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May 31, 2021

The Art of the Bee & Honey Bee Genetics with Dr. Rob Page (S3, E53)

Today, we invite Dr. Robert E. Page, Jr.  to the podcast to talk about his research on honey bee genetics and his new book, The Art Of The Bee. Shaping the environment from Landscapes to Societies. Rob is an Emeritus professor at both Arizona...

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Rob PageToday, we invite Dr. Robert E. Page, Jr.  to the podcast to talk about his research on honey bee genetics and his new book, The Art Of The Bee. Shaping the environment from Landscapes to Societies.

Rob is an Emeritus professor at both Arizona State University and The University of California, Davis. He has published hundreds of research papers, and he is the author of two other books. And he is the recipient of numerous awards, fellowships and recognitions from institutions around the world.

Rob Page is a geneticist and has studied the workings of honey bee genetics his whole career. He has perfected instrumental insemination of queen honey bees, studied the physiology and anatomy of natural mating of a honey bee drone and a queen, and the distribution of millions of sperm cells inside a queen when on a mating flight and hooks up with multiple drones. His work at selecting for certain behaviors is extraordinary as is his ability to organize and define his works of science, graduate level leadership and University organization.

All of this comes into play in this book. The way honey bees actively groom their environment to fit their needs, paint their colony lives to best fit their environment, and still more about the evolution of social life in a honey bee society.

Best of all, it is written in a style that is almost unscientific. It is down home in style and entertaining in content. He explains in detail the parallels between a honey bee society and our human society.

Listen today as Dr. Page talks about all this and more!


Links and websites mentioned in this podcast:

Honey Bee Obscura


We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of today's episode. BetterBee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customerBetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, BetterBee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at

Thanks to Strong Microbials for their support of Beekeeping TodayStrong MicrobialsPodcast. Find out more about heir line of probiotics in our Season 3, Episode 12 episode and from their website:

This episode is brought to you by Global Patties! Global Patties is a family business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honey bees. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will helpGlobal Pattiesensure that they produce strong and health colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Global offers a variety of standard patties, as well as custom patties to meet your specific needs. Visit them today at and let them know you appreciate them sponsoring this episode! 

We want to also thank 2 Million Blossoms as a sponsor of the podcast. 2 Million Blossoms is a quarterly magazine destined for2 Million Blossomsyour coffee table. Each page of the magazine is dedicated to the stories and photos of all pollinators and written by leading researchers, photographers and our very own, Kim Flottum.


We hope you enjoy this podcast and welcome your questions and comments:

Thanks to Bee Culture, the Magazine of American Beekeeping, for their support of The Beekeeping Today Podcast. Available in print and digital at

Bee Culture Magazine

Thank you for listening! 

Podcast music: Young Presidents, "Be Strong"; Musicalman, "Epilogue". Original guitar background instrumental by Jeff Ott

Beekeeping Today Podcast is an audio production of Growing Planet Media, LLC

Growing Planet Media, LLC


S2, E53 – The Art of the Bee & Honey Bee Genetics with Dr. Rob Page


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.

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Jeff:Thanks, Sherry. Hey, everybody. Thanks a lot for joining us. 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 to sponsor 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 us at number two.

Also, check out the new 2 Million Blossoms podcast also available from our website or from wherever you download and stream your podcast. Hey Kim, happy Memorial Day, you got those steaks on the barbecue?

Kim:Just waiting for me to get back to them.

Jeff:Well, it is Memorial Day and we do want to send our appreciation and thanks to all of our veterans and current servicemen and women and their families for their sacrifice and service.

Kim:I've still got family members in the service. One of them is dealing with the Afghanistan mess at the moment.

Jeff:Oh my. Well, I've had a great time this three-day weekend, and I've gotten a chance to get out into my bees. The weather's been good here. The nucs that I got a few weeks ago, they're all doing really strong. The one winter colony that I had, I was trying to nurse along and trying to figure out how to get it up to strength, at least get it into the summer, it's been robbed out.

I've been really happy that you and Jim did that episode on robbing. It's tough to see, but I'm glad that you guys had that episode.

