The Mind of a Bee

Princeton Univ. Jun. 2022. 280p. ISBN 9780691180472. $29.95. NAT HIST
A leading expert on bee psychology takes readers on a fascinating journey into the mind of man’s best insect friend. Chittka (sensory and behavioral ecology, Queen Mary Univ., London) argues that bees, even with brains the size of a pinhead, are far from being “reflexive robots.” His book examines bees’ sensory world, their instinctual repertoire, and how it relates to learned behaviors. He also studies the evolutionary roots of bee intelligence, how they navigate the “flower supermarket,” the possibility of bees having “personality” and possessing some form of consciousness (and the ethical implications of that), and much more. Chittka cites extensive scientific research, including his own, that shows bees pulling off surprising cognitive feats (recognizing flowers and human faces, displaying emotions, counting, and using tools). Bees have long fascinated humanity, so it’s fitting that Chittka also surveys the insights of eminent historical entomologists—adding another layer of interest and stylistic flair to the text’s scholarly content. While some of Chittka’s topics are challenging, the book’s cogent structure, nifty illustrations, and smartly written chapter summaries and transitions will help pop-science readers through it.
VERDICT The book’s bees astound; so too the clever humans who study them.
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