The Nature and Necessity of Bees


By Thor Hanson

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As seen on PBS’s American Spring LIVE, the award-winning author of The Triumph of Seeds and Feathers presents a natural and cultural history of bees: the buzzing wee beasties that make the world go round.

Bees are like oxygen: ubiquitous, essential, and, for the most part, unseen. While we might overlook them, they lie at the heart of relationships that bind the human and natural worlds. In Buzz, the beloved Thor Hanson takes us on a journey that begins 125 million years ago, when a wasp first dared to feed pollen to its young. From honeybees and bumbles to lesser-known diggers, miners, leafcutters, and masons, bees have long been central to our harvests, our mythologies, and our very existence. They’ve given us sweetness and light, the beauty of flowers, and as much as a third of the foodstuffs we eat. And, alarmingly, they are at risk of disappearing.

As informative and enchanting as the waggle dance of a honeybee, Buzz shows us why all bees are wonders to celebrate and protect. Read this book and you’ll never overlook them again.


Author’s Note

Although honeybees make many appearances in these pages, I want to state right up front that this book is not specifically about them. There will be no detailed descriptions of the waggle dance, swarming, or their many other unique and fascinating behaviors for the simple reason that those topics have been well covered elsewhere. Writers dating back as far as Virgil, and including at least two Nobel Prize winners, have produced hundreds of excellent volumes focused entirely on honeybees. This book, in contrast, celebrates bees in general, from leafcutters and bumbles to masons, miners, diggers, carpenters, wool-carders, and more. Honeybees feature as part of that panoply, but in this story, as in nature, they must share the stage.

Also, at the risk of vexing my entomologist friends, I’ve chosen to use certain words informally in this volume. Any insect might be referred to as a “bug,” for example, rather than just those found in the order Hemiptera. Technical terms that couldn’t be avoided are included in a glossary at the end, where readers will also find an illustrated guide to bee families, a bibliography of helpful references, and a collection of chapter notes. I heartily recommend the notes. They’re full of intriguing tidbits that fell just outside the flow of the narrative—things like nectar pirates, date honey, and how the fuzzy-horned bumblebee got its name.


A Bee in the Hand

Full merrily the humble-bee doth sing,

Till he hath lost his honey and his sting.

—William Shakespeare
Troilus and Cressida (c. 1602)

The crossbow fired with a dull thwack and we watched its bolt disappear upward into the leaves and branches, trailing a length of monofilament fishing line that glinted in the scattered beams of sunlight. My field assistant looked up from the bow’s sight and nodded in satisfaction, feeding out more line from a spinning reel duct-taped to the front grip. For him, this was all in a day’s work, the standard procedure for helping biologists position ropes and research equipment high up in Costa Rica’s rainforest canopy. For me, it marked a turning point. Within minutes, a colleague and I had hoisted our insect trap into position, and for the first time in my career, I was officially studying bees. Or at least trying to.

The project didn’t exactly go as planned. Days of shooting arrows at trees and hauling up various contraptions produced only a handful of specimens, mostly from one exciting moment when a dangling trap knocked into a nest and the whole hive attacked. The situation was infuriating—not only for all the wasted time and effort, but because I knew the bees were up there. I could see them clearly in the reams of genetic data I’d collected on the very trees where we were setting our traps. By comparing DNA from the adult trees to that of their seeds, I knew that pollen was moving around all over the place—not just among neighboring individuals, but between trees nearly a mile and a half (2.3 kilometers) apart. And because those trees belonged to the pea family, I knew that their clusters of purple flowers were designed for bee pollination, just like the vetches, clovers, sweet peas, and other common varieties back home. In the end, I had to admit defeat, but the experience sparked a fascination that wouldn’t rest. I immediately sought out courses on the taxonomy and behavior of bees, and I’ve looked for ways to chase after them—in my work and in daily life—ever since. Sometimes, I even catch a few.