Kim:Robbing in the beehive can be ugly. It can be dangerous. Preventing it, of course, is always the first mode of action but stopping it is the second. Knowing how to stop it fast can save a lot of bees and you a lot of trouble.

Jeff:Yes, I keep feeling bad about it, but then I figured, well, if it happened to you and Jim [chuckles] then it tempers the sad feelings of being a bad beekeeper. [chuckles]

Kim:Neither of us are bad beekeepers, but both of us get distracted too easily and don't do due diligence when it comes to taking care of them so that's my excuse that I'm sticking to it.

Jeff:[chuckles] Do you mind if I use that, do you?

Kim:Not a bit.

Jeff:[chuckles] Thanks. Hey, this is out to our listeners, we started to post transcripts of each episode. Now, we're not going back through the catalog of episodes out there, but we started a couple of episodes ago posting transcripts.

We hope this is useful for beekeepers who might be hearing impaired or like the assistance or enjoy the possibility or the feature of reading a podcast as you listen to it.

We'd be interested in any feedback on the transcripts. Are they as useful as we think they are? Do you know beekeepers who are now able to benefit from listening or reading along to the podcast? We'd be interested to know what you think.

Kim:The other advantage of having a transcript, Jeff, is the fact that I can go back and read carefully what was said to make sure that I understood it, because sometimes things go pretty fast. If you want to go back and listen to the podcast, "Well, where was it? Is it the four-minute mark or the seven-minute mark? Where was it?"

With a typed-out copy, you can skim it and find that fast and then read it a couple of times to make sure you understand it.

Kathy listens to a number of podcasts. She has found that useful, as have other people that I know. If you missed something during the show, print out the transcription and you can go back, and then you got a hard copy of it, you don't have to go back and listen. You can just keep it for yourself.

Jeff:Well, we'd be interested in hearing from you the listeners whether you find them useful or if you know other beekeepers who find them useful. We're starting to produce them on Beekeeping Today Podcast and also on Honey Bee Obscura. Speaking of Honey Bee Obscura Kim, how's Honey Bee Obscura coming along, the podcast?

Kim:Honey Bee Obscura, we're doing fun. We've come up with some questions about each other and I don't know if you listen to Stephen Colbert, the show at night, but he has a way of questioning people that is somewhat different than you might suspect.

His question might be apples, bananas and that we approach things some of the topics that we've studied from that perspective is given a choice and then explain why that choice. We cover a lot of ground in a hurry doing that. It's been fun. We've gotten through some of the easy ones. We're getting a little harder now.

Jeff:Is that something like queen excluder, no queen excluder? It means something-


Jeff:-like that. All right.

Kim:Yes, exactly.

Jeff:Oh boy, Well, you could really throw some little bombs into that too.

Kim:Yes, we could. [laughs]

Jeff:Natural beekeeping or not?

Kim:Yes, exactly.

Jeff:That's really good. I look forward to that. I was looking at the schedule, I think that's coming out here in the coming week if I saw that correctly. Everybody check out the Honey Bee Obscura with Kim and Jim and see what you think of the questions.

Finally, before we get to our episode here with Rob Page, a couple of weeks ago, we did have our secret message at the end of the podcast and those mugs are going out. You got yours out, didn't you Kim?

Kim:I did, yes.

Jeff:I got some out. There's a couple of people that have not yet sent me their mailing address. If you get those to me, you know who you are, then I will get you your mugs otherwise, we'll find the next two people on the list and send them.

All right, so Kim our guest today is Rob Page. Don't you have some history with him?

Kim:I've known Rob Page a long time. When he graduated, he for a while worked at the Baton Rouge Bee Lab. When he left there, he came up to the Madison Bee Lab. He and I were there at the same time. That's where he developed some of his close mating procedures and he worked at some other projects. I got to know him a little bit. It was interesting-- he's one of those really, really, really smart people.

Sometimes we worked very close together on some things just because he knew so much more. He went from Madison, then he went to California and then ended up in Arizona. He worked with Kirsten. Kirsten was one of his graduate students there. He's been around a long time.

