As it skips from the small town of Shropshire, England, to Tasmania and its wildflowers, Dave Goulson's debut treatise delights and informs readers on the varied lives and intricate behaviors of bumblebees. Although "it is a common misapprehension that there is just one species of bee: they have yellow and black stripes and they sting," Goulson tells us that there are 27 distinct bumblebees living in England alone and "perhaps 25,000 species of bee in the world."
Goulson--founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in the U.K.--serves up a lifetime of observations and analysis in an accessible and often humorous format. We learn many quirky details: bees have smelly, oily feet that leave scent patches on flower petals; bumblebees and honeybees have distinctly different mating habits; it is possible to measure the length of a bumblebee's tongue to determine which flower species it might visit. But Goulson also examines the impact bumblebees have on the world. They are effective pollinators of such cash crops as tomatoes--plants pollinated by bumblebees yield bigger and better tomatoes than those pollinated by humans. More than 30 factories worldwide breed bumblebees for crop pollination, though the environmental effect of such insect production has yet to be fully determined, especially when these bees escape a greenhouse and compete against native species for plant nectar.
Fascinating and in-depth, Goulson's story of bumblebees will inspire readers to plant cottage gardens full of non-hybrid flowers to attract these complex creatures so they, too, can have a closer look. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer