My interest in bee hunting grew out of my fascination with the behavior and social life of honey bees, especially when they live on their own in the wild rather than under a beekeeper's supervision in an apiary. One of the skills that I needed to study how these marvelous creatures live in nature was the ability to find honey bee colonies living in the woods, hence in natural tree cavities. So, back in the summer of 1978, when I was a freshly minted PhD, I read whatever I could find about the sport of bee hunting and I began to try my hand at it. My principal source of instruction was the delightful little book The Bee Hunter, written by George H. Edgell (1949, Harvard University Press). It proved a sound guidebook, and that summer I conducted a survey of the wild colonies of honey bees living in the Arnot Forest. This is a 4500-acre woodland that is located near Ithaca, New York and is owned by Cornell University. Since 1978, I have conducted more than 50 successful bee hunts, about half in the Arnot Forest, for scientific purposes, and the rest in various other places around New York and New England, for fun!
I now work at Cornell University as a professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior. In this role, I teach courses on animal behavior and I do research on the behavior and ecology of honey bees. This work is summarized in four books: Honeybee Ecology (1985), The Wisdom of the Hive (1995), Honeybee Democracy (2010), and Following the Wild Bees (2016). In recognition of my scientific contributions, I have been honored by an Alexander von Humboldt Distinguished U.S. Scientist Award, been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and been elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. These are nice awards, but for me the most important prizes for being a scientist are the discoveries that I have made about the inner workings of honey bee colonies.
My "love affair" with honey bees began in the summer of 1969, when I was 17 years old and still a high school student. That summer I began keeping bees with a swarm that I had caught and housed in a wooden box. A year later, I went off to university at Dartmouth College, but returned to my hometown (Ithaca, New York) each summer to work as a helper at the Dyce Laboratory for Honey Bee Studies at Cornell University. Here, I learned the craft of beekeeping and began performing studies on the biology of honey bees. Thoroughly intrigued by these wonderful little creatures, I dropped my plans to go to medical school and decided to instead go to graduate school and be a biologist who studies the behavior, social life, and ecology of honey bees. I did my graduate studies at Harvard University where I was supervised by two “ant men” (Drs. Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson), began my research on honey bees in earnest, and earned my Ph.D. in 1978. I stayed at Harvard for two years of postdoctoral studies before starting an assistant professorship at Yale University. After teaching at Yale for six years, I moved home to Ithaca and Cornell in 1986, where I have lived and worked ever since, except when I spend time living, working, and bee hunting, in a tiny town in downeast Maine.
My interest in beekeeping began as a young child on my father’s dairy farm near Delhi, New York where my family kept beehives behind our sugar shack. After building a home in Woodstock New York, I knew the first project for the property was a bee yard.
Hooked on beekeeping for over ten years now and I have enjoyed turning my passion for beekeeping into a successful small business. Hudson Valley Bee Supply opened in 2013 with the mission to create a hub of resources for local beekeepers and help grow a strong and sustainable beekeeping community in the Hudson Valley, New York.
My bee hunting adventures began soon after I started beekeeping and after taking wild honeybees out of an old barn in Huntersland, New York. I began to wonder how and where to find other wild honeybees and after a little research I stumbled on an article by Dr Thomas Seeley that contained a bee box drawing that I used to construct my own bee box. That box has since led the way to many adventures bee hunting in the wilds of the Catskill Mountains. With the help of my partner Jorik Phillips and his queen rearing expertise, we have introduced wild bee genetics into our own managed colonies.
After meeting Dr. Seeley at a beekeeping conference and hearing his presentation, I was excited to learn more about the science behind his bee hunts and how I might apply it to my own bee hunts. I also learned that we both share an affinity for an endearing little book The Bee Hunter by George Edgell. As my friendship with Tom developed I thought how I might use my 20 years in graphic design and photography, coupled with Tom’s boundless knowledge of wild honeybees to update and expand upon Edgell’s book and that is how idea for Following The Wild Bees was born.