I want to say this is his third book. He did one on with Harry Laidlaw on queen rearing and then a second edition of that one. This one is way different. The book that we're going to talk about today is way different than his queen rearing book.

Here's what I want to do. I want to read you a sentence. Mark Winston, who you probably know or know of summed up this book really well and how Rob approached it. He said, "Rob's journey into the hive stimulates and inspires us to ponder our own place in nature and within our human societies."

That's exactly what this book does. It explores how bees and people are alike, and how they're not alike, but be prepared to take a while to read this book. It's fun to read. He's got a nice, I'm going to say almost humorous style, but it's deep.

You'll need to spend some time figuring out what he's talking about, but when you do, it opens up a whole level of bees and people that you haven't seen before.

Jeff:Oh fantastic, well, I look forward to finishing my copy and looking forward to talking to Rob here in just a few moments, but first, a quick word from our friends at Strong Microbials.


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Jeff:While you're visiting Strong Microbials, make sure you sign up for their newsletter, The Hive. Hey, welcome back, everybody. Sitting across the virtual table right now is Dr. Rob Page. Rob, welcome to Beekeeping TodayPodcast.

Dr. Page:Well, thank you for inviting me.

Kim:It's been a long time, Rob. How long has it been since we were doing bees in Madison?

Dr. Page:It must've been since about '85.

Kim:About '80.

Dr. Page:'80?


Dr. Page:Well, it was before I went to Ohio State. I went there in 86.

Kim:You and Harp. That was that as a nice team to watch. You guys looked like you worked well together. I don't know how you got along with him, how well you got along, but you guys worked well together.

Dr. Page:It was easy to work with him. He had so much knowledge and he was always trying to show me important things such as what happens when you bang a lid on top of the hive and the bees start stinging me. He loved to do that.

Jeff:Well, it sounds like a great friend.

Dr. Page:Of course, I was a newfer, so I had to earn my stripes.

Kim:Jeff, just for a little background. Rob and I worked at the USDA Honey Bee Research Lab in Madison, Rob was a visiting scientist and I was a gofer. I don't know you were there what? About three years?

Dr. Page:Three to four years.


Dr. Page:Something in there.

Kim:You did a lot of work there on your close population mating, right?

Dr. Page:Yes, I did. I did a lot of work on building the models and the concept and that was a very fruitful time. I was very proud to be at the North-central Apicultural Research Lab with all the history that it had had. For me, it was a great honor to be there doing stuff associated with honeybee breeding.

Kim:I was there because I could grow soybeans.

Dr. Page:That's right. You were doing your master's degree.

Jeff:Rob, you have a big history and background in bee and bee research, but one of the things I found fascinating and we were talking a little bit just prior to recording is your work on decoding the honeybee genome.

Can you just real briefly touch on what's the significance of that and maybe a little bit of how you accomplished it?

Dr. Page:Well, my own personal interest in the honeybee genome was I was trying to understand complex behavior in honeybees. I took on studying the amount of pollen stored in the comb as a phenotype.

That's what you actually observe when you're looking at organisms. They have a genotype and then the genotype plus the environment that they're in produces the phenotype that you see. Like you're seeing me and this is my phenotype at 71 years old. I have a genotype inside of me that codes for certain things.

Then this is the result of lots and lots and lots of biological interactions at very many different levels from the genes themselves inside of the cells that are making proteins and then the cells make collective tissues that go with organs that may be sensing flower odors or whatever, which then go into the brain, which then integrate some filters on and then results in responses back to the motor system and the bees fly.

Then the next level of organization and all of this stuff is the way that they interact. They dance on the combs and they recruit new recruits and they feed larvae and they get chemical signals from each other.

This is all part of that big social milieu that we look at that results in how much pollen they store in the comb or how much honey they store the comb. I wanted to understand it at all those different levels.

Then the gene level was certainly the ultimate target level so that we could reconstruct across these levels of biological organization how the DNA inside of a cell becomes 50 square inches of pollen stored in a comb.

