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July 19, 2021

Dr. Gene Kritsky on Honey Bees and Cicadas (S4, E5)

Dr. Gene Kritsky on Honey Bees and Cicadas (S4, E5)

In this episode we talk with Dr. Gene Kritsky, who has authored or edited 10 books and over 250 papers on subjects as diverse as entomology, Egyptology, evolution, history of science, dinosaur biology, insect poetry and insect mythology. The Tears of...

Dr. Gene KritskyIn this episode we talk with Dr. Gene Kritsky, who has authored or edited 10 books and over 250 papers on subjects as diverse as entomology, Egyptology, evolution, history of science, dinosaur biology, insect poetry and insect mythology. The Tears of Re: Beekeeping in Ancient Egypt is one of his Egyptology stories in a book, and Periodical Cicadas: The Brood X Edition was released this spring, just before Brood X began singing their mating songs (at up to 90 decibels at their peak) in the Eastern US this spring.

He is the Dean, and a Professor in the department of Behavioral and Natural Sciences in Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio.

In this incredible interview, he weaves all of these things together and ties them all into his love of bees and beekeeping.

We start with a discussion of the Brood X cicadas this spring, and his new book about them, but wander in and through the history of developing the timing of all of the Broods of cicadas that exist, how are they related, and do they harm bees in anyway.

Long ago he read Eva Crane’s book on the history of hives, and that started his exploration of, and a book about, In Search of the Perfect Hive. As a Fulbright Scholar, he traveled to Egypt to teach entomology, and there he really got involved in their beekeeping styles, government’s role and organization. He relates stories on Egypt’s history of bees and beekeeping, hive styles, and yes, there has been honey found in Pyramids that is thousands of years old that is still edible. His definition of “beekeeping” is the intentional prevision of an artificial container in which bees can produce.

Have you ever thought you would use the words “Insects” and “Mythology” in the same sentence? Gene does. He knows museums and can direct you to the sections that cover all of these subjects.

Dr. Gene Kritsky is one of the most interesting stories we’ve told. Come along for the ride.

Links and websites mentioned in this podcast:

Honey Bee Obscura


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S4, E5 – Dr. Gene Kritsky on Honey Bees and Cicadas



Jeff Ott: Welcome to Beekeeping Today podcast presented by Bee Culture. Beekeeping Today podcast is your source for beekeeping news, information, and entertainment. I'm Jeff Ott.

Kim Flottum: I'm Kim Flottum.

Introduction: Hey, Jeff and Kim. Today's sponsor is Global Patties. They're a family-operated business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honeybees. It's a good time to think about honeybee nutrition. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will ensure that they produce strong and healthy colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow.

Now is a great time to consider what type of patty is right for your area and your honeybees. Global offers a variety of standard patties as well as custom patties to meet your needs. No matter where you are, Global is ready to serve you out of their manufacturing plants in Airdrie, Alberta, and in Butte, Montana, or from distribution depots across the continent. Visit them today at

Jeff: Thanks, Sherry and hey, thanks everybody for joining us today. You know each week, we get to talk about how much we appreciate our sponsor support, they help make all of this happen and provide us the ability to bring you each episode. With that, thanks to Bee Culture Magazine for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast. Bee Culture has been the magazine for American beekeeping since 1873. Subscribe to Bee Culture today.

We also want to thank 2 Million Blossoms who've sponsored this episode. 2 Million Blossoms is a quarterly magazine dedicated to protecting all pollinators. Learn more in our season two, episode nine podcast with editor Kirsten Traynor and from visiting and that is with the number two. Also, check out the new 2 Million Blossoms podcast available from our website or from wherever you download and stream your shows. Hey, Kim, we're approaching the end of July. I can't believe we're here already.

Kim: Yes, it's July weather, that's for sure. If it's not hot, it's raining, and often it's both.

Jeff: I know just not so long ago, I was complaining about 100-degree heat, and today, it's not even 70 yet. It's weird.

Kim: Oh, not even 70.

Jeff: Not even 70. Global weirding I tell you. Global weirding. How are your bees hanging out?

Kim: Well, that's what they're doing, they're hanging out because it's hot. I've got some shade and I've got ventilation, so they're not doing too bad. The bigger colonies, there's a lot of bees on the front door.

Jeff: Yes. You and Jim and Honey Bee Obscura just did an episode on dealing with hot bees in the summer. That was a good episode.

Kim: Yes, we did. He and I were having the same problem this year. Not only that, not only what are they doing, but how cranky they get sometimes when it's hot.

Jeff: The bees get cranky or the beekeepers get cranky?

Kim: Well, the bees get cranky and the beekeeper gets tired, old, and wet.


Jeff: Well, yes, defines a beekeeper.

Kim: Yes.

Jeff: That's good. That's good. Honey Bee Obscura is really a great podcast you guys are putting out. Jim also has been doing some video moments. I encourage our listeners if you haven't been watching and listening to Honey Bee Obscura, get out there and listen to him and check out the occasional video moment that is also associated with each episode.

Kim: He does a good job with those, doesn't he?

Jeff: He really does. They're entertaining. I really enjoy watching him.

Kim: He's got a lot of background in doing video. He did that whole series when he was in extension at The Ohio State University, and so he's got the equipment, he's got the experience. He does a good job.

Jeff: Yes, really good. I'm glad he's on the team. Hey, Kim, we received a couple of questions in the last couple of weeks, one is from Elizabeth Irving. She wanted to know, you referred to a book about bee behavior from observing the outside of a colony. What was that?

