The Political Beekeeper’s Library

The Political Beekeeper’s Library is an effort to collect, organise, and present books where parallels are drawn between how bees and humans are socially and politically organised.

Many fascinating stories can be told through the books in the library. However, the most revolutionary narrative that can be found in The Political Beekeeper’s Library is the development of a honey bee society that, rather than being ruled by a king, is decentralised and democratic.

It is said that bees are the most written about animals after humans. There is little doubt they are the most written about insects.[1] Because there have been so many books written about bees, it is necessary to select which ones should be included in the library according to some criteria.

First and foremost, The Political Beekeeper’s Library includes books which have been key to how people have understood bees’ social organisation in political terms. However, it should be noted that the books in the library show general trends in how humans have understood bees’ social and political organisation throughout history, but opinions have always varied and not every theory has been published.

As early as 3500 BCE the Egyptians used a bee hieroglyph to denote their king. The notion of the bee society as a monarchy ruled by a king persisted into the 16th century.[2] By 1586 the Spaniard Luis Méndez De Torres had observed that the king bee in the hive laid eggs and thus determined that the king in fact was female.[3] But it was the The Feminine Monarchy by Charles Butler (1609) which popularised the idea of a queen bee.[4] Later in the 17th century, Jan Swammerdam (1637-1685), the famous Dutch naturalist and pioneering microscopist, demonstrated beyond doubt that the head bee was a female.[5] However, the idea that the monarch of the bee society was a queen and not a king remained controversial into the mid-18th century.[6]

By the 19th century, it was generally acknowledged that the bee society had a queen. This notion still prevails, despite many trying to dethrone her: “The queen-bee, or, as she may more properly be called, the mother bee, is the common mother of the whole colony”, writes L. L. Langstroth, the inventor of the modern bee hive, in Langstroth on the Hive and the Honey-Bee (1853). “The truth”, writes Tickner Edwardes in The Lore of The Honey Bee (1911), “is that the queen bee is the very reverse of a monarch, both by nature and inclination”, and “Despite her high-sounding title, the queen bee is not a ruler in any way”, Dorothy Shuttlesworth writes in All Kinds of Bees (1967).

Perhaps the book that might eventually lead to a dethroning of the queen bee is Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley (2010), which is a summary of the socio-biologist’s research on the decision-making methods that honey bees use when they choose a new nest site. Seeley describes the honey bee society as decentralised and democratic, and he makes a strong case against the belief that a bee colony is ruled by a queen. “A colony’s queen is not the Royal Decider”, he writes, “she is the Royal Ovipositer”.[7]

Seeley concludes that “what works well for bees can also work well for people: any decision-making group should consist of individuals with shared interests and mutual respect, a leader’s influence should be minimized, debate should be relied upon, diverse solutions should be sought, and the majority should be counted on for a dependable resolution”.[8]

Beyond social and political organisation, the other criteria for the selection of books in The Political Beekeeper’s Library is that the books should be primarily about bees. However, exceptions have been made for the oldest books in the library. These are not exclusively about bees, but contain passages about bees which have been of particular historical importance.

Aristotle can be considered the first bee researcher and History of Animals by Aristotle (4th century BCE) the first in-depth description of bees in literature.[9] Aristotle categorised bees as “political animals” and used the terms “kings”, “leaders”, and “rulers” to denote queen bees. However, he also noted that some people called these bees “mothers” and claimed they produced the young.[10]

Georgics by Virgil (29 BCE) is another key book in the political history of bees. Virgil describes the bee society as a nation with a king to whom the population pay homage and would willingly battle to the death for. It is said that the Roman statesman and philosopher Seneca (ca. 4 BCE – 65 CE) had Georgics in mind when he claimed that monarchy is an invention of nature: “Monarchy, says Seneca, is an invention of Nature. The King bee has the best and safest Cubile. Free from work, he superintends that of others. He is the champion, chosen by contest, superior in size and beauty”.[11] Ironically, Seneca was eventually forced to take his own life for alleged complicity in an assassination attempt on Emperor Nero, who was once his pupil. Perhaps regretting his defence of monarchy as the natural order.

There is one book that does not fit the criteria and is included in The Political Beekeeper’s Library despite not being about bees at all. This is Wasp Farm by Howard Ensign Evans (1964), which is about wasps, who are often confused for bees. Perhaps weary of missteps by his entomology colleagues, Evans cautions against drawing parallels between societies of insects and men. About the fact that bee and wasp societies contain nothing but females except during certain brief periods Evans writes: “Those who profess to find similarities between the societies of insects and those of men need to consider this very important difference—as well as many others”.

Bumblebees and solitary bees are bees, however, and they are represented in the library by The Humble-Bees by F. W. L. Sladen (1912), The Mason Bees by J. H. Fabre (1914), All Kinds of Bees by Dorothy Shuttlesworth (1967) and Bumblebee Economics by Bernd Heinrich (1979).

