Friday, August 05, 2022

Book Review - The Mind of a Bee - Princeton University Press

 


     When one views the historical record, it is astonishing to note how animals were viewed as little more than automata, to be exploited by humans (who were created in God's image, of course) to do with as they wished. Lacking any sense of pain, joy, regret or other emotions considered the exclusive preserve of Homo sapiens, even vivisection was fair game if it pleased humans. Animals were deemed to operate only by "instinct" with no ability to rationalize or modify behaviour. Thank goodness these notions have been dispelled and Lars Chittka contributes in a major way to revealing that the intelligence of bees rivals human intelligence in so many ways, and in certain areas surpasses it.
     A whole series of exquisite experiments aided by advances in technology, delivers insight into the way bees see (in a spectrum beyond human capability) and how that faculty aids them to select flowers that promise nectar.  Additional experiments reveal how bees navigate to and from food sources with unerring accuracy and find their way back to the hive, where the waggle dance announces to others the location and distance of the stash. The waggle dance is deconstructed to reveal how it serves to identify the precise location of the area where foraging will repay the effort.


     A flower is not merely a flower - only the precise kind of flower will do and we learn how a bee identifies the species it is seeking. This minimizes the time spent foraging and confers maximum efficiency to the bee's activity.



     Charles Darwin examined bees that were benefitting from observing congeners and learning from them, and postulated that we should not be surprised that insects might be able to acquire knowledge in the same way as mammals. In a series of elegant experiments Chittka's graduate students offer proof of this phenomenon. Incredibly, bees could be taught to use tools, an ability that not so long ago dumbfounded animal behaviourists when it was proven that chimpanzees and Caledonian Crows could do so. Ideas of what makes a human "human" fall quickly.
     It comes as no surprise to pet owners that animals have distinctive personalities and display traits that differ little from human emotions. It may come as a shock to many, however, that bees too have "personalities."
     Bees experience physical pain if injured in similar fashion to other higher animals and this will not be a revelation to anyone who has seen a worm writhing on a fish hook. Furthermore, bees are susceptible to trauma associated with an encounter with a predator, and they manifest other facets of consciousness. 
     Bees are resilient creatures, but there is a limit.
When change happens too quickly, not only bees, but other organisms do not have time to adapt.


     Chittka states it very well, "Imagine humanity was faced with the challenge of losing over 90 percent of our living space over a few generations. Yes, some of us might survive, but not necessarily because of superior intelligence - more likely because of guns and money."
     If we really care about bees, and by extension the welfare of the planet, we can all do our part. Convert your home garden to native plants, eliminate lawns, permit wildflowers to flourish, eschew pesticides, herbicides and other lethal chemicals, give up or seriously reduce your consumption of red meat, provide habitat for wild creatures, stop using plastic, don't litter,  and make conscious decisions with the welfare of your grandchildren in mind, even those you don't yet have!
     This is an amazing book. I give it my highest recommendation. I find fault in only one trivial aspect - the typeface is too small. But even my aging eyes learned to cope - and I am sure yours will too!

The Mind of a Bee - Princeton University Press
Lars Chittka
Hardcover - US$29.95 - ISBN 9780691180472
272 pages - 6.125 x 9.25 inches (15.31 x 23.125 cm)
57 colour illustrations
Publication date: 26 July, 2022

David M. Gascoigne,
David M. Gascoigne,

I'm a life long birder. My interests are birds, nature, reading, books, outdoors, travel, food and wine.

59 comments:

  1. ...wouldn't be wonderful if some humans had the mind of a bee?

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  2. What a fascinating book. I'm not surprised that we have under estimated bee intelligence because it doesn't fit the narrative that we're in some way superior to all other creatures. I've been a vegetarian for many years because it has not sat well with me to kill animals. This just confirms my opinion..

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    1. The research that forms the basis for the book is of formidable quality - but there's even a touch of whimsical humour here and there too.

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  4. I will never underestimate the intelligence of bees, David, especially after reading this review.

    Also to answer your question about where L.L. Bean boots are made, I checked and learned from a company site that they are USA made. I have updated the post with the information, thanks to your comment.

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  5. This sounds like a fascinating book. Thank you again for your honest and wonderful review, David.

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  6. This is a wonderful sounding book. This year in my garden I have bumble bees. The last few years no bees to be found. I had a good crop of flowers this year too so maybe the difference. Thank you for joining Friday Face Off. Have a great day today.