That's why I eventually got down to working on the genome project, which was spearheaded by Gene Robinson, University of Illinois, who was my first post-doc when I was at Ohio state.

Gene did a remarkable job of doing all the political organization and everything that went in to getting this genome done so that we could then start looking for genes that had effects that could be of importance to us.

Me as a behaviorist trying to breed traits into bees that make them more viable commercially, to make them more gentle to handle, dealing with disease resistance. It was a very important thing to get done.

As a matter of fact, because of Gene's efforts, it was the third animal in line of all the sequencing that was done many years ago, it got to the top of the list.

It was also involving some beekeepers, who were directly involved. The Weavers in Texas were directly involved because Danny Weaver actually has a degree in molecular biology, I think from Berkeley. He was very active in getting all the politics laid out and the coordination with the labs that were doing the sequencing.

It was a wonderful effort. It was a collective effort between beekeeping and industry and academics and the federal government to get it done.

Jeff:Wow. What a coordination effort that would have been.

Dr. Page:It was major. It was a very, very significant coordinated effort to get it done.

Kim:Just listening to how you organize it was complex, Rob.

Dr. Page:Organized switch. The organization of the genome project was Danny Weaver and Gene Robinson. That was the partnership that really did it and pushed it. You don't want too many cooks in the kitchen one time. They knew how to do it and they brought it together.

Jeff:Is the full honeybee genome mapped now?

Dr. Page:It's mapped. I was just yesterday looking at some of the sequence and I had a problem I was trying to solve, an old problem coming back. For some reason I was looking at it again, but it's been through many revisions and people add to it, and then it gets reassembled and it's done to the extent that it's very usable, but it may never get completely done.

Because it's a huge thing. We still have gaps, but most of the important stuff has been found and is in it.

Jeff:Very interesting. I remember when that was announced and it was pretty significant and holds true today.

Dr. Page:Yes. It does.

Jeff:Thank you.

Kim:Well, Jeff, you know that Rob's done over the years a couple of books. We would want to talk to him today about his latest, but he did one with a Harry Laidlaw, Queen Rearing and Bee breeding. I think there's two editions of that, Rob?

Dr. Page:There's only one. We're working diligently on the second. Not Harry and me because Harry has been dead a long time, but we're working diligently right now on the revision.

I've got Kirsten Traynor. Many of you know Kirsten. She was my final graduate student at Arizona State University. She's an excellent, superb writer and editor and photographer. We're working together. I've invited her in to be another author.

There'll still be Laidlaw on pages, and we'll have Traynor on there too. We're redoing all the pictures in color to try to update it a little bit and going back through, there's things in there that were recommendations in 1920 that have changed.

We're updating it and we want to get something else out there. It was published in 1997. For some time now I've felt a little bit embarrassed about it. It still sells. It still sells pretty well, but it's out of date. It needs to be updated and we're working hard to try to get it done. By the end of this summer, maybe.

Kim:Well, your second book, then Rob, The Spirit of the Hive, which came out in 2013 I must say, vastly different thanQueen Rearing.

Dr. Page:Yes, that book was you're starting to get near the end of your career, and you look back, and you say, "How do all the dots connect? What was I doing for the last 30 years?" That book was that.

I mean, I really spent 30 years doing almost just one thing, and I was really focused. Most researchers work on a lot of different things, but I was really focused on this one question. I did a lot of different things. I did things in population genetics, looking at how genes and populations change due to selection, but yet, they were all connected together.

This was a book that connected the dots for me of all the different kinds of research I did. From when I was at Wisconsin, and all through my career.

This is a book that's built in stratified layers and they're layers of time in my life. They're things that I went through and how they stratified, but they were all really working towards one goal, and that was to understand complex social behavior for foraging in bees, and that was it, but all those other parts of it were things that built up to it.

I wanted the story to be a story of discovery. How one thing led to the next, to the next to-- I mean, I didn't have a plan 30 years ago, when I was in Wisconsin, about where this was going to go, but I had a question that I was working on. Each time you got something done it led to the next thing and the next thing.

