    Savage begins with an overview of the taxonomy and habits of bees in general. Then her focus falls on two German scientists, Karl von Frisch and his student, Martin Lindauer. Thanks to their lifelong studies of  the little hive dwellers, we now understand such prior mysteries as how bees communicate nectar sources to hive mates. That discovery earned von Frisch a Nobel Prize.
    Bees concludes with a brief (though informative) account of Colony Collapse Disorder, which has caused the deaths of millions of honey bees, bringing about huge crop losses in the U.S. alone. (To say the world would face mass starvation if this disturbing trend continues is no exaggeration.) But given that Savage splices the sparse text with photographs, delightful old woodcuts, bee lore, and bee poetry, the book’s overall effect is more whimsical than erudite or alarmist. (Still, a phrase like “shaking her booty” looks a little incongruous.)
    This short and, um, sweet book might be most suitable as a stocking stuffer for a gardener or bee lover, a fine starting point for further study of these wonderful and essential creatures.