nonfiction nuggets…mystery of the disappearing bees

The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe, by Loree Griffin Burns, with photographs by Ellen Harasimonwicz

Just about every week for…oh, almost 20 years now, I’ve baked a batch of granola.  I started this in West Africa,  became utterly addicted, and still eat it for just about every breakfast.  This means I go through a lot of honey.  So, several years ago, when I first heard about a sinister threat to the nation’s honeybees, I was immediately alarmed, and I’ve been keyed into that story since then.

This fascinating book — The Hive Detectives — tells the story of the terrible collapse of massive numbers of honeybee colonies that began in 2006 and is still being investigated.  The book begins with a field trip of sorts to a backyard beekeeper, who walks us through her bee yard, showing us the components of the hives, explaining myriads of intriguing bee facts and beekeeper know-how.  The bees in this apiary are all healthy, happy bees!

However, our next stop is to see the man whose disastrous loss of 20 million bees, all in one swift and mysterious swoop, precipitated the investigation into what came to be called CCD — colony collapse disorder.  This is truly an alarming problem, since honeybees play a very important role as pollinators for the bountiful commercial fruit and vegetable crops across the country. 

As the problem unfolds, we are introduced to four scientists on the investigation team, each doing a unique task.  We follow one who does autopsies on the dead bees to discover the terrible sickness overtaking them.  Another who examines the main pests which normally trouble bees, to find out whether they are to blame for this incredible scale of damage.  A third who tests for viruses that might be plaguing the bees.  And another who measures the effects of pesticides on the bees.  All of these angles of investigation are reported on by the author in a very clear, engaging style which doesn’t bog down despite the scientific complexity of the research.

Meanwhile, separating the accounts of the scientists, nature notebook pages describe the components of a bee hive, the various roles of bees, the special body parts of bees, and a number of miscellaneous interesting honeybee tidbits.  Finally, we return to our hobbyist beekeeper to watch her harvest the glorious, golden honey.

Extremely well-written, with dozens of fantastic, helpful photographs, this book will teach you an incredible lot about the interesting world of honeybees, as well as the really devastating loss that professional beekeepers, and therefore the orchard owners and vegetable farmers of our nation, have experienced in recent years.  It’s a lengthy book, probably best to read together with kids 9 and up.  Read and be amazed!

Here’s a link to the book on Amazon: 

The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe (Scientists in the Field Series)