It was also a story about science as a community. Students, postdocs that worked with me and for me, and then I mean, I have students who have students who were working on these projects. It was showing this community, how this community works together. That was my goal.

Kim:Well, you've just come out with another one, and it's called The Art of the Bee. I've been through it a couple of times, but explain to our audience,The Art of the Bee.

Dr. Page:Yes, The Art of the Bee came to me, there's a couple of things converged. When I was Provost of the university at Arizona State University, one of the things that I was really disappointed in was how we teach science to non-science majors.

These young people come in from high school, and they know they have to take a certain number of science courses. They'll take the introductory biology course, they'll take the introductory geology course, maybe or the introductory course in chemistry.

Those courses were mostly just learning vocabulary. You spend the semester and you learn the vocabulary for physics or whatever. I didn't like that particular approach.

Then I looked at textbooks and textbooks themselves are based on stratified layers of organization. The beginning of a biology textbook, you're starting off with the taxonomic classification of animals, and then you move into the distribution of animals on earth and ecology. I really thought that there was a better way of doing it.

One of the things that motivated me was to write a book that someone could read that was more like my view of how I thought introductory science should be taught to non-scientists.

The other thing that motivated me to do the book was I had read some of the works of Alexander von Humboldt. Von Humboldt was an explorer, naturalist, and from 1799 to 1804, he explored Northern South America and he went into Mexico, and he documented everything he saw.

He was really what they call a polymath. He knew a lot about everything. He studied geography, he studied geology, he studied the ionization of the atmosphere and atmospheric pressures, he defined ecological systems, he climbed the highest peak in the Andes. Nobody had been up there before to actually do measurements of the temperature and the air pressure.

Anyway, so he brought all this together, and also he studied the Native Americans that were living there, the indigenous people. He had this view of the world that integrated all these things together, and he wrote that way.

When you went and you read his books, his travelogue, and whatnot, you saw that in any one paragraph, he could be talking about the indigenous people, he could be talking about air pressure and how it changes as you go up in elevation, and he'd be talking about how if you go up a mountain, and you see the changes in the kinds of plants that are up going up a mountain is the same as if you went from the equator north in latitude.

He said, "Gee, there's communities of these things that work together." That's how he wrote, he blended it all together.

I wanted to do something like that. I wanted to write something that an educated person of any-- high school education, whatever, but who had an interest and a passion about bees could learn something that has a lot of facts in it, a lot of factual information but built around an interesting theme.

That's how I went about writing the book. The different chapters are interesting central themes. Within a chapter, you're going to learn a little bit of a lot of different kinds of things about honeybee biology behavior.

Kim:Actually, you summed that up for me quite well, because it all came together when you just explained it because I'm not going to say it was difficult to read, but without that explanation, it wasn't quite as clear to me as it is now.

I can see how you built it, I think that's how you look at it, you built it that way.

Dr. Page:Typically, books have a hierarchical construct to them. I mean books that are anything other than novels, they don't tend to be hierarchical, but books that are educational, that are scientific books, or academic books, they have a hierarchical structure.

I threw that out, I said, I'm not going to do that. Then I started finding myself making these detailed outlines. Then I found out when I look at the outlines, outlines, you have an A and a B, and then you have a one and a two and a little b, little c there it just reconstruct its.

I threw it out. I just had some notes, and I forced myself, which was really hard for a scientist, because we think in a very organized way, and we write scientific papers in a very organized way. I threw it out, and I had just general notes of where I wanted to go, and I tried to write it that way.

I succeeded better in some places than in others. Sometimes, I also brought in a lot of personal stories and things because that's still all part of science. There's a sociology of science.

Jeff:I bet your publisher had fun with this.


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Dr. Page:I'll tell you something remarkable. Well, I sent it to one academic publisher first. They came back, and they said oh, they want to change this. They want to change that, and they really want me to make it more about this or that, and I thought about I said no, that's not the book I want to write.

That's the book I didn't want to write. I sent it to Oxford University Press, and they took it as is.

Kim:Wow. Well, that's good. They were wise enough to see the goal that you had in mind.