Kim: Yes, it's a book. The author is H. Storch, S-T-O-R-C-H. The title is At the Hive Entrance.

Jeff: At The Hive Entrance.

Kim: It's what you can learn by watching what's going on at the hive entrance. He did a good job. It's really old, but it's still good. He did a good job and things haven't changed much. Bees still do what bees did then. You can get it at Northern Bee Books with Jeremy over in the UK. You can go to his webpage and you can get the book there.

If you can't find it in a library someplace, I'd really suggest you take a look at it because there's a lot-- Before you ever take the cup, before you even light your smoker, if you can go out and take a look and see what do you suppose is going on there today, and a lot of the stuff that's going on they can tell you that you can observe and figure out by just watching what's going on at the front door.

Jeff: Great. Well, we'll have that. Northern Bee Books isn't as a sponsor, but for our listeners, we will post a listing, the title of that book and the link to Northern Bee Books in the show notes. I'd look for them. She also had a second question about-- well, it'd be easier for me just to read it. Let me let me go ahead and read this and you can give a quick reply.

She says, "I understand that bees have different jobs at different points in their life. I have a hive full of nectar that needs to be evaporated and it's a rainy week. The foragers are stuck inside. Do the house bees recruit foragers to do inside work or are the bees like, 'Well, we can't get outside so we'll get into the supers and get them in very good order.' Do the bees continue their housework at night? If I go out and press my ear to the wooden boxes, I can hear them talk to themselves no matter what the weather or time of day, so many questions. Being a bee is complicated."

Kim: It sure is. Well, the thing about do foragers do inside housework? For the most part, probably not because they have graduated past that, their flight muscles have changed, the pheromones that they respond to have changed, their behaviors have changed, they're a forager. The bees inside that are dehydrating the honey, that are taking care of the queen, that are feeding the baby bees, their glands are equipped to do those things.

If a forger got stuck in a hive for a long time and/or, suddenly, a lot of the house bees disappeared for some reason, like a pesticide poisoning, some of the foragers would revert back and be able to produce wax, and be able to produce brood food, those sorts of things. For a day or two or three, probably they're just hanging out, going, "Hey, got the day off. Cool."

Jeff: That's why we see the bee birds.

Kim: Well, that's one of the reasons. If you get a lot of bees and it's warm inside, they're going to go outside and stay out there so that it's easier to keep the inside-- so the inside doesn't overheat. That's what you don't want to have happen. It's warm in there and you don't want it to get too warm because then you start getting problems with the brood.

Jeff: All right, there you go, Elizabeth. I hope that helps. Hey, Kim, one of the things having sponsors gives us the privilege of doing is provides transcripts of each episode. If anybody is hard of hearing or knows beekeepers who would benefit from the information on our podcast but can't listen to him, doesn't enjoy listening to him because it's hard to hear, you can go out to our podcast web page and look at transcripts and read transcripts. It's pretty good service, isn't it, Kim?

Kim: Yes, it is. It's not only for people like me who don't hear so well, but it's good for people that are just hearing this subject for the first time and want to read along so they make sure they catch every word, and for people just starting out that don't know a lot of things, you have a record of what was said.

Jeff: I encourage, folks, if you use the transcripts or you know beekeepers who do, let us know, it's a valuable service, it's expensive, but we think it's money well-spent and it provides an additional service or avenue of education for all beekeepers.

Kim: Yes, it does.

Jeff: Today, we have a professor there from your part of the country, Dr. Gene Kritsky. I'm looking forward to having him on.

Kim: Yes, I've known him for quite a while. I met him. He's down in Cincinnati. He's a professor and the Dean of the Behavioral and Natural Sciences Department at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati. He's written up a handful of books, a big handful of books on a variety of topics. I got to know him when he wrote a book called In Search of the Perfect Hive. He was looking at the history of the hives and where it might be going from where it is today.

We were at quite a few shows together, in the vendor area, he's selling his books, and I was selling our books. That's where I got to know him. Since then, I have found out that he is a specialist in a whole variety of things other than the history of the hive, and I think we're going to explore a bunch of those today.

Jeff: Yes, I was doing some reading up before he came on and he's like the Indiana Jones of entomologists.

Kim: That's a good way to look at it, yes. He does history, he does hive types, he does other insects. He's a real interesting guy and I hope we can draw as much as we can with him today.

Jeff: I'm looking forward to it. All right, let's hear from our friends at Strong Microbials strong and get into our interview with Dr. Gene Kritsky.


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Jeff: While you're at the Strong Microbials website, make sure you click on The Hive, their regular newsletter full of information and product updates. Hey, welcome back, everybody. Sitting across the virtual Zoom table right now is doctor and author Gene Kritsky. Welcome to Beekeeping Today Show, Gene.

Gene Kritsky: Glad to be here.

Kim: It's good to see you again, Gene. It's been too long.

Gene: That's for certain, Kim. Congratulations on The ABC & XYZ, that's a wonderful piece of work.

Kim: Did you notice the blood all over it? [laughs]

Gene: Yes. I also noticed a couple of tears, but it was well worth the wait.

Kim: It was a task and a half, but I'm glad it's done and thank you.

Jeff: Well, you have a chapter in that too, don't you, Gene?

Gene: I've got seven entries in there, I believe.

Jeff: Yes, I saw one. [laughs]

Kim: Yes, that sounds about right. I've forgotten already.

Gene: That's the quiz for later. I talked about, I think, Slovenia, a modern Egypt, a number of the hives, skeps, things like that.

