I recently read a great book, Eric Grissell’s Bees, Wasps, and Ants – The Indispensable Role of Hymenoptera in the Garden. I picked it up at my favourite bookstore, which specializes in remaindered books, and sometimes sells some real gems at cut rate prices.
Grissell is a retired entomologist who used to study parasitic Hymenoptera. It seems that he now spends a good deal of time observing and conserving the ecology of his garden. As he points out, gardens are often full of unappreciated animal life. Why unappreciated? Most people don’t even notice most of the bees, wasps and ants in their gardens. Even when they do notice the myriad denizens sharing their local environment, they usually don’t recognize them or know much about their roles in garden ecology. This is even true for biologists like myself, and I study bees for a living! So I was delighted to find this book. It’s written in a highly engaging and often entertaining style that should appeal to anyone interested in the micro-ecology of their gardens. Indeed, it is so easy to read that I had to pace myself and keep to a strict quota of no more than an hour’s read every morning – as it was, I was usually late doing my morning chores until I finished the book!
My favourite part of the book, surprisingly, was section 1, An Overview of Bees, Wasps, and Ants. As a PhD student, I audited a course called Biology of the Hymenoptera, taught by Laurence Packer at York (I was also the teaching assistant who ran the labs) – reading this section was like reviewing that course. I had forgotten a lot!
Most people think all bees are honeybees although a few people recognize bumblebees and carpenter bees if they’re drilling holes in their decks. One of the great aggravations of my career is not that ordinary people don’t recognize bees other than honeybees and bumblebees, but that a lot of scientists studying bee social evolution don’t either! I was therefore completely delighted with the introduction to the chapter on bees. It perfectly expresses my feelings- I’ve taken the liberty of paraphrasing a wee bit, substituting some of my favourite bees in the square brackets:
Mention the word bee and our perspective on the subject immediately turns to the honey bee. On a good day we might even follow this with thoughts of bumble bees or carpenter bees. At that point most of us will run out of any sorts of thoughts about bees at all. But what of the [sweat bees and the little carpenter bees, what of the solitary bees], don’t they deserve our thoughts as well?
Read the book – anyone who likes bugs, bees, or gardens, scientist or non-scientist, will enjoy it.