The Secret Life of Bees

The world’s leading expert on bee behavior discovers the secrets of decision-making in a swarm

  • By Carl Zimmer
  • Smithsonian magazine, March 2012
On the front porch of an old Coast Guard station on Appledore Island, seven miles off the southern coast of Maine, Thomas Seeley and I sat next to 6,000 quietly buzzing bees. Seeley wore a giant pair of silver headphones over a beige baseball cap, a wild fringe of hair blowing out the back; next to him was a video camera mounted on a tripod. In his right hand, Seeley held a branch with a lapel microphone taped to the end. He was recording the honeybee swarm huddling inches away on a board nailed to the top of a post.

Seeley, a biologist from Cornell University, had cut a notch out of the center of the board and inserted a tiny screened box called a queen cage. It housed a single honeybee queen, along with a few attendants. Her royal scent acted like a magnet on the swarm.

If I had come across this swarm spread across my back door, I would have panicked. But here, sitting next to Seeley, I felt a strange calm. The insects thrummed with their own business. They flew past our faces. They got caught in our hair, pulled themselves free and kept flying. They didn’t even mind when Seeley gently swept away the top layer of bees to inspect the ones underneath. He softly recited a poem by William Butler Yeats:

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

A walkie-talkie on the porch rail chirped.

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In Pursuit of Affluence, at a High Price

February 2, 1999
By Alfie Kohn

The adage that money cannot buy happiness may be familiar, but is easily forgotten in a consumer society. A much more persistent and seductive message is beamed from every television screen: Contentment is available for the price of this car, that computer, a little more getting and spending.

Over the last few years, however, psychological researchers have been amassing an impressive body of data suggesting that satisfaction simply is not for sale. Not only does having more things prove to be unfulfilling, but people for whom affluence is a priority in life tend to experience an unusual degree of anxiety and depression as well as a lower overall level of well-being.

Copyright © 1999 by Alfie Kohn. This article may be downloaded, reproduced, and distributed without permission as long as each copy includes this notice along with citation information (i.e., name of the periodical in which it originally appeared, date of publication, and author’s name). Permission must be obtained in order to reprint this article in a published work or in order to offer it for sale in any form. Please write to the address indicated on the Contact page at

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