According to W. Augustus Munn, Esq. in his 1844 book, ‘A Description of the Bar-and-Frame Hive’:

“Pliny states that the custom of removing bees from place to place for fresh pasturage was frequent in the Roman territories, and such is still the practice of the Italians who live near the banks of the Po, (the river which Pliny particularly instances) mentioned by Alexander de Montford, who says that the Italians treat their bees in nearly the same manner as the Egyptians did and still do; that they load boats with hives and convey them to the neighbourhood of the mountains of Piedmont; that in proportion as the bees gather their harvest, the boats, by growing heavier, sink deeper into the water; and that the watermen determine from this when their hives are loaded sufficiently and it is time to carry them back to their places from which they came. The same author relates that the people of the country of Juliers used the same practice; for that, at a certain season of the year, they carried their bees to the foot of the mountains that were covered with wild thyme.”

[Main image: Miniature by Andrea da Firenze, from an edition of Natural History by Pliny the Elder, c.1457–58 – British Library]

The Brood Food Theory of Swarming

From David Morland, ADBKA Chair:

I learnt recently that my grandfather was the first bee scientist at Rothamsted and one of the founder members of the International Bee Research Association (IBRA). His books and papers were passed on to Eva Crane whose own collection was the foundation of the IBRA library.

He was succeeded as Head of the Bee Section at Rothamsted in 1939, by Dr Colin Butler.

At Rothamsted, he initiated studies into the causes of swarming, so our members might be interested in a paper he had published in the Annals of Applied Biology, Vol XIII, No.1, February 1930 entitled ‘The Brood Food Theory’. I believe this is the reference at the start of Snelgrove’s book about swarming.

The article is taken from a photocopy of the original typescript he submitted and includes the diagrams and table from this original.  (Click here to view the full paper in PDF  view the full paper in PDF, or here to see a photocopy of the original.)

A paper copy of the paper will be found within the library at Crathes for members to borrow.

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You’ve been framed!

We all know that Lorenzo Langstroth invented the first moveable frame hive in 1852, right? If he was alive, Francois Huber might beg to differ. In his 1806 book, New observations on the natural history of bees, Huber writes: “It is not more difficult to lodge a natural swarm in a leaf hive than in any other of a different shape. But there is one precaution essential to success, which I should not omit. Though the bees are indifferent as to the position of their combs and as to their greater or lesser size, they are obliged to construct them perpendicular to the horizon and parallel to each other. Therefore, if left entirely to themselves, when establishing a colony in one of those new hives, they would frequently construct several small combs parallel indeed, but perpendicular to the plane of the frames or leaves and by this disposition prevent the advantages which I think to derive from the figure of my hives, since they could not be opened without breaking the combs. Thus they must previously have a guide to follow; the cultivator himself lays the foundation of their edifices and that by a simple method. A portion of comb must be solidly fixed in some of the boxes composing the hive. The bees will extend it and, in prosecution of their work, will accurately follow the plan already given them. Therefore on opening the hive, no obstacle is to be removed, nor stings to be dreaded, for one of the most singular and valuable properties attending this construction, is its rendering the bees tractable.”

Glen Tanar Bees


A nice indication of the long-term connection with beekeeping on the Glen Tanar estate. The carved queen lies in the garden at the Ballroom on the estate. Bees have lived intermittently in the roof of the ballroom for many years, but the latest colony failed to survive the 2015/16 winter. It will not be surprising if a swarm takes up residence again this season.

John Cooper

According to …

….Arthur Dobbs Esq, in a letter published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, on 1 January 1753: “M. Reaumur has very justly observed, that, besides the three transparent smooth Eyes, which the Bee has placed in a Triangle betwixt the Antennae on the Top of its Head, the Bee has also on each Side of its Head an Eye, or rather a Multitude of Eyes, form’d by a Number of distinct Lens’s surrounded each with short Hairs, which are confirm’d to be Eyes, both from Swammerdam, and in his own Experiments to determine it; and that, when darkened by Paint laid over them, the Bees could not find their Way to their Hive, tho’ at a small Distance, but soar’d directly upwards; nor could they find their Way when the three smooth Eyes were darkened.

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Jan Swammerdam


beemouth17th century Dutch beekeeper and all-round genius JAN SWAMMERDAM was responsible for a great leap forward in our understanding of honeybees. Using this early microscope he produced incredible drawings such as the one on the right, showing the complex structures that make up the bee’s mouthparts.

In the name of science, he had a go at eating some honeybee larvae. His verdict: raw – “very disagreeable”, tasting of “rusty bacon”; and boiled – “they have a somewhat more agreeable taste, but if one continues chewing them, the former taste prevails again.” (If any of our members are tempted to recreate this experiment, we would love to share the experience in a future newsletter.)

Swammerdam lived through a period known as the Dutch Golden Age, rubbing shoulders with the likes of the artist Rembrandt, the mathematician and astronomer Christiaan Huygens, and the philosopher Baruch de Spinoza.


If you are interested in finding out more about Swammerdam, go to from where these pictures were sourced.