09 October, 2015

A sting in the tale, by Dave Goulson

If killing the things you love is a prerequisite for becoming a biologist, then Dave Goulson made an excellent start as a very small boy. The opening chapter of A sting in the tale catalogues his catastrophes with childhood pets, from fish (electrocution) to quail (frostbite).

Having then indulged in the habit of pinning dead insect specimens to display boards, he metamorphosed into a professional scientist, with tenure that enabled him to pursue his passion for bumblebees. Since then his experiments have not always gone according to plan, but nor have they necessarily been fatal.

This attractive little book is about the bumblebee’s life and hard times. Its fair dollop of research, undertaken with help from a seemingly inexhaustible supply of PhD students, is presented in a straightforward and engaging manner for armchair entomologists and ordinary folk.

The main focus is on Britain and France, but New Zealand gets more than a look-in. This country had no bumblebees until enterprising nineteenth-century migrants shipped some across to help pollinate the red clover they had imported earlier. Quite by chance, the introduced bumblebees included a few from a species that later became extinct in Britain.

Goulson attributes the demise of the short-haired bumblebee in the Old Country to agricultural changes such as the intensification of British farming and the resulting reduction of hedgerows. Not content simply to note its disappearance, he travelled here to see if he could reintroduce ‘our’ short-haired bumblebee to England.

Did he succeed? Read and find out!

A sting in the tale was shortlisted for the 2013 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction.

Title: A sting in the tale
Author: Dave Goulson

Recommended by Claire G, Grey Lynn Library

Claire G reads widely, writes narrowly, pampers her poultry and neglects her garden. She thinks Leonard Cohen was right about there being a crack in everything.

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