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on 26 May 2013
I've loved bumble-bees since childhood and bought this book after hearing its abridgement on Radio 4. It is entertaining, amusing and an excellent introduction to these beautiful creatures. But why are there no pictures of such photogenic subjects? Author Dave Goulson writes passionately about the various species but fails to illustrate them. The book contains no pictures at all, and while there are excellent pictures of several species on the dust cover, it's a pity that someone did not take 10 minutes on the keyboard to name them.
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on 4 May 2013
This is a book about bumblebees, their ecology and behaviour, and why populations of many species have declined. It's also a book about what it's like being a research ecologist and a plea for conservation action.

The book starts with the author's childhood and describes the start of his fascination with, not just bumblebees, but wildlife in general. In this respect it has echoes of Gerald's Durrell's classic "My family and other animals" and is similarly entertaining as well as educational. The following chapters are each self contained stories focussing on a particular aspect of bumblebee ecology that the author has researched, but with a good dollop of the history behind natural history. One chapter looks at how bees know whether a flower has been visited recently (it turns out they have smelly feet!), another at trying to train the world's first bumblebee sniffer dog to find nests. The author also travels to New Zealand to find bumblebees introduced there from the UK over 100 years ago, and to Tasmania where they have appeared more recently.

The thing I liked most about this book is that it gives you an insight into how science progresses, not just what was found. There are amusing tales of the people behind discoveries, serendipitous events that led to them, how things often don't go to plan but may lead to answers the researcher had not originally thought of.

This is not just a book about bumblebees, however, but also a call to action as it highlights some of the disastrous consequences of human actions on nature and what we stand to lose if we do nothing about this. Given the current focus on the plight of pollinators in the countryside, this book is very timely and should appeal to anyone interested in the natural world. It should be required reading for anyone who isn't.
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VINE VOICETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 28 December 2013
Like many people, I knew that bee numbers were declining and that this could have serious consequences for food production, but in common with others I had ignorantly assumed that the problem was with honeybees, and that these were the ones that actually did the pollination. How wrong I was! It turns out that in the UK, the bumblebee, and there are several varieties of the latter, is far more important than the honeybee as a pollinator. This book is about bumblebees, by an author who clearly has a passion about these creatures; even to the extent of buying a property in France with land that he gradually turns into a flower-rich grassland to encourage bees and other wildlife.

It starts with a description of the author's childhood, when despite a lack of interest in such matters by his parents, who nevertheless were extraordinarily tolerant, he developed a strong fascination with wildlife in general, even dissecting `road-kill' animals and practicing taxidermy, although not very successfully. Most of the rest of the book focuses on bumblebee ecology and each chapter tells the story of some particular aspect that the author himself has usually been involved with, for example the problem of how bees know that a flower has been visited recently. Some of the projects seem a bit bizarre and ended in failure, such as training dogs to sniff out bees' nests. The examples give a good idea of how science actually proceeds, in a zigzag fashion, not always forward, with serendipity often playing an important role.

Bees (there are over 25,000 varieties) seem to be in danger worldwide and the author describes his travels to New Zealand to research how the short-hair bumblebee has survived there and become an important agricultural asset, with a view to reintroducing it into the UK. He also travels to Australia to investigate the spread of the same bumblebee in Tasmania, where it has `mysteriously' appeared despite a strict import ban on any foreign animal species. A very significant achievement is the establishment of the Bumblebee Trust, and through it, with the co-operation of other nature conservation bodies, the re-establishment of extensive flower-rich grasslands on the Romney Marshes and the start of the re-introduction of the short-hair bumblebee (actually obtained from Sweden, rather than New Zealand) on the Dungeness shingle beds. This experiment is ongoing.

I never imagined that I would read a whole book about bees of any variety, but I am very pleased that I did. It is beautifully written in a pleasant conversational style, combining facts with personal anecdotes in a balanced, often humorous, way that lightens the scientific material. My only criticism is the lack of any photographs.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 6 June 2014
This is a marvellous book - informative yet also immensely entertaining. Dave Gouslon, professor of Biology at the universities of Southampton and then Stirling, has had a lifelong fascination with most forms of wildlife, but bumblebees in particular.

I found the early chapters especially engaging, filled as they were with Goulson's recollections of his childhood. This was certainly unusual, with hours and hours spent dissecting the numerous examples of roadkill that he found on the nearby lanes, using scalpel and other tools from a kit that he had persuaded hi grandparents to give him ... for his ninth birthday. By the time he was a couple of years older he had moved on to trying to stuff them, again using items from a kit that he had bought from a catalogue. I did occasionally find myself wondering whether I was reading the recollected episodes from the learning curve of a serial killer!

However, as far as I am aware (and at least as far as is discernible from the book) Goulson steered clear of such a career, opting instead for life as an academic specialising in entomology. The amount of information that he provides about insect life in general, and bumblebees in particular, is amazing, though the reader is never left struggling to absorb a soulless procession of facts. His prose is clear, accessible and amusing, and his subject matter is a treasure trove of fascination.

There is little about the bumblebee which is not extraordinary. The bumblebee's parthenogenetic reproductive cycle, its ability to navigate and home in on its nest, often from considerable distances away, its insistence upon flying in downright denial of the laws of aerodynamics and gravity, and its intricate communication system by which it notifies colleagues of the location of rich sources of pollen and nectar, are all redolent of something out of a science fiction novel. But in fact these attributes are all part and parcel of the bee which extends to some 25,000 different species. All of this comes, almost literally to fruition in an insect which is a masterful fertiliser of fruit, flowers, vegetables and grain on a global scale.