Jeff: What a great lead in. We welcome you to the show today, Gene. We're going to talk to you a little bit about your background. Basically, the topic of the summer is the cicada, and you're a resident expert of the cicada. You do have a background in Egyptology, in ancient Egypt and keeping bees, which would be great. Just coincidentally, this last spring we finished our five-part series on different hive types other than the Langstroth. You have a long background in different hive types and you've written about that. We want to just touch base on that as well, all in the space of this podcast.

Kim: Well, Gene, the cicada is clear and loud in a lot of places right now. You have a new book on it called Periodical Cicadas: The Brood X Edition, and you've got actually several publications on cicadas. Is this year's brood as good as the last one that they had? Is it better or worse, bigger or smaller?

Gene: I get that question a lot. It's an interesting question. It varies on where you are and the local history of the trees and what have you, but it's been a textbook emergence. It started here in Southwest Ohio. A few places had some numbers come out on the 15th of May, at my house, we had them come out on the 17th. It started out really strong and then the cold temperatures slowed things down a little, but then we had some nice heat and it's been textbook.

Right now, the cicadas are beginning to dwindle. They're on the downhill slide, they've been singing, and mating and the females are laying eggs. The sound intensity dropped from two weeks ago at 90 decibels to today it was probably about, I want to say, 68 to 72.

Kim: Amazing. The population, do you think, is about right?

Gene: The population is pretty good. We have seen some local declines due to things like people treating their ash trees for the emerald ash borer, that's with the systemic injected insecticide. I got an email just yesterday from a woman who had her trees treated yesterday, and after they left, she was watching the cicadas that were on the trees getting liquid out, dropping over the next several hours-- After a day or so, they started dropping like crazy. She was a little bummed about that. I'm not sure if she's going to keep treating her trees or not. I don't want to say at least she felt bad like it was a good thing, but at least she was conscious about the cicadas.

Kim: I know that there can be some damage to fruit tree or many kinds of trees if you get a big population, and they can be, what's the word, pestiferous on occasion.

Gene: On occasion. They're very mostly dangerous to small saplings, trees that are usually four or five feet in height or smaller. There was a paper published in the original American Entomologist back in 1869 that was titled Out of Evil Comes Good.


Gene: It was all about how orchardists in Illinois and Missouri were noticing a bumper crop in their fruit trees this year. They didn't know what they'd done that they'd have to do again. It turned out the year before was a major emergence of two broods of periodical cicadas, Brood XIX and Brood X. The egg laying was intense and a lot of all over-positioned scars on those trees, but it turned out it acted like a natural pruning. The next year, the leaf set, the flower set in particular, was larger than they'd seen in the typical years. They had a bumper crop in 1869. The cicadas were thought to have done something good for a change.

Kim: I'll be darned. That's amazing.

Jeff: That's great.

Kim: [laughs] Your book on Brood X, it has a lot of things. The thing I got the most information from was the maps. How do you gather that much information on the maps you provide?

Gene: I am a frustrated story. If you see anything that runs through all my books, it's a sense of history. The first record of periodical cicadas goes back to 1634 when they emerged in Plymouth Colony. That was reported by the second governor of Plymouth Colony, William Bradford. The first time Brood X, the X is a Roman numeral, but I have to admit, Kim, Brood X sounds sexier.

Kim: Yes, it does. It's like the Murder Hornet.

Gene: That's right. [chuckles] We've got records going on from that time on. In fact, I would have been bragging about bees or anything if it wasn't for periodical cicadas because I was originally an anthropology major, I wanted to study human evolution. I was asking my professor, "Well, we've got these two skulls, it's a sample of one for each, how do you know they're not just male and female, and what have you?" He started talking about morphometrics and these statistical analyses. I must have looked totally confused because he said, "Well, you ought to take an entomology class because that's where they're doing that now." This is back in 1972.

I was a sophomore, I went to register for classes. The way they did that, in those days, we didn't have the Internet and we didn't have the web. We actually went to this giant field house and we collected computer cards and we walked in lines, what have you. The Ks were the last group of all the cohorts to go through registration and everything was closed. I walked up to the table of zoology and I said, "I need five hours. Is anything open?" The woman said, "I'm sorry, all I have is entomology in the lab," and that was it, so I took entomology.

The second week of the class, my professor was Frank Young, and he and I have written a book together and several papers together, started talking about these cicadas. "Wow, this is just really awesome." What hit me was the idea that if you use-- We use the scientific method everyday in agriculture. You make observations, you come up with an idea, you test it with whatever practice you're going to do, and then you either reject or accept that and continue building on your knowledge from there.

In history, they have a historical method, and you go look for primary sources written in the person's own handwriting, secondary sources, transcriptions, tertiary sources, let's say like newspaper articles. Then you evaluate the sources, is it the original person or is it somebody that's hearsay and what have you. That's the historical method. It hit me that if I could use the tools of history to find historical emergences of cicadas, I could not just have one map from one year, I could have maps that encompasses several emergences.

While in grad school at the University of Illinois, and I worked with Lou Stannard, who was the cicada specialist at Illinois, I never got the opportunity to take a class from Jaycox. Boy, did I want to, but it just didn't work out. I started to amass a collection of historical records. By the time I finished my PhD, I had 7,000 records of previous emergences of periodical cicadas that I put into a computer program and I started seeing patterns.