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  7. A beautiful presentation of bees.

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  8. What a great sounding book, and I'd really like to read it. I will request a copy be bought by our library (my best source of literature these days!)

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    1. Would be great to have your library acquire a copy.

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  9. This book sounds good. People must learn that they are not the crown of ceation, but responsible for all creations, and must show respect for them. Thanks for sharing, have a lovely day, hugs, Valerie

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  10. Their colonies are very well organized. Each member has a specific task to perform and none of them challenge the leadership of their Queen.
    Humans are not so accommodating...

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  11. Thank you for this thorough review of a very interesting book. When I look at your last paragraph that you wrote I think I'm already doing all these things ("stop using plastic" is a very difficult one since almost everything seems to come in plastic), but then I look around and see that what I'm doing is just a drop in the bucket - what am I saying, bucket? Ocean. Yesterday I was at the post office and decided to walk the neighborhood there - it was frustrating. The average homes had no lawns and often native plants, but the moment I reached the wealthier part with much bigger houses there were huge lawns and of course they were all lush and green despite the drought. To me that says people with money don't care - I know I'm generalizing here, but how can you not when you see such stark difference? So I go out in my garden and enjoy the different species of bees that busily hover over my native plants. That gives me some (false) peace.

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    1. I think that what you are doing is very important, Carola, and we can only hope that you will influence others. I agree that it is not easy to completely discontinue using plastic but there is much that can be done to substantially reduce its use.

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  12. I was thinking that this might be a book for me, David, until I read your 'trivial fault' note. Sadly, that small text would probably defeat me - still not manged to read that fabulous book on moths with the small print. However, had my second eye injection today, and things are looking promising so I might yet get there!

    Best wishes to you and Miriam - - - Richard

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    1. Sadly, I am sure you are right, Richard. The type size in the main text is pretty small and even smaller in the descriptions under the images etc. Perhaps this is an attempt to use less paper, but it does not enhance the readability of the book.

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  13. Sadly we have often treated 'lesser' humans just as we do other animals, as something to be used and exploited. I am angry and I despair. Some of us are learning and others of us simply refuse to do so.

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    1. It is so true. Neither in Canada nor in Australia do we have anything to be proud of in the treatment of the First Nations people.

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  14. I have always appreciated our bee population and especially so since I have had my own little solitary bee hotel.
    I get enormous pleasure from watching as solitary bees investigate the bee hotel each spring, and even more pleasure as the females start laying their eggs inside the stems of the hotel. They leave each egg with a store of pollen for the grub to eat when it hatches. The eggs are sealed up behind a plug of mud to keep them safe, but the little leafcutter bee cleverly seals hers up with leaves. They achieve this mamoth task often within just two days - they are very diligent little workers.

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    1. For some reason, I have not had much success with mine. There are lots of solitary bees in the garden but my accommodation doesn't seem to appeal to them.

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  15. I see honeybees around my garden occasionally, but my favorites are the bumblebees and there are more of them this summer than I ever remember seeing before. Love those fuzzy little critters! My garden is very much a "bee-hive." We never use pesticides and I always consider the needs of bees before deciding to add plants. They are the gardener's friends and allies and I've never doubted their unique intelligence.

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    1. Sounds very encouraging, Dorothy. Congratulations on your ethic, which comes as no surprise, of course.

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  16. It sounds like a very interesting book, David. I just nordered the book. It's a shame that it hasn't been translated into Norwegian, but that's just the way it is.
    Hugs and kisses, Marit

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    1. You have excellent command of English, Marit, so I am sure you will be able to handle it, but it is a shame it couldn't be translated. Hugs and kisses - David

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  17. Es fascinante la vida de las abejas y debe ser muy interesante la lectura de ese libro.
    Feliz fin de semana.

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  18. Ce livre me semble très intéressant. Je n'utilise plus aucun produit au jardin et même si il y'a quelques pucerons et autres, ils sont finalement vite mangé par d'autres insectes. J'ai de nombreux hôtels à insectes et tous sont bien remplis! beaucoup de guêpes et d'abeilles. Bonne soirée

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  19. I love having bees in the garden and they do come with lavender hedges which are getting rather old. We must always have bees for obvious reasons.

