Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Hive Detective: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe by Loree Griffin Burns

Since I learned a few years ago through the U.S. Census that my great grandfather was an apiarist, I have wanted to know more about bees and beekeeping. When I was a boy I was always very shy of anything that might sting me, but I always liked honey. When we traveled to Uvalde, Texas, where he lived in 1900 and where my grandmother spent her childhood, we always bought Uvalde Honey. I never before made the connection to my heritage, but I have liked special honeys over everyday store brands ever since that first can (yes, can) of Uvalde Honey. I now like to buy honey at the local farmers' market, stocking up in fall to last through winter. I wouldn't want to get caught without honey.

We might all get caught without honey (and fruits and vegetables) if we are not careful. According to Loree Griffin Burns in her book The Hive Detective: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe, beekeepers and scientists were alarmed in 2006 when entire colonies of honey bees were disappearing suddenly. Researchers labeled the phenomenon colony collapse disorder (CCD) and hurriedly sought its cause or causes. Burns chronicles the work of lead scientists who tested bees from healthy and collapsing colonies to find whether bacterial or viral infections, parasites, or pesticides might be causing CCD. To date, their results have not identified a single culprit, leading some researchers to pose that a combination of stresses may contribute to CCD.

Why should we all worry, aside from just appreciating all the creatures in nature? Agriculture depends on pollinating insects for producing many fruits and vegetables, and bees are the most popular and reliable insects for the job. Beekeepers deliver thousands of hives to orchards and farms at designated times to pollinate crops, moving them to new locations quite often. Some bees are better traveled than many Americans. Our own health and welfare is very dependent on bees, and farmers have an definite interest in protecting bees by reducing pesticides and keeping their field clear of hazards to pollenating insects.

In the well-illustrated The Hive Detectives, Burns profiles hobby and commercial beekeepers and scientists who assist them, shows how beekeepers operate, and explains the science of honey production in terms that both children and adults can understand. With all the sidebars to read and pictures to study, it took me a couple of hours to finish - time well spent. The book was featured in Booklist's 2010 Books for Youth, and libraries should not get caught without it.

Burns, Loree Griffin. The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2010. 66p. ISBN 9780547152318.

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