Brood I, it was a pattern of one location. Brood II was a different location. Brood III was out west and so on. Looking at those, you could look at a map, it was all the emergences since 1634 that were known or I could look at two emergences, and then the next two and next two and see how patterns developed. That's what my research on cicadas evolved into was basically looking at how the broods relate to each other, how they evolve. It also took my interest in the history, which led to my interest in beekeeping.

Although I became a beekeeper through an indirect route, I started as a bee inspector looking for bacterial diseases, working for the State of Indiana. I went that route to begin, but fell-- the first, I put the veil on, and I had that limited peripheral vision. You all know what I mean.


Gene: You're smelling the smoke, and the first thing you open that hive, you get that smell of a healthy hive. It's that sweet wax, the honey, and you're trying to be smooth in the way you handle things 'cause you don't want to ajar the hives. Meanwhile, the beekeepers looking at me over, [laughs] they just want to see what I'm going to do, to see how fast I got that smoker lit, all the tests you have to do to show you know what you're doing, but I just fell in love with that whole protocol.

The idea that this is a science that essentially, we're still using hives, that essentially, the guts of it were produced in 1851 theoretically, and then modified about 20 years later, and so on. The connection to history really got me. That's how I got the map, sense of your first question, but it also led to my reading a book by Eva Crane, The Archeology of Beekeeping, that changed everything for me.

Kim: An interesting connection, a very interesting connection. Well, I have one more cicada question. Is anything that they do going to be bad for beekeepers? It doesn't sound like it. I don't know, it only happens once every 10 years.

Gene: There's never been a reported instance of where cicadas interfere with honeybees. I'm sure possibly some bivouacking swarm somewhere might've picked the wrong tree and startled a bunch of cicadas maybe, that might've happened. No, there doesn't seem to be any adverse effects between honeybees and the cicadas, which is quite beneficial because I'm fond both of them. I wouldn't want to create a ruckus in the family.

Kim: There you go. Well, that's good, that they don't get in each other's way. The beekeeping part of it, which is how I first met you, was when you came out, you've got several books on the history of bees and beekeeping hives and hive types. The quest for the perfect hive, of course, The Tears of Re from Egypt, and Jeff will have your webpage on the show notes, but one of the things that you mentioned on your web pages, you got locked in an Egyptian tomb.

Gene: That is true. That's, in part, I think, where the idea that I was the Indiana of cicadas came about.


Gene: I used to live in Egypt, I was a Fulbright scholar to Egypt in '81s to '82. I was there when, Sadat was assassinated and it might've been '80s, '81s, but there was-- I think it was '80-'81. I was a Fulbright scholar teaching in Minia University. Part of the camp David Accords that were signed by President Carter and Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin was that there'd be more Fulbrighters into the provinces, almost all the American Fulbrighters in Egypt wanted to live in Cairo.

There were a number of universities that are out in the provinces and one in particular was Minia, about 150 miles south of Cairo, and they requested an entomologist. I have always had an interest in ancient Egypt. That I thought, well, this is a great, my whole idea was to go there. I'll be teaching some classes, but also do some research on insects as a hieroglyphic motif. That lead quickly to the honeybee because it's one of the probably most common insect hieroglyphics is out there.

While I was there, the US Ambassador to Egypt at the time was Roy Atherton, I think his name was. I'm not sure if that name is correct, but he and his wife was on the Fulbright commission. They were going to take his son on a tour of the antiquities of Egypt. They told me that they were coming down with his son and they invited me to come along. I thought it would be like small band with us. No, here comes his motorcade of military escort with his excellency, the ambassador, and his wife.

Of course, wherever that we stop, they all had to post for pictures with the ambassador, and so Reed, his son who was in his early twenties, I said, "Hey, let's go, look at the antiquities." I'd been to these sites many times by this time. We were at Tuna el-Gebel which is an underground necropolis, to where they found a bunch of hundreds of mummified, ibis birds, and baboons. It was a necropolis dedicated to the god Thoth, which is the ibis-headed man that also invented hieroglyphs in the record keeper for the afterlife, and so on.

We were in there-- well, of course, there's pictures going on in front of all the major sites in the necropolis and I said to Reed, I said, "Let's go back, there's a sarcophagus back about 40 yards in, down the shaft," and so off we go. While we're in there, a sandstorm, a khamsin blew up. From about 25 minutes, and then there were two guards with us as well, but I don't why that we needed guards. We weren't going anywhere. As we come up, everybody's gone and the door is locked. [chuckles]

The two guards are banging on the door going, "Miftah, miftah," which is 'key' in Arabic. I look at Reed, and you look at the-- It wasn't like a sealed tomb that you're going to suffocate an hour. You could see a gaping hole and you could look out in the door and look out, and you couldn't see two feet because the sandstorm was so thick. Being in the necropolis was probably one of the safest places to be.

I said to Reed, "Let's go down that shaft. I've never explored that one before," the guards are banging on the door and we went down this one side shaft in a corridor, and we found a coffin for an ibis bird and a crocodile skull, mummy, linen all over the place. Of course, we couldn't keep it in that obviously, but it was just neat to realize that how many people have the opportunity to be locked in an Egyptian tomb and have the opportunity to go poking around?

Of course they finally, after about 45 minutes to an hour, somewhere in there, they come and unlocked the door and they had nice wet towels, not for me, for the ambassadors son. They pushed me out of the way. Wrapped him up in a wet towel, and off they went. I sort of stumbled on behind them.

Jeff: I think the question how many have had an opportunity to be locked into a necropolis like that and then walk out. [laughs]

Gene: That's true. [crosstalk]

Jeff: A lot of people that go in and never come out. [laughs]

Gene: It was one of those things that, I'll never forget.

