A Sting in the Tale is Dave Goulson’s account of his years spent studying bumblebees and founding The Bumblebee Conservation Trust. Goulson writes of the insects knowledgeably and with affection, and by the end of the book, most readers will be out in their yards checking to see what accommodation they can make for the fuzzy pollinators.
Goulson has spent years studying the bumblebee and so can, and does, provide insight into what the bees know and how they know it. The different kinds of bumblebee are fascinating creatures in their own right, but he also makes it clear how much we depend on them for pollination. Yes—we need the honeybees, but we need bumblebees (and other pollinators) as well. Flowers are not one-size-fits all any more than clothing is.
His tone is both affectionate and humorous as he recounts years spent out in the field patiently searching for bumblebees, counting bumblebees, looking for bumblebee nests, training bumblebee sniffer dogs, and always asking questions. The book is thus also about what science looks like on the ground, complete with errors. For example, Goulson writes of a time when he and his students accidentally failed to mark an office nest entrance clearly enough so that returning bumblebees could find it; the bumblebees—which were clearly marked—ended up going into everyone else’s offices, resulting in a series of annoyed phone calls. He also talks of conclusions he drew that have since been called into question or revised considerably, taking it in stride as part of doing his work. Goulson also makes it clear that this is not a solo effort; his account is full of the names and accomplishments of graduate students and colleagues.
A Sting in the Tale is well worth reading both for its style and for its content. U.S. readers may find themselves wishing that there were a few more local-to-them varieties discussed, but there is plenty to learn even without having any one specific kind of bumblebee close by.