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The Queen Must Die: And Other Affairs of Bees and Men

Approach this description of a year’s cycle in the life of honeybees the way you might an Englishman telling you about his roses: there is much the same love and fervor, gentle speech, trained eye, and patient observation. Longgood is a former newspaperman who decided to try his hand as a beekeeper and now manages nicely with his hives and home on Cape Cod. In his own way, he takes you from the moment the bee package arrives at the post office to the wintering over of a hive. (Honeybees are one of the few insect species that neither die off nor hibernate in cold.) How the bees manage this feat (with clustering around the queen and movements to and from the center of the cluster), as well as how they go about their daily rounds of nurture and foraging, make up the many short chapters of the book. Longgood describes the meticulous fashioning of the comb; the varied-sized cells for drones, workers, and potential queens; the behavior of the principals at various stages of their life cycle. There are chapters on pollen bread and how honey is made, on the lifestyle of drones and the deposing of old queens. The established method is “”balling””–surrounding the queen so as to crush and suffocate her. Mentioned in passing, too, are what to do about swarming; when it is safe to approach hives without protective gear; how to introduce a new queen. Thus the book has practical use for the serious amateur or even the professional. But its charm is not categorizable as a “”how-to”” book or even a popularization of the science or biology of bees. To be sure, there is proper homage to von Frisch and other scholars of beedom, and there are also interesting facts on the role of pheromones, on “”queen substance”” and other biochemicals that carry complex messages to the hive members. What’s unexpected is the simple pleasure of sharing Longgood’s immersion in beewatching and encountering his rhetorical, chapter-ending questions on the nature of bees and humans. It would not be facetious to say that this is a sweet book.



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