Jeff: Oh, definitely.


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Kim: That ties of course, right into the books that you've produced on the history. The Tears of Re, as I mentioned, was one of them, is that when and where you got that information?

Gene: A lot of a good part of it. I was there for a little about 10 and a half months and visited 94 archeological sites. Of course, I was taking notes constantly about anything that had to do with any insects. I've since taken four student groups and friends at the museum back on tours of Egypt. I've been back four times, probably in the last 15 years. I've been back and I'm making plans to return again because they always find more stuff.

There's been a tomb filed at Saqqara. The overseer of the beekeepers is I'm trying to get permission to get into. Those four trips allowed me to visit places I couldn't get to when I was living there and also to return to places that I wanted to see with the digital camera. That was very helpful at getting the illustrations. For most of the material inThe Tears of Re, I think almost probably 90% of the photographs or pictures I've taken either there or in museums around the world.

Kim: Well, just briefly, can you outline how beekeeping was working in Egypt at that time? How did they keep bees, and how big do the operations get, that sort of thing?

Gene: Certainly, the neat thing about beekeeping an ancient Egypt, is it was a government-run occupation. We've found evidence in the literature from tombs of the Rekhmire, which is the vizier, especially the Prime Minister receiving honey contribute from all the provinces, and surrounding kingdoms, honey being brought to the Pharaoh.

We also see records of individuals, so here in Ohio, we have at the Cleveland Art Museum, a false door of an [foreign language], who was the overseer of the bees in the provincial areas. Here's this fall story, the part of the hieroglyph that talks of his higher-ranked overseeing beekeepers. We also have found a small scarab that talks about a chief beekeeper. There are letters in Greek during the Ptolemy times where the beekeepers had lent their donkeys to someone else to move some material and needed it back to move their hives. They wrote this very kind letter. If you're done with them, we'd like our donkeys back because we have to move the hives to the next location and what have you.

As well as letters from some overseer saying, the beekeepers in this particular area are not pulling their weight. The yields have not been as good as they should have been, and so they were looking at taking some kind of action. Very organized, and I find that just amazing and what that revealed me, if you think of ancient Egypt, you think of the pyramids and the Sphinx, and King Tut's tomb, that's not what the secret of Egypt is about.

The secret of Egypt is not just to build the pyramid, but to organize people to build the pyramid, that civil structure where you can bring in 20,000 people, house them, feed them, care for their wounds and the injuries and what have you and over 20 years build a pyramid. That's impressive. The pyramid's just the results of what they did, but we can't--- You look at American politics today, [laughs] it's just-- what could we do if we had that kind of cooperation? I don't know.

Kim: Amazing.

Jeff: Well, before we leave the Egyptians, how were they keeping bees? Were they in the clay tubes? What kind of hive were they using back then?

Gene: The beehive that the ancient Egyptians kept, again, I defined beekeeping as the intentional provision of an artificial cavity within which bees, the queen will produce-- they'll produce comb, the queen lays her eggs and they produce the next generation, produce honey. That's the difference between beekeeping and honey hunting which is just going off and robbing these. We have a 2450 BCE, a wonderful relief at the sun temple of Niuserre, of a fifth dynasty Pharaoh.

The scene that's in here and the originals at the Neues Museum in Berlin, the scene shows all these activities that take place in different times of the year. In the fall of the year, they had the scene where there's a beekeeper next to this wall of tubular hives, as you mentioned, Jeff. These horizontal hives are still used today. There are about 7,000 still in existence in Egypt proper. There used to be millions about 25 years ago, but it sounds quite a bit.

We don't know what the beekeepers are doing because it's destroyed. There's some damage where he's right next to the hives, but it looks like he's got a container and its the hieroglyph that offsets the slack and ore to make a slight noise. Some of the traditional Egyptian beekeepers actually call the queen. You can hear the piping, and that tells them, "Oh, there's more than one queen in here," and they'll go in there and do what they call it-- Essentially what they're doing is artificial swarming. They're going to go in there, and they'll have several queens in one of these hives, take the queen out and some coal from other hives and actually stuff more tubes and get them going again by manipulating the queen.

I find that just amazing because we don't do things like that anymore. They were doing that 4,400 years ago. The next scene that they have there is clearly individuals pouring, what looks like pouring honey. One of the vessels looks like it's a pot but there's a spout at the bottom. It's probably how they got rid of some of the wax for certain. It falls like a fat separator for gravy production where the spout's at the bottom. I did this with some comb honey, I crushed it, put it in a container, just set it in the hot sun.

By 40 minutes later, there was a whole layer of wax at the top and the honey at the bottom. You could decant the honey off from below it. That's a process called experimental archaeology where you try to test old techniques. Of course, you still had this sticky waxy mass on top and the Egyptians probably did the same that they did in ancient Greece and that's put it in water, bring it to a boil and let it cool slowly and all the wax just collected at the top. Very nice. I redid that as well, that works as well.

The next scene is terribly damaged. It just says to squeeze and that's probably further talking. I'll show you about how to separate the wax from honey. The last scene is storing honey, and it shows vessels all being wrapped up and what have you. That's one of four major scenes of beekeeping in ancient Egypt, but it tells us a couple things. One, the first hives were horizontal. They're these tubes, not dissimilar to the hives that were found by my good friend Ami Mazar at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, when he found those hives that dated about 875 BCE, a few years back.