Like anyone else interested in bees, I’ve followed recent trends with an increasing sense of worry. Since beekeepers first reported signs of “Colony Collapse Disorder” in 2006, millions of domestic honeybee hives have simply winked out. Investigators point to a variety of causes, from pesticides to parasites, and have also uncovered steep declines in many wild species. With news reports, documentaries, and even a presidential task force ringing the alarm bells, public awareness of the situation has perhaps never been higher. But what do we really know of bees? Even experts often stumble over the details. Once, while listening to the radio in my car, I heard a noted historian of science describing how early colonists arriving at Jamestown and Plymouth brought honeybees with them from Europe. If they hadn’t, he explained, there would have been nothing to pollinate their crops. I nearly drove off the road! What about the four thousand species of native bees already buzzing happily around North America? But that’s not the worst of it. On the bookshelf in my office, I keep a hardbound copy of the volume The Bees of the World. It was written by well-regarded entomologists and published by a good nonfiction press, and the cover features a lovely close-up photograph… of a fly.

It’s often said that bees provide every third bite of food in the human diet, but like so many of the natural wonders we rely on, they now fly mostly under the radar. In 1912, British entomologist Frederick William Lambert Sladen observed, “Everyone knows the burly, good-natured bumble-bee.” That may have been true in the English countryside of Sladen’s day, but a century later we find ourselves more familiar with the plight of bees than with the bees themselves. I once conducted a study in the patches of seaside prairie that lie just down the road from my house. I had a small grant to help answer one of biology’s most basic questions: What’s out there? Because, although I live within a day’s journey of six research universities in two countries, we still don’t have a good list of the local bees. The forty-five species I collected that season are just a start. Luckily for all of us, reconnecting with bees can be as easy as walking out our front doors on a summer day, wherever we happen to live. Filter out the commotion of modern life, and you can still hear them buzzing—those ubiquitous but overlooked visitors to every patch of open ground, from orchards, farms, and forests to city parks, vacant lots, highway medians, and backyard gardens. It’s also lucky that what we do know about bees makes for an irresistible story. It begins with ancient specimens trapped in amber and soon moves on to honey-loving birds, the origin of flowers, mimicry, cuckoos, scent plumes, impossible aerodynamics, and, quite possibly, a major step in our own evolution.

Bees today certainly need our help, but just as importantly, they need our curiosity. Exploring the history and biology of these essential creatures can transform anyone into an enthusiast, and that is the purpose of this book. But I hope you will do more than read it. I hope it makes you want to go straight outside on the next sunny day, find a bee on a flower, and settle down to watch. If you do, you might just find yourself daring to reach out and catch that bee the same way my young son has done since the age of three—bare-handed. Try this and you, too, can feel the tickle of tiny feet and the whispery rustle of wings on your palm before you slowly part your fingers, hold the bee up, and set it free.

The Buzz About Bees

To lie and listen—till o’er-drowsed sense

Sinks, hardly conscious of the influence—

To the soft murmur of the vagrant Bee.

—William Wordsworth
“Vernal Ode” (1817)

Nobody trusts an exoskeleton. The mere sight of insects and other arthropods can trigger a measurable fear reaction in the human brain. Often, synapses associated with disgust also light up. Psychologists believe these feelings are innate, an evolutionary response to something that might bite, sting, or transmit disease. But there is also a deep sense of otherness about those brittle, segmented bodies: even from a safe distance, we know that such creatures would give a sickening crunch if stepped upon. Mammals like us belong to the vertebrates, animals who all share the chaste trait of tucking their structural parts out of sight inside the body in the form of bones. Technically, putting the hard bits on the outside may be the better evolutionary strategy—arthropod species outnumber vertebrates by more than twenty to one. But the fact remains that people find exoskeletons creepy, particularly since they so often go along with faceted eyes, waving antennae, and multiple, scrabbling legs. Filmmakers understand this, which is why Ridley Scott based the terrifying monsters in Alien on insects and marine invertebrates rather than puppies, and why the scariest creature in The Lord of the Rings was not a pig-like orc or a cave troll, but Shelob, the giant spider. Even trained professionals sometimes fall prey to this squeamishness. In his book The Infested Mind, career entomologist Jeffrey Lockwood confessed to abandoning his research—and transferring to the philosophy department—after the grasshoppers he was studying suddenly overwhelmed him in a teeming swarm.

