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Keeping the Bees [Hardcover]

Laurence Packer
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 11 2010

A world without bees would be much less colourful, with fewer plants and flowers. But that's not all -- food would be in much shorter supply, and available in much less variety. While the media focuses on colony-collapse disorder and the threats to honey bees specifically, the real danger is much greater: all bees are at risk. And because of the integral role these insects play in the ecology of our planet, we may be at risk as well.

The life of Laurence Packer, a melittologist at Toronto's York University, revolves around bees, whether he's searching for them under leaves in a South American jungle or identifying new species in the desert heat of Arizona. Packer often finds himself in exotic and even dangerous locales, risking snake bites, sunstroke, and even the ire of other scientists. Everywhere he travels, he discovers the same unsettling trend: bees are disappearing. And since bees are responsible for up to one-third of our food supply, the consequences are frightening.

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Quill & Quire

No matter what you eat, how you dress, or where you live, your life would change for the worse if a few key insects disappeared. Although there are only a handful of pollinators among the more than 19,500 known species of bees, the human diet would be severely diminished without them. Since the advent of colony collapse disorder in late 2006 – which resulted in millions of mysterious honey bee deaths – extinction is no mere science fiction scenario. (And the danger is not restricted to one species, either.)

York University biology professor and bee specialist Laurence Packer has written a love letter to these amazing creatures. It is also a wake-up call for anyone who is more apt to swat a bee than let it do its important work.

True, major crops like wheat and rice are grasses, and therefore wind pollinated. But we do not live on bread alone. Coffee, almonds, berries, tree fruits, most vegetables, and alfalfa – all worth billions of dollars per year – rely on bee pollination.

The typical agent of pollination is the domesticated honey bee. Back-up pollination duty is performed by a host of species such as bumblebees. Human activities like habitat destruction and pesticide use endanger these essential cogs in the food chain. Any way you look at it, we hurt ourselves by failing to protect bees.

Packer is a very witty, lucid writer, whose passion for melittology (the study of bees) is unmistakable and quite infectious. His book is far from a depressing, finger-wagging treatise on impending ecological doom. He conforms to the fashion of alternating personal details (in this case, anecdotes from his field work in exotic locales) with factual information, and the bee lore that forms the book’s focus is truly fascinating. Keeping the Bees is an engaging, illuminating read from start to finish.


"Laurence Packer's wonderful book about the world of bees offers the sheer delight of learning about these diverse animals, their basic biology and the role they play in ecosystems. Keeping the Bees revels in the lives of bees but clearly shows how much more we have yet to learn and therefore makes a powerful case for being far more cautious in the way we exploit the Earth. A world without bees would be a world without people."
-David Suzuki ()

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5.0 out of 5 stars a wonderful book May 8 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Packed with information but never dull, this books shows what nature writing for the general reader should be. Packer's good-humored take on his adventures as a scientist reads as travelogue, natural history, and environmentalist essay.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We do need to keep the bees July 13 2010
The title of his book suggests that it is about something many of us have heard a lot about already - the one-two punch of the central role of bees in human food production followed by the spectre of colony collapse disorder and a world without bees. And it is about these things, in part. But this book is so much more.

This book is actually a biology of bees, from the tiniest solitary bees to communal, semisocial and eusocial species. It is a biology in the grand tradition of Jean Henri Fabre, the 19th century French polymath whose books introduced the world to the engaging lives of insects.

Bumblebees play a leading role in Packer's narrative. He touches on everything from their life history to their social behavior and their diseases, parasites and predators. Packer tells us why bumblebees (and indeed all bees) appear to be at greater risk of extinction than other organisms.

Packer isn't afraid to introduce us to some of the specialized terminology that goes along with his field of study (a bee biologist, for instance, is a melittologist). But in general he works hard to keep his story in everyday language. He has a tremendous knack for making even the most complex subjects understandable in human terms. Bees that maintain a communal nest burrow system are just like human condo dwellers, he tells us, with a common entrance and private apartments.

Those who are looking for fresh evidence that we need bees and that bees are endangered will find it here. And there is also advice for those who want to do something to help bees, including the completely original and delightful suggestion of walking on the grass.

This is a book for anyone concerned about the future of the environment.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read - Life history of wild bee fauna June 20 2010
Laurence Packers clear and interesting writing style make this a great book for anyone interested in knowing more about the world of bees. Highly recomend this to naturalists, managers, gardeners who want to undrstand these important insects and thier role in pollination and some of the other interesting facets of thier life.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Keeping the Bees is a must read Oct. 10 2010
By Carol
Laurence Packer has written about the bee crisis in terms that everyone can understand. The book is clear and, at time, humorous but gives good information about the state of the native bee. It's a book everyone who likes to eat should read.
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