They had, I think, close to about 35, 40 hives in this one bank, the photographs that he showed me at one time, that were for reused primarily for wax production. It looked like they were nearby the copper mine where they were doing copper melting for lost-wax casting. That may have been what the major force there. Of course, honey was a major commodity in ancient Egypt. They didn't have money. They didn't care on coins, they had an idea of value of worth, it was called the deben, and it was the value of vessel made from a piece of copper.

They didn't carry the copper around, but there was a general agreement. A laborer who would work for a bag of grain, and if his overseer didn't have the grain, he'd be given some beer. If he didn't have beer, he'd be given bread, if he didn't give bread, they could give him money. They knew the equivalent value of each one so that no one felt cheated. You got honey, maybe you didn't need honey, but you can go and trade it down the way. It was like this currency which we would find very strange in this country, but it was something that made the society very close knit.

When I lived in Egypt, they didn't have supermarkets. I have been back, as I said, several times, they have them now, but beautiful supermarkets. Where I was living in Minia, I'd walk into the marketplace and there was a woman that sold legs. There was somebody that sold fruit, somebody sold vegetables, I bought my meat at a third place. It was very similar that I had to talk to many people to get my meal for the day. It reinforced that connection of community. We go to the grocery store. We might say some pleasantries to the checkout attendant, but that might be it.


Jeff: You said 30 or 40 colonies. Is that any sense of the size of the apiary since it was a government-run industry?

Gene: Actually, some of the apiaries probably had hundreds of beehives. These things were hollow clay tubes. If they are made like they make them now, they took mud and a straw, laid it out flat and then they rolled it around like a bundle of sticks. There'll be a certain size, let it dry in the sun and they would actually stack these like cordwood and make walls of these. The biggest one I saw had over 400 hives in it.

Jeff: Wow.

Gene: They were stamped with a stamping system that told the beekeeper, this was provided with wax of this season and what have you. It's interesting, as I point out in the question over time, the oldest hive is still being used and that's the horizontal hive. Still happen to use in parts of Egypt but it's also being used in Azerbaijan, in Iran. We find them in the Sudan. We find the horizontal hives hanging from tree in Tanzania. That is the longest serving hive in hive design that's still with us.

Jeff: Wow. They definitely didn't have any concerns about drift if they had a wall of hives like that.

Gene: Apparently not. The bees, I figured out one of the clichés I use is, we sometimes don't let bees be bees.

Jeff: Yes. [laughter]

Gene: They'll figure it out if they're in the wrong place.

Kim: What you just brought up conjures up this-- every time somebody talks about honey, they talk about how long it lasts and it doesn't spoil. They've found honey in tombs in Egypt thousands of years old and it's still good. Is that right?

Gene: I've only seen one sample of honey from a tomb and it looked like tar.


Gene: It wasn't something that I would want necessarily to consume. We do find a number of examples. For example, a lot of tombs will actually have food provided for the deceased. In some cases, that food is coated in honey, if it's like a dried duck or what have you. We also know that they use honey as a medicinal of over 900 pharmaceutical concoctions I read about, half of that had honey as part of the ingredients.

Kim: Wow. Okay.

Gene: A few had beeswax. A lot of the time, the honey was to make it more palatable for people to take. They use it for burns and cuts. The ancient Egyptians were thought to have the finest physicians in the ancient world. In fact, when Persia came in and conquered Egypt, a lot of the physicians were taken back to Persian.

Jeff: Interesting.

Kim: When you hear that the next time from somebody who's talking about honey, you can believe it. It's probably pretty close to being true then, that's interesting. The question of the perfect hive and that was the first book of yours that I ran into back then. What is the perfect hive?

Gene: As you know, I don't want to give away the ending but I think it's been out long enough that the ending's out there. One of the things that I've always admired about beekeepers if you look at the history and, I know both of you are this way, I'm sure, is that we're tinkerers. We're always trying to improve it. We're never satisfied. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't.

I look at the frame wars at the beginning of the previous century where they had the deep frames and the small frames. If it wasn't for some change in the weather, we could have had a very different hive than we have now. The question is, do we actually have it. Would the perfect hive be so inviting to hive beetles? Would the perfect hive be something that would not be ideally suited for the bees?

Think about the theory behind the skeps round. Tree trunks are round. Depending on how it's constructed, it can be relatively cool, it can withstand some of the elements. You may have to replace it every two or three years. In today's money, a typical skep would have cost about $20. We can't buy a hive for $20.

Kim: No, we can't.

Gene: On the other hand, I know all the beekeepers were pretty frugal.


Gene: If you knew how to drive your bees, most people did by the time they stopped using the brimstone and the flaming pit, they would very easily take a pail, set the full skep upside down and the pail with two pieces of wood with nails on each end. They'd raise another empty skep on the side on top, and they start banging the daylights out of the side of the pail. The bees just ran out of there and up into the empty hive and back on the skep and they were done.

There was a small little space that they could-- In my experience, I actually used the skep for a couple of years. I have put in three pieces of comb as a guide on top. We know from Edmund Southerne who was the beekeeper who wrote the first book on English Beekeeping in 1594, in which he talked about skeps. Just dowels, pieces of wood that it would hold this comb at the top and you'd put bees in there and see what they do. A week later, they had not only extend those three but added three more. Within 30 days, they had filled the whole thing.

I often wondered why is it that it took people so long to figure out the bee space. The bees had that figured out pretty well. I wouldn't have expected that I had to pry it off from my bottom board. No, it just lifts off because the bees stopped on their own.