Too often, our interactions with arthropods end in a swatting motion, or even a call to the local exterminator. When we do make exceptions, they usually involve bugs that don’t really look like bugs—butterflies that dazzle us with brilliant, colorful wings; woolly-bear caterpillars trudging along cheerfully under their furry tiger stripes; or ladybird beetles, beloved for what can only be described as unmitigated cuteness. People like crickets, too, but probably because their musical chirps can be enjoyed from a distance on a summer evening, without ever having to actually see one. In economic terms, the silk moth is appreciated for its valuable fibers, and we owe the entire world production of shellac to a small Asian scale bug, but our attitude toward insects is probably best expressed by global spending on pesticides, which currently tops $65 billion a year.

In the context of this general unease, the human connection to bees stands apart. With large, protruding eyes, two pairs of membranous wings, and prominent antennae, they do not hide their otherness. Young bees writhe like maggots, and when they mature, some species can swarm by the tens of thousands, each individual capable of delivering a painful, venomous sting. They look, in short, exactly like the insects we are meant to be afraid of. Yet, throughout history, in cultures around the world, people have overcome or set aside that fear to bond with bees: watching them, tracking them, taming them, studying them, writing poems and stories about them, even worshiping them. No other group of insects has grown so close to us, none is more essential, and none is more revered.

FIGURE I.1. The human fear of arthropods features heavily in our storytelling, from biblical locusts to Kafka’s beetle to the horrors pictured on these pulp magazine covers from the 1920s. WIKIMEDIA COMMONS.

The human fascination with bees took root deep in our prehistory, when early hominins sought out the sugary blast of honey at every opportunity. As ancient peoples migrated around the globe, they continued searching for that sweetness, robbing the honeybees as well as scores of lesser-known species. Stone Age artists captured the practice in cave paintings from Africa to Europe to Australia, depicting hunts that sometimes involved tall ladders, flaming brands, and dangerous ascents. To our ancestors, the value of honey justified effort and risk far beyond the inconvenience of a few pesky stings.

From raiding wild colonies, the transition to organized beekeeping came as a logical next step nearly everywhere people settled down to farm. Potsherds laced with beeswax have been recovered from dozens of Neolithic agricultural sites across Europe, the Near East, and North Africa, some dating back more than 8,500 years. Exactly when and where the first beekeeper hived a swarm remains unclear, but Egyptians had certainly perfected the art by the third millennium BCE, tending their bees in long clay tubes, and eventually learning to ferry them up and down the Nile in concert with seasonal crops and wildflower blooms. People kept bees long before they tamed horses, camels, ducks, or turkeys, not to mention familiar crops like apples, oats, pears, peaches, peas, cucumbers, watermelon, celery, onions, or coffee beans. Domestication occurred independently in places as far-flung as India, Indonesia, and the Yucatan Peninsula, where Mayan beekeepers had the good sense to tend “royal ladies,” a rainforest species with the agreeable trait of lacking a sting. By the time the Hittites ruled western Asia, beekeeping was enshrined in law, and anyone caught pilfering hives could expect a harsh fine of six silver shekels. The Greeks enacted honey taxes, required 300-foot-wide buffers between rival apiaries, and saw the trade become so lucrative that it inspired sophisticated counterfeiting. Herodotus described a convincingly syrupy substitute crafted from “wheat and the fruit of the tamarisk.” Over the centuries, sticky liquids boiled down from dates, figs, grapes, and various tree saps would provide cheaper alternatives, but honey remained the world’s ultimate measure of sweetness until the advent of refined sugars.

FIGURE I.2. Bees, hives, and people have appeared together in rock art for millennia, sometimes in literal depictions of honey hunting, but also in symbolic form, as in this ecstatic swarm and dance sequence from the San people, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. IMAGE © AFRICAN ROCK ART DIGITAL ARCHIVE.