Blessed are the pollinators, and blessed is this book!
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on 24 October 2014
don't remember ordering
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on 25 June 2014
This book tells the tale of a passionate scientist that embarked on a quest to save the little things of this world that are so very important, yet overlooked by so many. Professor Goulson has a brilliant mind that manages to translate expert scientific knowledge into an unescapably captivating story for absolutely anyone (you don’t need any previous knowledge on bees or science in general to enjoy this book)! ‘A Sting in the Tale’ is a delightful piece of literature with amazing stories that will make you laugh on multiple occasions! The author delivers a perfect composition of fascinating information about bumblebees, important messages on conservation issues, and personal experiences that depict the process of scientific research from an entertaining and adventurous perspective. It is not just a good read, but also helps to raise awareness of a range of problems that need to be addressed. Enthusiastic people like Dave Goulson who strive to save the beauty of the natural world should be supported in every possible way! In saying that, ‘A Sting in the Tale’ makes a great gift too if you want to help ‘spread the word’!

It is truly difficult to stop reading once you start - I absolutely loved this book and I cannot recommend it highly enough! Excitingly, I have heard that the sequel called ‘A Buzz in the Meadow’ will be released in September - I cannot wait to get my hands on it!
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on 11 April 2015
Having caught the back-end of an interview with the author on Radio 4, was sufficient to pique my interest enough to seek out his book. I am not an aficionado of insects per se, but do appreciate their role in the 'order of things' and especially bees and the great debt we owe them. Like most people, I have over the last couple of years been woken up to the disappearing bee and the consequences through the media, where it has been generally portrayed as a mystery. However, after reading this book it seems there is little mystery at all but simply the consequence of modern farming methods and the dwindling of their natural habitat. The bee has been around a lot longer than us (around 30M yrs vs. 200K yrs) but it is likely it won't be around for much longer unless the policy makers wake-up to the dire consequences of a bee-less World.

A 'chatty' and engaging style of writing which is very easy to read yet at the same time imparting a massive amount of information. So much so, that this year I will be dedicating some of my garden to bee friendly flowers and herbs. Last year I got a bumper crop of tomatoes, thanks to the little stripey fellas so the least I can do is give a little back, albeit in a very small way. Thanks to this book I shall never look at a bee, or tomato for that matter, in the same way ever again.
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on 10 July 2013
It is hard to categorise this wonderful book: a mixture of autobiography, ecological field guide and experimental science account.

I do not think it an exaggeration to say that Professor Dave Goulson probably knows more about bumblebees than any other living person, but he writes with an engaging blend of humility, candour and humour. Other reviewers have done an excellent job of precising the book contents which I will not repeat here. I enjoyed every page but I was eager to get to the final chapters where Goulson talks about founding the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and initiating the project to reintroduce the Short-Haired bumblebee to England.

On this last aspect, it is deeply irritating that the publisher's dust-jacket editor could not be bothered to read the book thoroughly enough to comprehend that these Short-Haired bumblebees are actually being sourced from Sweden and not New Zealand. The latter, sadly, turned out to be an ecological dead-end. The myth that New Zealand is these bees' last remaining habitat is perpetuated by Amazon and other online suppliers in their descriptions of the book and it nearly deterred me from buying as I knew it was blatantly untrue.

Notwithstanding this gross error however, the book should appeal to anybody who wishes to learn more about bumblebees in an entertaining and well-rounded account.
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on 8 May 2013
SITT is brilliant. I love the conversational way it's written, with real passion and imagination, full of amusing, quirky and creative analogies and anecdotes, such as describing a bumblebee nest as an idyllic nunnery, the larvae as cuddly polar bears, keeping a visceral display in ones bedroom, a species gone extinct thanks to Hitler, a tryst with a long dead male, and fashioning prosthetic legs for a accidental-leg-free feathered pet, to mention but a few.

It is delightfully hilarious, while at the same time delivering a bloom of fascinating and remarkable bumblebee (and other) biology, with an all important conservation message. I think it's just the right balance between the wider conservation/save the world message and the central theme, passion for the bumblebee. I really like the blend of personal experience with science and history. Each time the author digs a bit deeper into the science he soon delivers an anecdote that keeps it alive. It also gives a real insight into how scientists and the like reach conservation decisions.

It is beautifully linked together with (other than bumblebee) themes throughout (the author's appetite for pies for example). The structure keeps you interested - a cliffhanger starting chapter with an uplifting finish and the promise of an explanation. I love how the author drifts off while explaining something. It feels like it takes a while to get to the point, in a good way. I often got drawn into some unrelated (and yet related) anecdote and I forgot all about the bees, until inevitably they creep back in. I'm sad not to be able to read more - but can't believe the author will stop there (tell us more about the distinctive French buzz and goggle-eyed creatures!).
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on 20 March 2018
Everyone who has an interest in nature must read this excellent book! It will have you grinning throughout, laughing out loud, and you won't be able to help falling in love with bees, of every kind (and a little with ants too!). There is so much to learn about these fascinating creatures and even from a person who studied Zoology at University, I really learnt a lot about nature of all sorts from reading this book without the book being at all boring or over-scientific. Only the very smallest of biology detail is included when and where necessary to explain some interesting facts, making it accessible to all. I have already ordered the follow-up book as I can't wait to hear more about bees. I also now can't wait for spring to begin so that I can get out and find some bees to watch and make my own amateur studies of these lovely creatures! I'm also going to join the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and hopefully find a good bumblebee ID course so I can perhaps start to contribute (even if in a very small way) to understanding more about our amazing UK bumblebees.
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