Highly recommended: Elizabeth Kolbert's great piece in this week's New Yorker about honeybees, beekeeping and colony collapse disorder (CCD) . Here's an outtake:
"The literature of apiculture is vast and seductive; I learned one amazing thing after another. Honeybees are the only animals besides humans known to have a representational language: they convey to one another the location of food by dancing. When the queen lays an egg, she is able to choose its sex. Males, known as drones, perform no useful function except to mate. They are loutish and filthy, and the workers—sterile females—tolerate their presence for a few months a year, then systematically murder them. A single pound of clover honey represents the distilled nectar of some 8.7 million flowers. In a week, a productive hive can add seventy pounds of honey to its stores. Pretty soon, I had moved on to beekeeping manuals."
That's how it starts...you read a couple of bee books...you get obsessed with bees...the next thing you know, you have a couple of hives in the backyard...and you're even more obsessed with bees. On the New Yorker site, you can listen to Kolbert talk about her honeybees, too. In the interview, she provides a decent overview of the bee lifecycle and extraordinary social culture.
By the way, I think the drones are cute and sweet and get an unnecessarily harsh rap in the bee lit. I'll be writing more about drones in the fall, when the mass murder is set to occur. Not looking forward to that event at all, but expect it will make for stirring prose.