What began as an upshot of our primeval sweet tooth only grew stronger as people found other uses for the products of the hive. Mixed with water and fermented, honey soon provided the additional enticement of tasty and reliable intoxication. Scholars consider mead one of the oldest alcoholic beverages; it has been brewed and consumed in various iterations for at least 9,000 years, and perhaps far longer. Tipplers in ancient China quaffed a version laced with rice and hawthorn berries, while the Celts flavored theirs with hazelnuts and the Finns preferred the zest of lemons. In Ethiopia, people still favor a version doctored with the bitter leaves of buckthorn. But perhaps the most potent meads of all were those that arose in the rainforests of Central and South America, where the Mayans and various tribal shamans developed hallucinogenic varieties spiked with narcotic roots and bark. In fact, healers of all kinds have long recognized the benefits of bees, recommending honey, mead, waxy salves, propolis (or “bee glue,” a resinous substance collected from plant buds by some bees for use in hive construction), and even the venom from stings to treat all manner of ailments. When remedies from the ancient world were summarized in the twelfth-century Syriac volume The Book of Medicines, over 350 of its 1,000 prescriptions required bee products. The anonymous author went so far as to call honey water an essential daily tonic (when properly mixed with wine and one dram each of anise seed and crushed peppercorn).

The historian Hilda Ransome did not exaggerate when she wrote, of bees, “It is impossible to over-estimate their value to man in the past.” As if sweetness, inebriation, and healing weren’t enough, bees also provided nothing less than illumination. From prehistory through the dawn of the Industrial Age, most options for holding back the darkness involved no small amount of smoke and splutter—campfires, torches, or simple lamps and rushes that reeked of fish oil and animal fat. For all that time, only beeswax burned with a clean, steady, pleasant-smelling light. Temples, churches, and wealthy homes glowed with it night after night for millennia. Added to the many other uses for beeswax—from waterproofing to embalming to metallurgy—candle-making created an insatiable demand that often made wax the most valuable beekeeping product of all. When the Romans finalized their conquest of Corsica in the second century BCE, they spurned the island’s famous honey in favor of a tribute measured out in wax alone—an impressive 200,000 pounds of it every year. Fittingly, the scribes and officials who oversaw that levy almost certainly made their notes on yet another bee-dependent innovation: the world’s first conveniently erasable writing surface. Long before the invention of chalkboards, small tablets covered with wax could be inscribed with a stylus, easily stored or transported, and then heated, smoothed, and used again.

FIGURE I.3. The pharmacist pictured in this thirteenth-century Arabic text is mixing a typical cure-all for weakness and lack of appetite from a recipe that called for honey, beeswax, and human tears. Abdullah ibn al-Fadl, Preparing Medicine from Honey (1224). IMAGE © THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART.

Bees have been with us from the start. As the source of so many commodities, some of them great luxuries, it’s no wonder these insects found their way into folktales, mythology, and even religion. Bees in legend often played the role of messengers from the gods, their gifts to us seen as glimpses of the divine. Egyptians viewed them as the tears of the sun god, Ra, while an old French tale credits bees to Christ, formed from a scattering of droplets that fell from his hands as he bathed in the Jordan River. Deities and saints from Dionysus to Valentine became patrons of bees and their keepers, while in India, bees made up the humming bowstring of Kama, the god of love. Swarms of bees often portended battles, droughts, floods, and other great events throughout the ancient world, symbolizing good luck in China, or bad luck in India and Rome. According to Cicero, a swarm of bees foretold the eloquence and wisdom of Plato by gathering and settling upon the lips of the philosopher when he was still a babe in arms. Bee-priestesses, known as melissae, Greek for “honeybees,” served in the temples of Artemis, Aphrodite, and Demeter; they played a role at Delphi as well, where the famed Oracle was sometimes called “The Delphic Bee.”

With its otherworldly sweetness, the syrupy diet of bees was also considered divine, appearing in legend nearly as often as the bees themselves. The mother of Zeus, for example, reportedly hid her infant son in a cave, where wild bees raised the young god to adulthood, passing sweet nectar and honey straight from their mouths to his. The Hindu deities Vishnu, Krishna, and Indra grew up on a similar diet and were known collectively as “the nectar-born ones,” while in Scandinavia, the baby Odin preferred his honey mixed with milk from a sacred goat. Whether found in divine sippy cups or baked into heavenly cakes, honey dominated menus from Valhalla to Mount Olympus and beyond—traditions everywhere linked the sweetness gathered by bees to the foods of the gods. For the faithful, it also featured in the prospect of a just reward. Sources as varied as the Koran, the Bible, Celtic legends, and Coptic codices all described Paradise as a place flowing with rivers of honey.

