When we think of pollinating garden plants most people think of honey bees, but there are lots of other insects that perform this valuable task. As I started to plant more flowers to attract honey bees, I noticed that the numbers of bumblebees had increased as well. At about that time my friend Michele recommended a book to read – about bumblebees.
“A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees” by Dave Goulson is definitely worth a read. Dave is a Professor of Biology but this isn’t a scientific book, it is a very entertaining and humorous account of his adventures to try to re-establish the short-haired bumblebee in the UK. It was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction in 2013 and is on the Sunday Times bestseller list.
Once commonly found in the marshes of Kent, the short-haired bumblebee is now extinct in the UK, but still exists in the wilds of New Zealand, descended from a few queen bees shipped over in the nineteenth century. (My family is from Kent originally so this is a connection I like as well.) Dave and a colleague travel around the South Island of New Zealand looking in vain and finally find one in a rubbish dump in Twizel. They collect bumblebee ‘toes’ so that they can assess their genetics back home.
The book covers a huge range of fascinating information about bumblebees told via the often hilarious pursuits of Dave and his students to determine such things as their homing ability, are big bees better than small bees at foraging, and can they act as sniffer dogs.
There is a really good interview (about 50 minutes) with Dave on Radio NZ: Dave Goulson talks to Kim Hill about an unsuccessful project to repatriate short-haired bumblebees from New Zealand to the UK and other buzzy stuff.
As well as telling us about his life and the life of bumblebees, we hear about Dave’s founding of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust which aims to ensure long-term future for all bumblebees and other pollinators and to protect, create and restore flower-rich habitats. After all my attempts to create a proper lawn, I am now thinking about planting a meadow!
The sequel, A Buzz in the Meadow, was released in 2014 and describes his attempts to create a wildlife sanctuary in a corner of France.