Bumblebees and solitary bees are not written about as much as honey bees because they do not produce harvestable honey and in the beginning bees were only valued for their honey. However, just like honey bees, bumblebees and solitary bees are important pollinators of food crops. Sometimes more important. Bumblebees pollinate many of the same crops as bees do and are also commonly kept in greenhouses where honey bees do not thrive. Some crops like alfalfa are often pollinated exclusively by solitary bees. It is also worth noting that social bees such as honey bees and bumblebees are in the minority, representing only about five percent of all bees.[12] Bumblebees form societies similar to honeybees. Solitary bees dwell alone, as their name implies, but sometimes they group together and develop social behaviours similar to those of honey bees and bumblebees.

Many of the books in The Political Beekeeper’s Library are summaries of scientific research. For example, The Dancing Bees by Karl von Frisch (1927), the most well known book by the most well known 20th century bee researcher.

Karl von Frisch started doing research on bees in the 1910s and in 1925 he became professor at the Institute for Zoology at Munich University. In 1941 he was forced into retirement by the Nazis.[13] One of the reasons was that one of his grandparents was Jewish, another was that he did not want his research to be used for ideological reasons by the Nazis. However, his retirement was postponed because of his valuable research on combating infections in bees. Frisch made it through the Second World War and continued to do research on bees during a long and active life as a researcher. In 1973 he received the Nobel Prize together with Konrad Lorenz and Nikolaas Tinbergen for their “discoveries concerning organization and elicitation of individual and social behaviour patterns”.

Karl von Frisch does a good job at avoiding anthropomorphism in The Dancing Bees. In his own words he has been “careful not to embroider imaginatively on the facts, which are poetic enough in themselves”.[14]  But there is one sentence which is strong enough to warrant the inclusion of the book in the library: “Thus the smooth running of the bee state is dependent also on the idle members; even laziness can be justified so long as it does not become the principle of life”.[15] This sentence appears in the sub-chapter “The harmony of work”. It was added when the book was republished after the Second World War and is not in the first edition published in 1927. The Nazis famously wrote “Arbeit macht frei” over the gates of concentration camps. Perhaps because of this the idea that even laziness can be justified was something Frisch felt was important to emphasise.

Another notable 20th century bee scientist is Martin Lindauer. Lindauer was a student and colleague of Karl von Frisch, and like Frisch he did research on various aspects of bees behaviour, such as their communication, social structure, and division of labour. In Communication Among Social Bees (1961) Lindauer also comments on the laziness of bees: “If anyone thinks we should now revise our old ideas of the bee’s industry, they must be reminded that among the bees even laziness has an important social function. The loafers in the beehive are the reserve troops, employed at critical points in the labor market as the necessity arises”.[16]

Division of labour is also the topic of The Spirit of the Hive by Robert E. Page (2013). Page describes the bee hive as a self-organised collective without central control of individual workers. The title of the book, The Spirit of the Hive, refers to a concept introduced by the Nobel Prize winning author Maurice Maeterlinck in The Life of The Bee (1901). Maeterlinck uses the term “the spirit of the hive” to describe an invisible power that guides the bees and determines their action–a power that Maeterlinck also considered the queen to be subjected to. Page however, explains the spirit of the hive as self-organised collective behaviour that emerges as individual bees respond to local stimuli.

The Life of The Bee and The Queen Must Die by William Longwood (1985) belong to a category of bee books that build on keen observations of bees, but are more philosophical reflections on bees and their behaviour than scientific studies of them.

Other books in the library, such as City of the Bees by Frank S. Stuart (1947) are completely or partially novels. However, they build extensively on keen observations of bees and on the scientific understanding of bees at the time they were published.

Next to the scientific books and the more literary books, a third category in The Political Beekeeper’s Library are books that put bees in historical and cultural contexts, much like the library in itself does. Examples of such books are The Hive by Bee Wilson (2004) and The Sacred Bee by Hilda M. Ransome (1937).

Titles and covers have also played a role in the selection. A book should not be judged by its cover, but the library as a whole does form an aesthetic unity and there are books that were not included because there were other books on the same topic with better titles and covers. The Social Organization of Honeybees by John B. Free (1977), Bees and People by Naum Ioyrish (1974) and The Mind of The Bees by Julien Françon (1939) are examples of books where the titles and covers were important to their inclusion.

Where possible, first editions of books have generally been included in the library. However, some books are expensive or difficult to find in first editions. Bumblebee Economics by Bernd Heinrich (1979) is an example of a book where a later edition was deliberately chosen. Bumblebee Economics was first published in 1979, but the 2004 edition was included because of its new preface where Heinrich laments that he made comparisons between bumblebees and the economic theories of Adam Smith, the father of capitalism. “I had hoped the comparison would shed light on the bumblebees, but not be taken as a model for human policy”, writes Heinrich. “If I had written Bumblebee Economics now, I would have included a more specific caution beyond the general one I used”.[17]