In symbolism and in daily life, the value of bees to people lies rooted in their biology. The modern bee is a marvel of engineering, with wraparound ultraviolet vision; flexible, interlocking wings; and a pair of hypersensitive antennae capable of sniffing out everything from rose blossoms to bombs to cancer. Bees evolved alongside the flowering plants, and their most remarkable traits all developed in the context of that relationship. Flowers provide bees with the ingredients for honey and wax as well as the impetus for navigation, communication, cooperation, and, in some cases, buzzing itself. In return, bees perform what is their most fundamental and essential service. Yet, oddly, it’s one that people didn’t begin to understand—let alone appreciate—until the seventeenth century.

FIGURE I.4. According to one Greek and Roman myth, this is where it all began, with Dionysus (Bacchus) capturing the first swarm of bees in a hollow tree. Piero di Cosimo, The Discovery of Honey by Bacchus (c. 1499). WIKIMEDIA COMMONS.

When German botanist Rudolf Jakob Camerarius first published his observations on pollination in 1694, most scientists found the whole notion of plant sex absurd, obscene, or both. Decades later, Philip Miller’s description of bees visiting tulip flowers was still deemed too racy for his best-selling The Gardeners Dictionary. After numerous complaints, the publisher deleted it completely from the third, fourth, and fifth editions. But the idea of pollination could be tested by anyone with access to a farm, a garden, or even a flowerpot. Eventually, the dance between bees and flowers came to fascinate some of the greatest thinkers in biology, including such luminaries (and beekeepers) as Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel. Today, pollination remains a vital field of study, because we know it is more than simply illuminating: it is irreplaceable. In the twenty-first century, sweetness comes to us from refined sugars, wax is a by-product of petroleum, and we get our light with the flick of a switch. But for the propagation of nearly every crop and wild plant not serviced by the wind, our reliance upon bees remains complete. When they falter, the repercussions make headline news.

Recently, the buzz about bees has often hummed louder than the bees themselves. Die-offs in the wild and in domestic hives threaten critical pollen and flower relationships that we’ve long taken for granted. But the story of bees is much more than a tale of plight or crisis. It leads us from the age of dinosaurs through an explosion of biodiversity that Darwin called an “abominable mystery.” Bees helped shape the natural world where our own species evolved, and their story often comingles with our own. The subtitle of this book guides its content: it’s an exploration of how the very nature of bees makes them so utterly necessary. To understand them, and ultimately to help them, we should appreciate not only where bees came from and how they work, but also why they’ve become one of the only insects to inspire more fondness than fear. The story of bees begins with biology, but it also tells us about ourselves. It explains why we’ve kept them close for so long, why advertisers turn to them to hawk everything from beer to breakfast cereal, and why our finest poets prefer their flowers “bee-studded,” their lips “bee-stung,” and their glades “bee-loud.” People study bees to better understand everything from collective decision-making to addiction, architecture, and efficient public transportation. As social animals recently adapted to living in large groups, we have a lot to learn from a group of creatures who, in part at least, have been doing it successfully for millions of years.

In the past, people around the world heard the buzzing of bees as voices of the departed, a murmured conveyance from the spirit world. This belief traces back to the cultures of Egypt and Greece, among others, where tradition held that a person’s soul appeared in bee form when it left the body, briefly visible (and audible) in its journey to the hereafter. While modern listeners perceive that living vibrato more prosaically, it remains a potent force, amplified by the unconscious urgency of a long and intimate bond. But the buzz about bees does not begin with pesticides, habitat loss, and the other challenges we’ve thrust upon them. It starts with their ascendance, an ancient lesson in hunger and innovation. Nobody knows the exact sequence of events that led to the beginning of bees, but everyone can agree on at least one thing: we know what it sounded like.

