Insect expert Richard A. Jones tells us what he finds most fascinating about bees and what he enjoyed most about co-authoring The Beekeeper's Bible.
terrain: What inspired you to write The Beekeepers Bible? What was your favorite part of the process?
I was commissioned as part of a team to produce the book. I wrote the sections on bee biology, including their ecology, physiology, evolution and behavior. The nice thing about writing a relatively large chunk of text is that I could include a variety of quite complex science, personal observations and quirky off-beat asides. One of my favorite sections was the report of plant hunter Kingdon-Ward's experiences with poisonous rhododendron honey in the foothills of the River Irrawaddy.
terrain: What do you find most fascinating about bees?
The colony behavior of honeybees is fascinating, particularly the fact that, since queens can be replaced by the workers, a colony is immortal. The strange sex-determination mechanism of chromosome numbers, their dance communication, chemical pheromone signals and swarming behavior are all intriguing. One of the aspects of bee biology that most interests me is the way that their complex nesting behavior could have evolved from simpler nesting strategies still used by today's 'solitary' bee species.
terrain: What do you think is the most common misconception about bees?
That it is furry black and yellow striped bumblebees which are living in the hive and making honey. Too many cartoon characters have used the wrong bee models, and many people think a honeybee is a wasp if they see one close up.
terrain: Where did you taste the best honey you’ve ever tasted?
My biology teacher used to have a hive in the classroom, in one of the cupboards under the windows. The bees came and went through an opening outside in the windowsill. We would sometimes harvest the honey using a hand-cranked extractor and use it to sweeten our coffee. Maybe because it was so fresh, or because of the frisson of excitement of fending off the live bees, I can still remember its bright tang.
terrain: What is your favorite honey recipe?
I rarely cook with honey, but it must be baklava, and those other Mediterranean pastries. Yum.