The books in the library generally present bees as role models who humans can learn from, whether the bee society is described as a monarchy with a queen, as in The Feminine Monarchy by Charles Butler (1609), as a corporation with a CEO as in The Wisdom of Bees by Michael O’Malley (2010), or as a democracy as in Honey Bee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley (2010). There are, however, books that put bees in a less positive light: “Nowhere, surely, should we discover more painful and absolute sacrifice. Let it not be imagined that I admire this sacrifice to the extent that I admire its results”, writes Maurice Maeterlinck in The Life of the Bee (1901). “The heart of a bee is as hard, apparently, as her own black bones”, writes Julie Classon Kenly in Cities of Wax (1935). City of the Bees by Frank S. Stuart (1947) contains some of the most lyrical language, but there are depictions of bees in terms of race, self-sacrifice, and a strive for perfection that are uncomfortably reminiscent of Nazism. The Killer Bees by Anthony Potter (1977) is from a period when bees were even considered a threat to human existence. Finally, In Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive, Mark L. Winston (2014) warns that “the most cooperative of societies, even that of honeybees, can collapse into disorder and violence given the right circumstances”.

The reasons why books have been included in The Political Beekeeper’s Library are outlined above. However, there are also books that meet the criteria that haven’t been included.

Some books that could potentially fit in the library have not been possible to include because they are difficult to find or expensive to buy. This particularly applies to English books from the Stuart period (1603-1714) and the early to mid 18th century. The Feminine Monarchy by Charles Butler (1609) was the first book in an entire discourse on bees and English politics. Some of the books that followed are The Parliament of Bees by John Day (1641), A Theatre of Political Flying-Insects by Samuel Purchas (1657), The Reformed Commonwealth of Bees by Samuel Hartlib (1655), The True Amazons : or, The Monarchy of Bees by Joseph Warder (1720) and Melisselogia, or, the Female Monarchy of Bees by John Thorley (1744).

A facsimile of The Feminine Monarchy is the only one of these 17th and 18th century books that are included in the library. However, many of these books are written about in The Sacred Bee in Ancient Times and Folklore by Hilda M. Ransome (1937) and in The Hive by Bee Wilson (2004).

The Fable of The Bees by Bernard Mandeville (1714) has, unlike most books from the Stuart period, been reprinted many times and is still easy to get hold of. It contains the poem The Grumbling Hive in which Mandeville describes the bee society as a state of selfish and corrupt individuals whose vices nevertheless contribute to the good of society. The Fable of The Bees is a key work by Mandeville, who is generally regarded as an influential economist and philosopher. However, despite its title and importance The Fable of The Bees has not been included in the library. The reason for this is that The Grumbling Hive is not grounded in any attempt to understand the real organisation of bees, and it is just a short poem among longer texts in The Fable of The Bees which are not about bees at all.

There are other influential political books where bees appear as role models, or are used as metaphors, that have not been included in the library because they are not primarily about bees. The two most important ones are probably Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes (1651) and Capital by Karl Marx (1867).

Leviathan is regarded as one of the earliest and most influential examples of social contract theory, and in it humans and bees are compared at quite some length. Hobbes uses bees to exemplify social hierarchies controlled from above, but he argues that while bee societies are natural, human societies are artificial. Hobbes believes that an “iron-fisted ruler” is needed to keep people on the right track but he does not believe in the divine right to rule that Charles Butler advocates in The Feminine Monarchy (1609).

Capital appears at a time where cooperation, common ownerships, and socialistic structures among bees begin to be emphasised.[18] There are only a few sentences in Capital where Marx compares humans and bees, but Marx’s work has had such an influence that these are often quoted. For example, Marx writes that “each individual has no more torn himself from the navel-string of his tribe or community, than each bee has freed itself from connexion with the hive”.[19]

Only books published in English have been considered for inclusion in The Political Beekeeper’s Library. As a result of this the library can only be said to be representative of a subset of Western culture. It seems safe to say that there is a wealth of books about bees to be found in languages other than English. For example, Bees and People by Russian scientist Naum Ioyrish (1974) includes a comprehensive list of influential people in beekeeping, with many of them Russians who have not been translated to English.

It is also worth noting that only a few books in the library are written by female authors. These are The Sacred Bee in Ancient Times and Folklore by Hilda M. Ransome (1937), The Hive by Bee Wilson (2004), Cities of Wax by Julie Closson Kenly (1935) and All Kinds of Bees by Dorothy Shuttlesworth (1967).

As noted at the beginning of this introductory essay, the books in The Political Beekeeper’s Library show trends in how humans have understood their own and bees’ social and political organisation throughout history. However, opinions have always varied and not everyone have had the possibility to write and be published.

Having said that, The Political Beekeeper’s Library is reasonably complete for what it aspires to be: A representative collection of books in which parallels are drawn between how bees and humans are socially and politically organised. There is no doubt, though, that both old and new books will appear which can complement the library.