Dr. Page:They got it. They wrote me back, and they understood that it was different, and they got it. I mean all I had on it was your typical copy editing was done on it, but they didn't ask me to change one thing.

Kim:Very interesting. Well, I've got some questions that I'd like you to spread out for me a little bit. The biggest one of course is the evolution of the superorganism. Therein lies for me-- That was, to me, the most interesting piece of this book.

Jeff:The whole concept of superorganism is really fascinating.

Dr. Page:The superorganism concept has been out there for a long time in different forms. I don't even want to sit around and talk about what is a superorganism in its strict definition because you'll find definitions of a lot of superorganisms that are so narrowly defined. That bees are not superorganisms.

There's only maybe one group of ants that are or you have others that everything's a superorganism, Earth is a superorganism because it's got this integrated biology. I don't get into that.

To me, a superorganism is something that is organized for reproduction, defense and nutrition in some way that's composed of other organisms, but they're organized in such a way that they share all of that.

A honeybee society would be a superorganism because it's organized with respect to reproduction through the queen, centralized. It's organized for defense, it's organized for nutrition. When you look at the functioning of it, you can make an analogy, you can say, "The bees themselves are like the cells of a body. The queen is like the germline, the reproductive tissues."

You can build these analogies. The simple fact is that they're organized around these three things and function collectively towards those ends. The superorganism is a concept that I think fits very much in a fascination when you look at honeybees and the way that they behave as a collective.

I had one chapter is about the superorganism and I go in and talk about its origins, where it came from, the people who are really important for developing the concept itself.

Also, I think I have a brief bit in there where I cast the honeybee colony, the society of the honeybee, how it fits this superorganism concept that has been used for a long time.

Then, the next chapter I get into about how do they evolve. You've got this fundamental problem. If you want to look at Darwinian evolution, what it requires is that there'll be reproductive individuals in a population that have different characteristics. Those that have some characteristics out-survive and out-reproduce those that have the alternative characteristics.

It comes back to personal reproduction. If you don't reproduce, it can't evolve. How do you evolve these traits where some individuals don't reproduce at all? Then, not only do you have some individuals don't reproduce at all, but those that don't reproduce, they actually themselves are differentiated into doing different things like the different tasks that they perform.

In ants, in the same colony you have individuals that don't reproduce, and some of them are great, big giant soldier ants, and others are little teeny tiny minims. How do you get that complex structure to evolve? That's what that chapter is about.

I use pollen hoarding in honeybees as an example, because there I can show how selection on a social trait-- the amount of pollen stored in the comb is a social trait, selection on that social trait, change things at very many different levels of organization.

It changed the signaling of larvae to the nurse bees with respect to how much food they get fed and those larval signals affect foragers who go out and make decisions whether they collect pollen or collect nectar.

My selection changed that signaling system. It changed the perception of individual bees with respect to, "How much pollen do we need versus how much we have?"

Some of the bees ended up they walked around in the hive and they say, "Oh, gosh. We have more pollen than we need, and we're not going to collect anymore." The others walked around in the hive and they say, "We don't have enough. We're going to collect some more."

It changed their reproductive physiology in the workers. You remember, worker bees can reproduce. They do have ovaries. That reproductive system of theirs is actually used by the bees to determine if they're going to be foraging for pollen or foraging for nectar.

It changed that system as well to where-- Like my high-strain bees that I selected for high pollen hoarding, they have a physiology of their reproductive system that favors collecting more protein.

Whereas my low-strain bees that I selected who collect less pollen, their reproductive physiologies have been changed to where they collect less protein.

All those different levels changed the consequence of this selection. I selected for one thing, and I changed everything all the way down to the genes. I call this reverse engineering.

When my book went out for peer review, one of the reviewers came back and said, "Why didn't Rob talk more about humans and draw parallels, this superorganism and all the-- Why didn't he draw parallels with humans?"

I sat around and I thought about it, and I thought that I had selected on what could be considered the economy of the hive, the proportions of pollen versus honey that's produced or stored. That's the economy of the hive, I affected that and my high-strain bees collected enormous amounts of pollen and my low-strain bees collect a lot less.