Kim: They had it figured out.

Gene: In answer to your question, I think we're still looking. I think when beekeeping-- First of all, conditions are changing constantly. The whole industry is changing constantly. The fundamental hive if you look at some of the catalogs from 1920, I have seen people's beehives look just like those. We've got the genome of the honeybee. We've got space-age bees living in pre-depression era hives. The question I keep wondering, "Is that really the best hive?"

My hope is to challenge our colleagues to keep thinking out of the box. More and more people are trying things like the flow hive, they're trying the Warre hive, they're trying that beehouse from England, that big plastic thing. It's neat to see that happening.

Kim: We explored some of those on those shows that we did with different kinds of hives, so yes, people are still looking. I think I agree. I don't think they're there yet. Tom Sealy will tell you that hollow trunk of a tree is the perfect hive and I think he may be pretty close there but they're a little difficult to manage.

Gene: I really find that a breath of fresh air when Tom came out to talk about Darwinian beekeeping because we've done every-- If you look at that list, how did the bees evolve in their natural cavities? We've done everything we can to do just the opposite and then we wonder why we're having issues.


Kim: Yes, that's pretty clear. That's pretty clear. You've also done something on dinosaurs. I can see with your bent towards history why you would be interested in dinosaurs, they're no longer here, I don't think.

Gene: Well, birds. You know they're [crosstalk]

Kim: Birds, yes. Why the interest in dinosaurs?

Gene: I hate to be autobiographical but, when I was seven years old, we bought those little boxes. This may have happened with-- Kim, you and I are about the same age. They had six little mini Fritos corn chips bags. They were lunch-size Fritos bags, in '61, '62, and '63 they gave out little dinosaur toys. I remember the first and I still have this. Beekeepers like historians keep a lot of things. I showed it to my mom and I said, "What is this?" She said, "That's a dinosaur." I said, "What is that?" She said, "Look it up."

Kim: Good mom.

Gene: I went to the Google of 1962, the World Book Encyclopedia, and looked it up. I was fascinated, just like all little kids, just got really immersed into dinosaurs. I teach an online class on dinosaur biology. The book I had been using went out of print and in a moment of weakness and a couple of single malt scotches I decided I can write a book that would really serve my-- The first book is your hardest. Kim, you know this is true. The first book is the hardest.

Kim: Yes.

Gene: If you've done one, you think you can do them all. You can use your over time and then, of course, you run into things like ABCs and you wonder, "Why did I do this?" I thought, "Yes, I can do this." So I wrote this book called the Dinosaur Primer which is a fundamental book to let people understand the basics about dinosaur classification, biology, and so on. That's one of the text that we use in my course.

Kim: Insect mythology. Those are two words I don't think I would have ever put together in a sentence until I read about that.

Gene: Insect mythology has been a long-standing interest of mine. Mostly, it has to do with its cultural entomology. Myths tell our history. They tell the stories of our beliefs through time. The book I wrote is co-authored by my good friend, Ron Cherry. He used to teach, he's retired or close to retirement now, at the University of Florida. He and I were grad school together at Illinois. We both had this love of mythology. I just started noticing insects everywhere.

My wife, Jessie, is a jeweler, a silversmith. She has a lot of ancient amulets in her designs but also a lot of bee stuff. She's done things like skep hives and the honeybee hieroglyphs and things like that. Going to art museums with her and her background in art history, I was getting really amazed and fascinated. Then we started looking at insects, and bees are almost everywhere. You go to any art museum. I've actually put together a list. I will send this to Bee Culture. I've had the Beekeeper's Guide to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That's basically where you--

Jeff: That would be fun.

Gene: Go into New York. Your kids or your wife wants to see the Metropolitan Museum of art, you may or may not have the same interest, but if you knew where to look for the bee stuff, you'll see a lot more and really get into it way, way more. I remember the last time I was up in Met. A lot of this is ancient Egyptian stuff. They've got a whole collection of things like a wax figurine, beeswax stuff, and what have you. I remember going up to the second floor and all of a sudden here is somebody that's called The Beekeeper and some guy is sitting on a stool with a big long pipe and he's looking at a skep. It was a painting that was on a special exhibit. I didn't expect it to be there.

When I went to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts the last time, they had a Wyeth exhibit and one of the paintings was of an old German flat top skep with his dog next to it. Of course, the painting was so well done, you could actually decipher how it was assembled. That gave me a lot of insight into how those flat top hives with the spike on the top were made until I had a chance to actually see some more of them when I was in Paris.

Kim: Amazing.

Jeff: Very good.

Kim: Gene, this has been wonderful [chuckles] and amazing. We've talked about cicadas, and dinosaurs, and ancient insects, and lots more stuff. I'm so glad you were able to be with us today. I don't want to wait 10 years to talk to you again, how's that?

Gene: I'd enjoy coming back again. There's a lot of this stuff happening out here that I'm working on and that would be fun to talk about.

Jeff: Very good.

Kim: Okay, all right. Jeff, have we missed anything?

Jeff: I don't think so. Gene, anything you want to say in closing? We will have all your contact information and list of books and everything on our website and in the show notes.

Gene: Sure. It's really not pertinent. I'll just mention this in passing, not so much that the audience wants it, but one of the things I've done recently is I created an app called Cicadas Safari. It's an app where people can go out and go on their own cicadas safari and they see a cicada, they take a picture, and they submit it through the app to our website, and that picture is examined by my colleagues and I, who verify that every picture we get is of a periodical cicada.