Erik Sjödin, 2016


1. The Social Organization of Honeybees, John B. Free 1977 preface
2. The Sacred Bee, Hilda M. Ransome 1937 / 2004 p. 24
3. Bee, Claire Preston 2006 p. 61
4. Bees and Mankind, John B. Free 1982 p. 118
5. Bees and People, Naum Ioyrish 1987 p. 190
6. Man and the Natural World, Keith Thomas 1983 p. 62
7. Honeybee Democracy, Thomas D. Seeley 2010 p. 5
8. Honeybee Democracy, Thomas D. Seeley 2010 cover sleeve
9. Bees and People, Naum Ioyrish 1987 p. 187
10. History of Animals, Aristotle 4th century BCE / 2002 p. 189
11. The Georgics of Virgil, L.P Wilkinson 1969 / 1978 p. 182
12. Bees and Mankind, John B. Free 1982 p. 3
13. The Language of the Bees, Cabinet Magazine, issue 25, 2007
14. The Dancing Bees, Karl von Frisch 1927 / 1966 preface
15. The Dancing Bees, Karl von Frisch 1927 / 1966 p. 49
16. Communication Among Social Bees, M. Lindauer 1961 / 1971 p. 19
17. Bumblebee Economics, Bernd Heinrich 1979 / 2004, p. xii and xxvi
18. Scale Models? What Insect Societies Teach Us about Ourselves, James T. Costa, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society vol 146 #2 2002 p. 175
19. Capital, Volume One, Karl Marx 1867 / 2011 p. 367


History of Animals, Aristotle (4th century BCE)

First published: Fourth century BCE.
Library copy published: 2002.

History of Animals, Aristotle

“There are two sorts of “ leaders “ : the better kind is red, the other dark and somewhat mottled. Their size is double that of the worker-bee, and the part below the diazoma is half as long again. Some people call them “ mothers,” implying that they produce the young, and urge in favour of this view that the brood of drones comes into existence even if no “ leader “ is in the hive, whereas the brood of “ bees “ does not. Others maintain that copulation occurs among these insects, and that the drones are male and the “ bees “ are female.” p. 189

“The kings or “ rulers ” have a sting, but never use it ; hence some people suppose that they do not possess one.” p. 189

“There are two kinds of “ leaders,” as I have already said. In each hive there are several “ leaders,” not one merely ; a hive comes to grief unless it has enough “ leaders “ in it : this is not because of any resulting lack of leadership, but (so we are told) because they contribute towards the generation of “ bees.” A hive will also fail if the “ leaders “ are too numerous : they produce factions in the hive.” p. 191


Georgics, Vergil (29 BCE)

First published: 29 BCE.
Library copy published: 2006.

Georgics, Vergil

“They alone have children in common, hold the dwellings of their city jointly, and pass their life under the majesty of law. They alone know a fatherland and fixed home, and in summer, mindful of the winter to come, spend toilsome days and garner their gains into a common store. For some watch over the gathering of food, and under fixed covenant labour in the fields; some, within the confines of their homes, lay down the narcissus’ tears and gluey gum from tree bark as the first foundation of the comb, then hang aloof clinging wax; others lead out the full-grown young, the nation’s hope; others pack purest honey, and swell the cells with liquid nectar. To some it has fallen by lot to be sentries at the gates, and in turn they watch the rains and clouds of heaven, or take the load of incomers or in martial array drive the drones, a lazy heard, from the fold. All aglow is the work, and the fragrant honey is sweet with thyme.” p. 229

“Moreover, neither Egypt nor mighty Lydia, nor the Partian tribes, nor Median Hydaspes, show such homage to their king. While he is safe, all are of one mind; when he is lost, straightway they brake there fealty, and themselves pull down the honey they have reared and tear up their trellised combs. He is the guardian of their toils; to him they do reverence; all stand round him in clamorous crowd, and attend him in throngs. Often they lift him on their shoulders, for him expose their bodies to battle, and seek amid wounds a glorious death. Led by such tokens and such instance, some have taught that the bees have received a share of the divine intelligence, and draught of heavenly ether.” p. 233


The Feminine Monarchy, Charles Butler (1609)

First published: 1609.
Library copy published: 1969.

The Feminine Monarchy, Charles Butler

“Their order is such that they may well be said to have a common wealth, since all they do is common without any private respect. Nihil norunt nisi commune: They work for all, they watch for all, they fight for all … Their dwelling and diet are common to all alike: they have like common care both of their wealth and young ones. And all this under the government of one Monarch, of whom above all things they have a principal care and respect, loving reverencing, and obeying her in all things.” c.1 a.1

“For the Bees abhorre as well polyarchie, as anarchie, God having showed in them an express pattern of a perfect Monarchie, the most natural & absolute form of government.” c.1. a.3


Langstroth on the Hive and the Honey-Bee, L. L. Langstroth (1853)

First published: 1853.
Library copy published: 1977.