What I did is I reverse-engineered the entire social structure of the nest. I selected on the economy and I reverse-engineered the social structure. I reverse-engineered the physiology of the individual worker-bees, the things that they were sensitive to, the cues they were tuning into to determine what they foraged for.

In a sense, we do the same. Selection on our economy reverse-engineers a lot of our social structures. I think we're going through it right now. Look at the pandemic we're going through. The pandemic was a case of a pathogen that disrupted our economic system, which then ended up reverse-engineering our social system to where we're doing a lot of things differently today in our behavior and in our social behavior than we did before.

Kim:Interesting comparison. I see where it comes from. How neat. I'm just going to take this thing out of context for a minute.

You had a place in there where you were comparing-- I guess it was the chapter that was dealing with altruism and you compared the society of bees to the preamble of the Constitution.

Dr. Page:When you look at political philosophy, when we decided to become a republic, or we as individuals decided to join into a republic and live within a republic, there are certain principles or certain things that we bought into.

First of all is we gave up, what are called, your natural rights. We are no longer supposed to live totally selfishly. Our personal rights, our reproduction, protection, nutrition, these are things that are personal rights to us. We have power and will. We have power associated with accumulating and maintaining those for ourselves. We have the will to do it.

But according to political philosophy, when we join a republic and live in a republic, we give up our personal will and we give up our personal power. We relinquish it to the state.

Now our Constitution spells what we get in return, particularly the Bill of Rights. We give up-- I'm not going to stand at the border of my property with my gun and I'm shooting at my neighbors if they get too close to my house because I gave up that particular protective power, and I've given it instead to this republic, the state that I belong to.

In return, for me giving that up and obeying their laws, they're going to be defending it for me. They're going to be protecting those things for myself.

When you look at social insects, they've done the same thing. If you look at a honeybee colony, the individual worker, she has no will of her own. The will is the collective will of the colony, so to speak. All of her powers are directed towards working for the nutrition, the defense, and the reproduction of the colony as a whole, not for herself.

She's not out there looking to lay her own eggs, storing food in cells just for her to go back and feed out of herself. You see these parallels and in the end, if you really look at it, no society will survive unless they adapt tacitly those very principles.

Political philosophers, they look at all of this and they say that these are the fundamental principles of social living, that these are the guarantees that have to be in place or it won't work. It's the social contract that's made between the individual and the state.

Bees do the same thing. It's not a written contract. It's not written out on a piece of beautifully scripted parchment like our Bill of Rights or our Constitution is written out on, it's written in their DNA. But it's there. It's been etched in it over millions of years by natural selection.

Kim:It makes looking at those bees in the box in the backyard vastly different now, as you're explaining it.

I liked the way that you've said it in the beginning. You have a little bit of a lot of things in every chapter and we're running a little bit late.

One more thing, The Song of The Queen, and then we'll have to go, but tell me a little bit about The Song of The Queen.

Dr. Page:Well, that was my most fun chapter. I enjoyed doing that. The history of that comes back to it was the early 1950s. E.D. White wrote a poem. It was called The Song of the Queen Bee. It was a poem about the queen and there she goes, and she flies through the air. She mates with anybody she wants and she's happy, go lucky.

Then it comes down and talks about, "Oh, but there's these terrible geneticists who are trying to instrumentally inseminate her and take all that away." It was a response to Harry Laidlaw.


Harry had figured out the problem that had taken place or existed in inseminating queens. They'd been trying to do this for a long, long time, but he finally figured out that the bowel fold was blocking it.

That opened up this whole thing to, I think it was the Atlantic Monthly that it was published in. Anyway, that opened up instrumental insemination. E.D. White wrote this poem talking about, bemoaning these old geneticists that are taking away this.

I started thinking about the song of the queen. The song of the queen is orchestrated in many different ways. It's orchestrated through the sounds, the piping, and the tuning, and the whirl of the wings as they push the queen out to go on a mating flight and the popping sounds of the drones ejaculating in the air and drum beats falling to the ground. I just had fun.