Becoming Bees

Evolution does not produce novelties from scratch. It works on what already exists…

—François Jacob,
“Evolution and Tinkering” (1977)

A Vegetarian Wasp

You voluble,


Vehement fellows,

That play on your

Flying and

Musical cellos…

Come out of my

Foxglove; come

Out of my roses,

You bees with the

Plushy and

Plausible noses!

—Norman Rowland Gale,
Bees (1895)

I could not ignore the buzzing. My destination lay across the floor of a wide gravel pit, where I could see the white flutter of the rare butterfly I’d been hired to find. I should have been running toward it, net and notebook at the ready. But the ground at my feet hummed with an earthy tremolo that demanded immediate attention. This is the trouble with studying natural history—how to focus on any specific task when the world abounds with wonders. Stay on target, I told myself. That advice came to me from Luke Skywalker, who, during the chaotic final battle of Star Wars, struggled to keep his aim on the one tiny exhaust vent that would blow up the Death Star. Unfortunately for my clients, I lacked the concentration of a Jedi knight. The butterfly would have to wait.

Crouching down, I found myself surrounded by wasps, thousands of them. Their sleek black and gold bodies darted and swerved in every direction like sparks over a bonfire. But unlike sparks, the wasps eventually came to ground with purpose, landing beside the tiny nest holes that made up their colony, the largest I’d ever seen. I felt a surge of adrenaline, not from the danger of stings but from the thrill of discovery. For someone interested in bees, finding the right wasp nest can be like stepping back in time. If I was correct, the tiny burrows in the earth around my feet held a critical clue about how and why bees evolved. Putting net, notebook, and all thought of butterflies aside, I lay down with my face at ground level and began to watch.