Langstroth on the Hive and the Honey-Bee L. L. Langstroth

“The Creator intended the bee for the comfort of man as truly as he did the horse or the cow. In the early ages of the world–indeed until very recently–honey was almost the only natural sweet; and the promise of “a land flowing with milk and honey” had then a significance the full force of which it is difficult for us to realize. The honeybee was, therefore, created not merely with the ability to store up its delicious nectar for its own use, but with certain properties which fitted it to be domesticated, and to labor for man, and without which he would no more have been able to subject it to his control than to make a useful beast of burden of a lion or a tiger.” p. 25

“The queen-bee, or, as she may more properly be called, the mother bee, is the common mother of the whole colony. She reigns therefore, most unquestionably, by a divine right, as every mother is, or ought to be, a queen in her own family.” p. 29

“Every beekeeper, if he have only a soul to appreciate the works of God, and an intelligence of an inquisitive order, cannot fail to become deeply interested in observing the wonderful instincts, (instincts akin to reason,) of these admirable creatures; at the same time that he will learn many lessons of practical wisdom from their example. Having acquired a knowledge of their habits, not a bee will buzz in his ear, without recalling to him some of these lessons, and helping to make him a wiser and a better man.” p. 31


The Life of the Bee, Maurice Maeterlinck (1901)

First published: 1901.
Library copy published: 1901.

The Life of the Bee, Maurice Maeterlinck

“She is not its queen in the sense in which men use the word. She issues no orders; she obeys, as meekly as the humblest of her subjects, the masked power, sovereignly wise, that for the present, and till we attempt to locate it, we will term the “spirit of the hive.” p. 32

“All things go to prove that it is not the queen, but the spirit of the hive, that decides on the swarm. With this queen of ours it happens as with many a chief among men, who thought to appear to give orders, is himself obliged to obey commands far more mysterious, far more inexplicable, than those that he issues to his subordinates.” p. 43

“It would not be easy for us to find a human republic whose scheme comprised more of the desires of our planet; or a democracy that offered an independence more perfect and rational, combined with a submission more logical and more complete. And nowhere, surely, should we discover more painful and absolute sacrifice. Let it not be imagined that I admire this sacrifice to the extent that I admire its results.” p. 95

“I have said that even the policy of the bees is probably subject to change … the same degree of political civilisation has not been attained by all races of domestic bee, and … among some of them, the public spirit is still groping its way, seeking, perhaps, another solution to the royal problem.” p. 312


The Lore of The Honey-Bee, Tickner Edwardes (1908)

First published: 1908.
Library copy published: 1911.

The Lore of The Honey-Bee, Tickner Edwardes

“Order is preserved, public works go diligently forward, the clock of the national progress keeps time to the second, not because there is a central wisdom-force to plan, to govern, to awe recalcitrants, but because every worker-bee is herself the State in miniature, all propensities alien to the pure collective spirit having been long ago bred out of her by the sheer necessities of her case.” p. 89

“The truth is that the queen bee is the very reverse of a monarch, both by nature and inclination. … In a dozen different ways she is inferior to the common worker-bees, who rule her absolutely, mapping out her entire daily life and using her for the good of the colony, just as a delicate, costly piece of mechanism is used by human craftsmen to produce some necessary article of trade.” p. 67


The Humble-Bee, F. W. L. Sladen (1912)

First published: 1912.
Library copy published: 1989.

The Humble-Bee, F. W. L. Sladen

“Fanciful writers have likened a colony of bees to a kingdom or city: in reality it is an ordinary family, although a large one. There is the mother, whom we call the queen; and who lays the eggs. Her daughters, the workers, do not become independent as soon as they are old enough to be useful, but, as has been remarked, devote their energies to supporting the family and rearing their younger brothers and sisters.” p. 4

“It may be observed that the centre of attraction and affection in a colony of humble-bees is not the queen nor the food, but the brood, the future representatives of the race, and especially that which is soon to emerge.” p. 215


The Mason Bees, Jean-Henri Fabre (1914)

First published: 1914.
Library copy published: 1916.

The Mason Bees, Jean-Henri Fabre

“The Sicilian Mason-bee prefers company to a solitary life and establishes herself in her hundreds, very often in many thousands, under the tiles of a shed or the edge of a roof. These do not constitute a true society, with common interests to which all attend, but a mere gathering, where each works for herself and is not concerned with the rest, in short, a throng of workers recalling the swarm of hive only by their numbers and their eagerness.” p. 26

“To Devote our attention to animals is to plunge at once into the vexed question of who we are and whence we come.” p.160

“We are incapable of knowing ourselves; what will it be if we try to fathom the intellect of others? Let us be content if we succeed in gleaning a few grains of truth.” p. 160


The Dancing Bees, Karl von Frisch (1927)

First published: 1927.
Library copy published: 1966.

The Dancing Bees, Karl von Frisch

“Thus the smooth running of the bee state is dependent also on the idle members; even laziness can be justified so long as it does not become the principle of life.” p. 49


Cities of Wax, Julie Classon Kenly (1935)

First published: 1935.
Library copy published: 1935.

Cities of Wax, Julie Classon Kenly

“With the bees, as with the fingers, it is as if they were all acting under the orders of a single mind, a single brain, instead of the thousands of separate brain-specks in their bee heads.” p. 79

“The queen of the bees is the most important individual in the hive, and she seems to know it, for she always moves in a slow, dignified manner, as befits royalty. … When one calls her a queen, however, it does not mean that she is a ruler in the sense of commanding her subjects against their own wills : she is a ruler merely because they allow her to be one.” p. 99

“We have discovered so many points of likeness between ourselves and the bees that one wonders if human nature and bee nature are not, in some respects, the same thing : a great web of feeling and thinking in which all creatures are caught, whether they be men, mice or honey-bees?” p. 244


The Sacred Bee, Hilda M. Ransome (1937)

First published: 1937.
Library copy published: 2004.