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  20. It sounds like a very interesting book.
    Greetings Irma

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  21. Sounds interesting and give a new perspective on bees ! We need to protect them, respect them...as nature...
    Have a shinny weekend !
    Anna

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  22. Great review, David. I have in my garden a tiny little flower.(iberis sempervirens)especially for one kind of butterfly. And hooray she has find it and laid her eggs: Pieris mannii. . This book gives us another push to awe the essence of the cycle. And that we have to do everything we can. before.....
    Regards, Maria

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  23. Hello,
    Hubby and I try to keep the bees and other wildlife safe and happy in our yard. Thanks for sharing this book and another great review. Thank you for sharing your post. Take care, enjoy your weekend. PS, thank you for leaving me a comment.

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  24. After having honey bees for a couple of years, never mind all the bumble bees and others in my yard, I think this book is right up my alley. You keep suggesting these great books David. No wonder my to read pile is getting so high-smile. Now that I am no longer wearing my wedding finery and am back to dirty fingers and rumpled hair, I've been out with all the bees. This summer the biggest surprise is my bird bath has become a bee bath. There is as much action there as in the hive, as long as I keep some water in it. I guess they are very thirsty also. So I water it along with my plants and the bees are loving it. Thanks for another good recommendation. I hope your weather is cooler than it is here, and have a great weekend. Hugs-Erika

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    1. Our bird bath too is well patronized by bees and wasps.

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  25. If you recommend it, I know I would like it too. There's always something new to learn. Thanks for sharing!

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  26. He quedado fascinado por tan bella reseña y explicación que has dado amigo profesor. Vaya por delante mi admiración y 👏🏻👏🏻. Por lo narrado debe ser una extraordinaria obra.
    Me pregunto como se podrá resolver el tema de las avispas asiáticas que tanto daño están haciendo a las colmenas. Malos tiempos corren para estos maravillosos obreros.
    Un fuerte abrazo estimado, amigo y compadre David.

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  27. Interesting book. I always have some bees on the buddleja.

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  28. Bees play a major role in our state's economy, and only one other state produces more honey than ours. They are critters needing as much respect and protection as we can give.

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  29. Sounds very interesting. I think it will be a pleasurable read.

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  30. To survive for centuries, it's not surprising to know of a bee's intelligence. Interesting review!!

    Thanks so much for taking time to link in this week at I'd Rather B Birdin'.

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  31. Great book! You write: "Turn your home garden into native plants, clean your lawns, let wildflowers thrive, avoid pesticides." I completely agree with you David. I think getting rid of the lawn is hard work to mow every week.

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  32. Human arrogance! Of course all forms of life are sentient and each individual is...individual, how could they not be and survive. Humans are not the end all and the be all. I read a novel recently titled The Bees by Laline Paull, the story from the viewpoint of a particular bee. Fiction but the writer seems to have a good working knowledge of bees and their activities. Thanks for this review.

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  33. This sounds like a fascinating book, many thanks for your review.

    All the best Jan

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  34. Sounds fascinating!
    It certainly gives me a new perspective on bees.
    Have a great week ahead, David.

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  35. Maybe those traditional bee-keepers who used to talk to their bees and keep them informed of family goings-on were not so crazy after all. When I was a child I was taught to remain calm around bees and talk to them gently which, whatever the world may think about it, has served me well; I've never been stung by a bee and only occasionally by wasps.

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    1. Staying calm is certainly good advice. Flailing and thrashing will only incite bees otherwise not inclined to bother you. Those pesky wasps seem a little more malevolent, however!

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  36. Bees are so important and I think people are beginning to understand that. We get a kick out of watching them around our deck. We have LOTS of Rose of Sharon and they bury themselves in there. Sometimes when they come out all covered with polen they're too heavy to fly and move along on the deck railing to scrap some of the polen off before they can move on.
    Sandy's Space

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  37. Paree se run libro excelente, todo lo relacionado a las abejas me fascina, no llegué a tener esa clase de información todavía. Saludos desde Monte

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  38. It is certainly a interesting book.
    Thanks for the review.

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  39. Un libro interesante que me gustaría tener, en mí jardín a veces hay muchísimas abejas, y yo soy feliz con ellas. Abrazos querido amigo David.

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  40. Very interesting books!....I always plant flowers to attract bees.......Abrazotes, Marcela

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  41. I have to say, the title intrigued me, and admit to have learned something reading your post.

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We acknowledge that the land on which we are situated are the lands traditionally used by the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Neutral People. We also acknowledge the enduring presence and deep traditional knowledge, laws, and philosophies of the Indigenous Peoples with whom we share this land today. We are all treaty people with a responsibility to honour all our relations.

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