I'm happy to tell you that, right now, we have received 194,000 downloads, and 564,000 photographs, over a half a million photographs just this year. What was more exciting is we've already looked at all half-- all of them have been checked out.

Kim: Amazing.

Gene: That's all been in the last six weeks.

Jeff: Yes, that's short period of time.

Kim: Jeff, we got to get-- how to get that app on the webpage.

Jeff: We'll have that in our show notes and then on the website.

Gene: It'll pop up, by the time this airs, the cicadas may be done, but there'll be more coming out in 2024 and 2025.

Jeff: Okay. Explore.

Kim: Gene, again, thank you for your time and all of this. I'm just going to have to sit down and digest it for a week or two.

Gene: It's been fun.

Kim: Yes, it is.

Jeff: Thank you. We look forward to having you back.

Gene: Thank you, you too. You all stay healthy and hope the bees will do well for you.

Jeff: You bet.

Gene: I will say that day before I went out mapping cicadas, I was stopped by research Ivan, I installed the new package in a couple of weeks earlier and I had to see how they were doing. I've been mixing beekeeping into my cicadas quite a bit.

Kim: That's good. Thanks again, Gene.

Gene: Thank you.

Gene: Appreciate it.

Jeff: Have a good day. Bye, bye. Happy to have Gene on the show. You know, we should have had him at the beginning of our hive types series. What a wealth of information.

Kim: That would have been a good idea. This was pretty amazing. He's got his fingers in an amazing number of pots he's got going on. I was just fascinated listening to him. I've known him for quite a few years since he came out with his in search of the perfect hive book is when I got to know him, but I didn't know anything about his interest in cicadas then. I knew a little bit about his work in Egypt and some of that, but it was good to have him here today. I hope people enjoy it.

Jeff: Well, you wouldn't have known about his work in cicadas unless you hit him on that 17th year somewhere along the line.

Kim: Yes. I was particularly interested in his work with the mythology of entomology insects, and how they tell the culture. I had never thought of that, insect mythology, two words. Like I said, that were two words that I would have never put in the same sentence.

Jeff: Mythology here of unicorns and flying horses or whatever, but it's never the insects. That's interesting. My ears definitely perked up when he talked about going back to Egypt and doing archaeological travels and exploration of beekeeping in ancient Egypt and I was saying, "Boy, that would be fun to go to."

Kim: It would be good. I'd like to just ride around with him for a while. I think that'd be fun.

Jeff: Maybe we can get the podcast to fly us out to Egypt with him and report from the ground.

Kim: Yes, there's a good chance that's not going to happen.


Jeff: Definite a chance that won't happen.

Kim: But you know, the thing, the age old question, the honey they found in an ancient pyramid in Egypt after thousands of years was still honey. In fact, it's happened several times. I guess when people are talking about honey, not talking about honey lasting forever, they're pretty close too, right.

Jeff: Yes. That was really interesting to hear directly.

Kim: I think we're done here. Jeff, it has been a good day.

Jeff: It is. Wraps up this episode. It's been a fun one. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple Podcasts wherever you download and stream the show. Your vote helps other beekeepers find us quicker. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you like. You can get there directly from our website by clicking on reviews along the top of any web page.

As always, we thank Bee Culture the magazine for American beekeeping for their continued support of The Beekeeping Today Podcast. We want to thank our regular episode sponsor Global Patties, check them out at We also want to thank Strong Microbials for their support of the podcast. Check out their full probiotic line at We want to thank BetterBee for joining us as a supporter. Check out all the great beekeeping supplies at

Finally and most importantly, we want to thank you, The beekeeping Today Podcast listener, for joining us on this show. Feel free to send us questions and comments at questions@beekeepingtodaypodcast. We'd love to hear from you. Anything else, Kim?

Kim: I think that about wraps it up, Jeff.

Jeff: It's been a good show. All right. I feel like I should go watch Indiana Jones and with a different perspective.

Kim: [laughs] Okay.

Jeff: Take care. Thanks, everybody.

[00:55:36] [END OF AUDIO]

Dr. Gene KritskyProfile Photo

Dr. Gene Kritsky

Dean, School of Behavioral and Natural Sciences, Author

Dr. Gene Kritsky received is BA in Biology from Indiana University in 1974, and his MS and PhD in Entomology from the University of Illinois in 1976 and 1977 respectively. He is currently the Dean of the School of Behavioral and Natural Sciences and Professor of Biology at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati.

Kritsky, a native of North Dakota, has been teaching at the college level for 44 years, lecturing on various subjects including entomology, evolution, zoology, general biology, paleobiology, and the history of science. He was named as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1996 and was a Fulbright Scholar to Egypt in 1981-2.

His research has attracted national attention with appearances on the ABC Evening News, CBS Evening News, the Today Show, CBS Sunday Morning, and CNN News Day. His work has also been featured in USA Today, People, Discover, Scientific American, The New York Times, Washington Post, Science News, The Scientist, and many international publications.

Kritsky has published over 250 papers and 10 books, including two books on honey bees. His book, The Quest for the Perfect Hive, was nominated for the Ohioana award for the best non-fiction book by an Ohio author, and his 2015 book, The Tears of Re: Beekeeping in Ancient Egypt was a number 1 best seller for Egyptology on Dr. Kritsky served for 15 years as the editor of American Entomologist, published by the Entomological Society of America. His most recent book, Periodical Cicadas: The Brood X Edition was published in March 2021 by the Ohio Biological Survey.