The Sacred Bee, Hilda M. Ransome

“Of bees especially the proverb holds good, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” p. 19

“Seneca, the tutor and counsellor of Nero, gives an interesting account of the similarity between the bee-state and the human monarchy: It is really nature who invented the monarchy, as can be seen among social animals, especially the bees. The king is ere lodged in the most spacious cell, he is placed in the centre, the most secure spot; then he, freed from all work himself, surveys the labour of the others, and if anything happens to him, the whole hive is disorganised; the unity of power is the absolute rule, and in case of competition, a fight serves to discover the most worthy. … but the king himself has no sting. Nature did not wish him to be cruel, nor exercise a vengeance which might be dearly paid for, she deprived him of his sting and left his anger unarmed.” p. 86

“It is strange to think that this was written about Nero in his youth, the tyrant who afterwards commanded Seneca to commit suicide!” p. 86


The Mind of the Bees, Julien Françon (1939)

First published: 1939.
Library copy published: 1947.

The Mind of the Bees, Julien Françon (1939)

“One soons becomes accustomed to contact with these peaceful insects, who dream only of the fulfilment of their task.” p. 11

“But we know nothing of the mysterious power governing this clear-sighted organization, or what generates this collective instinct which always decides and commands for the greatest profit of the community.” p. 142

“We can see but we cannot understand. The road we have traversed is insignificant. One crest surrmounted reveals another still higher. We can pore over these insects which tread the same earth as we do, breathe the same air: we can study their habits and even grasp the significance of their actions. But shall we ever know what goes on behind their domed brows, in the depths of their unmoving eyes? The true mystery, that of all life, remains untouched.” p. 143


City of the Bees, Frank S. Stuart (1947)

First published: 1947.
Library copy published: 1947.

City of the Bees, Frank S. Stuart

“To watch a community of little winged people is like looking at a human city through the wrong end of a telescope that has been endowed with magical clearness, so that every activity, and even every gesture, becomes vivid and meaningful. Yet there are such vital differences from any human race that ever existed, that the golden town weaves a magic of its own.” p. 26

“Bees have no pity for the sick or injured; their duty is to go at once to the city graveyard and die there, and if they do not do their duty they are mortally injured so that they shall recognise that there is no hope of avoiding it. Always and in everything the community’s health and fitness must come first; there is neither food nor shelter for anything less than perfect.” p. 117

“So the mechanically perfect community evolved, selfless, loveless, and undying.” p. 168


Communication Among Social Bees, Martin Landauer (1961)

First published: 1961.
Library copy published: 1971.

Communication Among Social Bees, Martin Landauer

“IN THE LAST ANALYSIS, all animals are social beings. They are all obliged to form at least temporary alliances, in order to ensure the continuity of their species.” p. 1

“Division of labor was probably the first step leading from the hermit existence of the solitary bees to the foundation of a social organization.” p. 5

“In the honeybee community, the social structure and the division of labor has been developed to a high state of perfection.” p. 8

“The bee spent a surprisingly large part of her life loafing. … But if anyone thinks we should now revise our old ideas of the bee’s industry, they must be reminded that among the bees even laziness has an important social function. The loafers in the beehive are the reserve troops, employed at critical points in the labor market as the necessity arises.” p. 19

“Who makes the decision? Upon what aspects will the decision depend? To make one thing clear at the beginning, the queen has no say in the matter.“ p. 46


Wasp Farm, Howard Ensign Evans (1963)

First published: 1963.
Library copy published: 1964.

Wasp Farm, Howard Ensign Evans

“The world of wasps, as well as of their relatives the bees and ants, is largely a female world. The workers of social wasps are all females, and the nests of social wasps and bees, and of all ants, contain nothing but females except during certain brief periods. Those who profess to find similarities between the societies of insects and those of men need to consider this very important difference––as well as many others.” p. 6

“The more we learn, the more we realise how far we are from being able really to explain the behavior of wasps—or for that matter other animals, including man.” p. 8

“The ordinary common wasp, she who licks up the jam at picnics, is very much the elite of the wasp world. Even in the tropics and in the far corners of the earth there are no wasps that have acheived a higher social organization than these black urchins. And we still know very little about the inner workings of their societies.” p. 148


All Kinds of Bees, Dorothy Shuttlesworth (1967)

First published: 1967.
Library copy published: 1967.