  • Winner of the 2019 Pacific Northwest Book Award
  • "Vividly zinging...[Hanson] zips and waggles through fascinating journeys to meet fellow bee obsessives, reminding us that...we have brought trouble upon ourselves: 40 percent of the bee species are in decline threatened with extinction." —New York Times Book Review
  • "Hanson is an insightful observer of evolution, at his most elegant when digging deep into the science...[His] senses are, indeed, sharp when observing the natural world."—Wall Street Journal
  • "Buzz shines the most brightly...when Hanson's own adoration of bees comes through: he wanders around the landscape observing them and musing about their natural history in ways that light up the page...A rewarding choice for readers keen on science and nature."—NPR
  • "According to Thor Hanson's Buzz, the relationship between bees and the human lineage goes back three million years...Both our world and our brains, it seems, have been profoundly shaped by bees."—New York Review of Books
  • "Charming...Hanson is an upbeat and often humorous guide...If you have time to read one book on what is happening with modern bees, you couldn't do better than Buzz."—Science
  • "A loving, infectiously enthusiastic natural history."—Christian Science Monitor
  • "Popular science at its intelligent best."—Economist
  • "In Buzz, Thor Hanson reminds us that the apian community is incredibly diverse...[He] expertly explores the history and ecology of bees around the world."—New Scientist
  • "Timely...The core message of this charming book [is to] be fascinated, and hopefully that will lead us to take action to protect these marvelous and critically important insects."—Los Angeles Review of Books
  • "Engaging."—Scientific American
  • "Fun, fascinating and full of engaging pen portraits of the scientists and bee enthusiasts [Hanson] meets in the course of his research...By the final section of this book Hanson's sense of wonder has rubbed off on us."—Guardian
  • "For this natural history of the bee, biologist Thor Hanson wings far beyond the hive to explore bee species from 'bumbles' to wool carders... Apiology, Hanson reminds us, is not just about the scientific buzz: bee behaviour has shed light on human issues from addiction to collective decision-making."—Nature
  • "Engagingly written, well researched, widely informative...Hanson is a conservation biologist with an infectious curiosity." —American Bee Journal
  • "Celebrates the wide diversity of bee anatomy and behavior...The storyline here is a sadly familiar denouement to many modern natural histories, a tale of pathogens, habitat destruction, pesticides...[But] if there are a few sour notes in its closing bars, the prevailing buzz in Hanson's book is sweet, sweet music."—Natural History
  • "[A] lively look at bees. From exploring the insect's evolutionary beginnings to profiling celebrity beekeepers, Hanson reminds us that we should appreciate these complex creatures, which are vital to our way of life."—Seattle Magazine
  • "This book is an accessible and engaging read; particularly enjoyable are Hanson's descriptions of his own forays into the world of bees."—Edible East Bay
  • "Delightful...Bringing to mind Bill Bryson's complicated, but engaging ability to intertwine nature, science, art, history and culture, Hanson weaves a similar spell about the world's 20,000 species of bees."—Winnipeg Free Press
  • "If you think the sting of declining bee populations won't affect you, think again...Hanson take[s] himself and readers on a journey of exploration."—Bend Bulletin
  • "Enjoyable...Hanson's enthusiasm in infectious."—Current Biology
  • "Buzz provokes thought and promotes action."—Coast Weekend
  • "[Hanson] is a charmingly enthusiastic bee fanatic and his book is a pleasure to read."—Daily Mail
  • "Entertaining...The author's point is plain: we need to adopt an approach to insects and to their central role in the maintenance of all life."—New Statesman
  • " surprisingly optimistic that we can reform and protect our bees, citing recent research and improved agricultural practices. In Buzz, he states his case while entertainingly recounting human-and-bee history and his own experiences with many bee species."—Booklist
  • "Lively and entertaining, Hanson's work introduces the world of bees--all bees, not just honeybees...Of interest to farmers, gardeners, ecologists, and anyone concerned about bees and their impact on our food supply."—Library Journal
  • "This beautifully written natural history book, brought to us by a graceful and talented author, packs surprise after surprise with every turn of the page. Who knew bees were just evolved wasps? Or that ancient Egyptians ferried bees up and down the Nile to pollinate their crops? Don't pass this one up."—Wendy Williams, author of TheHorse
  • "Thor Hanson is a magician at making entomology and taxonomy exciting, highlighting the fascinating world of bees. Buzz hums with science and history, exposing how bees have shaped our world. A delightful, buzzworthy must-read!"—Daniel Chamovitz, author of Whata Plant Knows
  • "As he did for feathers and seeds, Thor Hanson has written a wonderfully engaging work of natural history that will delight readers with its elegant prose, surprising stories, and deep humanity. Bees, so important to life on earth, are fortunate to have someone as passionate and knowledgeable as Hanson tell the tale of their evolutionary past, turbulent present, and precarious future. After reading Buzz, you will look at bees with a profound mixture of awe and gratitude."—Eric Jay Dolin, author of BlackFlags, Blue Waters, and Leviathan
  • "This book hums with the unique mixture of science, adventure, intelligence, wonder, linguistic virtuosity, and great storytelling we have come to expect from Thor Hanson's work. But it offers something new and rare as well. Here we are drawn into a surprising and enchanted world that is hidden in plain sight. All who read Buzz will eat dinner, walk in the neighborhood, search the flowers, and yes-listen to the drone of bees-with changed minds and hearts, ones that are freshly attuned to our beautiful and essential interconnection with the six-legged beings who share and co-create our history, our mythology, our sustenance, our planet, and our future."—Lyanda Lynn Haupt, author of Crow Planet and Mozart's Starling
  • "This book is a joy. In it, Thor Hanson reminds us that the story of bees is the story of the origin of societies, of sweetness and collapse, of flowers and their sex, and if the humans who study all of these things. It is a story of evolution and biodiversity, a story that bears on much of the food we eat but also so very much else. Buy it. Read it. Read it again. And when you do, you will look out at the buzzing world anew." —Rob Dunn, author of Never Home Alone and The Wild Life of Our Bodies
  • "Thor Hanson is a gifted story teller and naturalist. In Buzz, he takes us along on a wondrous, action-packed journey to discover the secret lives of bees, flowers, and the unconventional men and women who study them. This book really is the buzz about bees, and it's destined to become a natural history classic."—Stephen Buchmann, author of The Reason for Flowers

On Sale
Jul 10, 2018
Page Count
288 pages
Basic Books

Thor Hanson

About the Author

Thor Hanson is a conservation biologist, Guggenheim Fellow, and author of award winning books including Buzz, Feathers, The Impenetrable Forest, and The Triumph of Seeds. He lives with his wife and son on an island in Washington State.

Learn more about this author