In the meantime, I'm telling you about drone congregating areas and where they came from and how do they make a queen and the communication system between the larvae and the nurse fees. That's part of the song. It's a song that sung with chemicals.

I talk about the different chemicals that are used and how they respond to them. That was fun. That was the most fun chapter for me to write. It was just a lark and it didn't fit anywhere. If you noticed, Kim when you read my book, it was just at the end. I tried to stretch it to put it in.

Kim:I thought it fit because the rest of the book is-- I don't have a good word. It fit because the rest of the book is very similar in terms of how each chapter is structured. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed reading it probably even more than you enjoyed writing it.

Rob, the book is The Art of the Bee and where can I get it?

Dr. Page:Oxford University Press.

Kim:Amazon, I'm sure.

Dr. Page:Oh, yes. Amazon. Sure. Amazon sells it. You can get it directly from Oxford University Press.

Kim:Well, Rob, this has been fun. It's been too long since we've had a chance to chat and we'll definitely do it again when you write your next book. Is that okay?

Dr. Page:That sounds good to me.

Jeff:Look forward to having you back on when you do have that next release of the next book, Rob.

Dr. Page:Well, thank you.

Kim:Thanks, Rob. Take care.

Jeff:Thanks for joining us.

Dr. Page:You too.

Jeff:I really enjoyed having him. I say that all the time. I enjoy all our guests, but it was really fun having Rob on the podcast and to find out that I know I probably was told this at some point, but to have that connection with Kirsten too, it brings Beekeeping Today and Kirsten and Rob Page and you, boy, it's a big circle, isn't it?

Kim:Well, he said it was a community.

Jeff:That's so cool.

Kim:He certainly points it out. Kirsten is a student for him. He and I working together at the Madison Lab a lot of years ago and now we all come together on a podcast. That's pretty cool.

I got to tell you reading that book was, what's the word I want to use here? Reading that book? It wasn't a challenge, but it made me think about so many things that after three pages I had to rest. It's a delight to read and the last chapter, The Song of The Queen is just a song. That's what it is. You can tell he had fun writing it.

Jeff:It's definitely a heavy book. It's not your typical beekeeping book in my opinion.

Kim:No, but beekeepers are going to recognize everything in there, just from a different perspective. The perspective of the superorganism, if you will, but how all the parts are connected.

Like I said, it's just not bees in a box in the backyard anymore.

Jeff:No, it's not. I encourage everybody to get out and look up Robert E. Page Jr. The Art of the Bee: Shaping the Environment from Landscapes to Societies. It's a good book. I'm glad that he was on.

Well, that about wraps it up. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple Podcast or 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 webpage.

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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 and questions atBeekeeping Today Podcast. We'd love to hear from you. Anything else, Kim?

Kim:I think that wraps it up. I need a rest.

Jeff:There you go.

Kim:Thanks, Jeff. Take care.

Jeff:Bye-bye everybody.


[00:47:51] [END OF AUDIO]


Dr. Robert E. PageProfile Photo

Dr. Robert E. Page

Author, Professor Emeritus, Geneticist

Professor Emeritus Robert Page joined Arizona State University in 2004, after retiring as Professor and Chair Emeritus at the University of California Davis, to be founding director of the School of Life Sciences. He served as provost of Arizona State University (2013-2015) and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (2011-2013).

His research on honey bee behavior and genetics is outlined in his publications:
- “Queen Rearing and Bee Breeding” (1997, with Harry H. Laidlaw),
- "The Spirit of the Hive,” Harvard University Press (2013) and
- "The Art of the Bee", Oxford University Press (2020)

His 230+ research papers have been cited more than 20,000+ times. He is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Brazilian Academy of Science, Leopoldina - the German National Academy of Science, and the California Academy of Science. He was awarded the Humboldt Research Prize, is an elected Fellow of the Entomological Society of America, and recipient of the both the Eastern and Western Apicultural Society Research Awards.

Professor Page retired in 2019.