All Kinds of Bees, Dorothy Shuttlesworth

“ “Long live the queen!” If honeybee could have a slogan, this might well be it, for a queen is all-important to a colony. It would have no future without her.” p.15

“Despite her high-sounding title, the queen bee is not a ruler in any way.” p.17

“Bumblebees are known also as humblebees, but there is nothing especially humble about them.” p. 30

“Because some solitary bees nest close together, in great numbers, they appear to live like social bees. However they do not work together as a colony does. … Each bee fends for herself and takes no notice of her neighbours unless the whole group is threthened. Then the insects fly at the intruder in a united and infuriated swarm.” p. 39


Bees and People, Naum Ioyrish (1974)

First published: 1974.
Library copy published: 1974.

Bees and People, Naum Ioyrish

“The life of a bee colony is extremely interesting, and the behaviour of honey bees and the variety of their work arise amazement and make people think that bees have feelings peculiar to human beings, joy, sorrow, love, a sense of self-sacrifice, and so forth; but this idea is incorrect since thought and labour, i. e. rational activity, are peculiar to man alone. As Karl Marx wrote, the bee, in building its wax cells, put some human architects to shame; but what differentiates the worst architect from the best bee, is that before building his wax cell, the architect already has an idea in his head of what he is going to make.” p. 38

“Many rulers and law-givers of the past are reputed to have drawn inspiration from bees. Lycurgus, the founder of Sparta (circa 880 B.C.), is said to have been so impressed on observing a the bees of a bee colony and amazed by the order and organization that reigned there that he took it as his model when he thought to bless his people with a perfect system of government.” p. 188


The Social Organisation of Honeybees, John B. Free (1977)

First published: 1977.
Library copy published: 1977.

The Social Organisation of Honeybees, John B. Free

“However, the honeybee’s conspicuous social organisation and the altruistic and apparently complex behaviour displayed by individuals have undoubtedly been the main reasons why it has received so much attention, with the result that there is a greater volume of literature on the honeybee than on any other insect.” Preface

“It has become increasingly apparent that the activities of the members of a colony are related to colony needs, but the mechanism by which adjustments are made are far from understood. Much research needs to be done before it is known why a particular bee does a particular task, and how the actions of the thousands of physically independent but physiologically dependent individuals are welded together to make a colony function as a coherent whole.” p. 67


Killer Bees, Anthony Potter (1977)

First published: 1977.
Library copy published: 1977.

Killer Bees, Anthony Potter

“The killer bee is a formidable antagonist. Along with the insects’ remarkable adaptability, it has the added advantage of being a member of a society that is totally efficient and incredibly adapted to the propagation of the species. The honeybee society behaves as a single organism; individuals are assigned specific roles for the benefit of the whole. Their behaviour is dominated by altruism—that is, each individual will instinctively give up its life for the good of the group. … It is a prefect society, a utopia governed by one strict rule: the greatest good for the greatest number.” p. 145

“When man tampers with nature, one can never be sure of the outcome. What if the worst occurs? The ability to develop immunity to insecticides is precisely the kind of survival characteristic that could produce killer bee hybrids adaptable to any climate, bees that could, as efforts are made to modify or destroy them, become more aggressive. The prospect gives credibility to the chilling prophecy of The Hellstrom Chronicle: “If any living species is to inherit the earth, it will not be man.” Man may have reason, but the insects have adaptability.” p. 146


Bumblebee Economics, Bernd Heinrich (1979)

First published: 1979.
Library copy published: 2004.

Bumblebee Economics, Bernd Heinrich

“Even though the bees are free agents, an order ensues out of their combined actions, as if each individual were led by an invisible hand.” p. 140

“In this sense a bumblebee hive bears some interesting resemblances to the economic model outlined by Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations.” p. 144

“The allocation of foraging specialists in bumblebees, resulting in the specialization of individual and consequent advantage to the colony, is also analogous to Smith’s concept of specialization in human societies.” p. 144

“In social bees, of course, the capital exchanged among different specialists in the colonony is honey and pollen.” p. 145

“As in the economic system described by Smith, there is seldom inflation in the bee’s system—a given amount of honey (capital) always represents a more or less constant amount of labor. This is because strikes, used in the human system to increase by force the value of labor, are impossible. In the bee’s world scabs are legion, and the value of labor cannot be increased artificially (unrelated to effort required to make the product) because there is no organized force to eliminate competition among labor. Neither is there tyranny from above. There are no monopolies controlling any given resources. All of the bees have access to all of the flowers.” p. 146


The Queen Must Die, William Longwood (1985)

First published: 1985.
Library copy published: 1985.

The Queen Must Die, William Longwood

“This is a completely socialistic society, the direct opposite of the competitiveness and spirit of individual advantage that govern most human societies. No goods are owned privately. The collective wealth is the pooled honey in the combs and dedication to a common goal. The individual bee owns nothing, and owes full allegiance to the colony. In exchange she is provided a place to live and work while she is a productive member of the community.” p. 13

“Despite all the research and study, the millions of words written, this remains the most abiding and perplexing secret of the hive. Who really does run thing around here? Is there some consensus of the entire colony, arrived at by a secret or unknown democratic process or congress? Is it autocratic rule imposed by a domineering individual? By a small group of super bees, a kind of ruling committee or politburo? If so, how is the head bee on the executive committee appointed or elected? How does and individual or group gain control and assert its self designated rule? What is the mechanism for the transfer of power?” p. 173


The Hive, Bee Wilson (2004)

First published: 2004.
Library copy published: 2004.

The Hive, Bee Wilson

“But while the honey could encourage democracy, democracy is the one form of government that no one, to my knowledge, has ever tried to imprint on the honey-makers themselves. The hive is too hierarchical and gilded for democratic politics: the contrast between the single bee at the top and the masses at the bottom is just to great.” p. 110

“The twenty-first-century bee state is a darker, more repressive place than the golden realm of the seventeenth-century bee monarchists, but that doesn’t make it any more real. It is still just a beehive, and, as Thomas Hobbes said, there is no politics in the beehive. But Hobbes is as little heeded as ever.” p. 139

“However much human beings have projected themselves on to the hive, identifying themselves with drones, workers and the queen, and idealising the morals of the waxen community, there will always remain mysteries about the life of the bees which men can never discover. And it is for this very reason that humans will continue to search for truths about themselves in the gold of the honeycomb.” p. 271


The Wisdom of Bees, Michael O’Malley (2010)

First published: 2010.
Library copy published: 2010.

The Wisdom of Bees, Michael O’Malley

“When the time comes for swift action, there is no mistaking the criterion used in determining who stays and who goes: the level of contribution to the group. When it comes to merit, the dictum of honeybees is “If you want to eat the honey, you must contribute to the hive”: a reasonable admonishment to anyone in the corporate world charged with getting results.” p. 26

“There is a pervasive sense of comfort knowing that the Queen is in and all is well within the kingdom. A strong, positive culture requires strong leadership. In those situations when people do not play by the rules, the leader must step in to underscore the value of community.” p. 34

“Bees exhibit a worldview that we correspondingly would describe as fair, open-minded, and objective.” p. 114

“The queen’s ability to lead is determined ultimately by the minions, a truth unfortunately lost in many organizations. Leadership depends on the consent of the people to follow. In the instance of bees, the voice of the workers is loud and clear.” p. 122


Honeybee Deomcracy, Thomas D. Seeley (2010)

First published: 2010.
Library copy published: 2010.

Honeybee Deomcracy, Thomas D. Seeley

“… we will find it useful to compare what is known about the mechanisms of decision making in bee swarms and primate brains. This may seem a bizarre comparison, for swarms and brains are vastly different biological systems whose subunits—bees and neurons—differs greatly. But these systems are also fundamentally similar in that both are cognitive entities that have been shaped by natural selection to be skilled at acquiring and processing information to make decisions. Furthermore, both are democratic systems of decision making, that is, ones in which there are no central decider who possess synoptic knowledge or exceptional intelligence and directs everyone else to the best course of action.” p. 199

“Thus the house-hunting bees remind us that the leader in a democratic group serves mainly to shape the process, not the product, of the group’s deliberations. The bees also demonstrates that a democratic group can function perfectly well without a leader if the group’s members agree on the problems they face and on the protocol they will use to make their decisions.” p. 234

“For millions of years, the scout bees on honeybee swarms have faced the task of selecting proper homes for their colonies. Over this vast stretch of evolutionary time, natural selection has structure these insects search committees so that they make the best possible decisions. Now, at last, we humans have the pleasure of knowing how this ingenious process works, and the opportunity to use this knowledge to improve our own lives.” p. 236


The Spirit of the Hive, Robert E. Page, Jr. (2013)

First published: 2013.
Library copy published: 2013.

The Spirit of the Hive, Robert E. Page, Jr.

“The simple result of these models is that division of labor is an emergent property of group living. It is inescapable. Behavior is based on responses to stimuli. Individuals differ in their thresholds of response and the probability that they will encounter the stimulus, and as a consequence of their response, they alter the stimulus and thereby affect the response probabilities of others in the group.” p. 19

“There is no central control of individual workers: they have limited global information about the state of the nest and the activities of others and behave by responding to local stimuli. From these different organisational levels emerges self-organized collective behaviour.” p. 111


Bee Time, Mark L. Winston (2014)

First published: 2014.
Library copy published: 2014.

Bee Time, Mark L. Winston

“If there is one notable message from honeybees, it lies in the power of their collective response to stress, in the way they allocate work, communicate, make decisions, and balance individual activities with their communal imperatives. Our decision either to emulate honeybees by opting for the collective good or to pursue personal interests and individual gain may be the decisive factor in the success or failure of our response to contemporary environmental challenges.” p. 17

“Another common component is that diversity is key to success. Participatory democracy works best with a broad swatch of income, ethnic, age, gender and political representation. Similarly we have seen that honeybee colonies function optimally with worker bees representing an array of genetically based probabilities to perform particular task, as well as a wide range of ages available for work assignment.” p. 194

“We share with bees another facet of governance, the tragedy of chaos when events upend the peaceful order of a well functioning society. … This underlying potential for conflict is all the more remarkable considering the harmony that usually regins within the hive. It’s a reminder that the most cooperative of societies, even that of honeybees, can collapse into disorder and violence given the right circumstances.” p. 195