Adrian Wenner

Dr. Adrian Wenner with a beehive

Dr. Adrian Wenner with a beehive

Adrian Wenner, Professor Emeritus (Natural History) at the University of California, Santa Barbara, still continues research and writing on the subject of bee biology, as well as several other topics. He began his career with a 1940s stint as an electronics technician in the U.S. Navy. While completing a mathematics degree in college, he worked several years with honey bees under the mentorship of his commercial beekeeping uncles, Clarence and Leo Wenner.

Adrian completed a new major in biology at Chico State University and went on to the University of Michigan for his doctorate. While there he was the first to discover the sounds made by bees during their waggle dance and pursued that lead for his dissertation. During later research, while teaching at the University of California in Santa Barbara, he and co-workers obtained experimental evidence sharply at variance with expectations of the dance language hypothesis. They eventually gained sufficient experimental evidence to conclude that a 1937 von Frisch hypothesis (that searching bees rely solely on odor and not on some sort of “language”) could better explain honey bee recruitment to food crops – as well as the means by which swarms move.

Unfortunately, the publication of the experimental results that countered the dance language hypothesis generated intense hostility in the scientific community. The adverse reaction of the bee research community made it no longer possible for them to either publish in journals or to reply in print to those who challenged their work. Adrian then spent two decades in marine biological research while waiting for tempers to cool. During that time he and Patrick Wells studied the philosophy and sociology of science and published Anatomy of a Controversy: The Question of a “Language” Among Bees (Columbia University Press, 1990). That book documented the fact that resistance to their research rested not as much on evidence as on the training and attitude of scientists.

The notion of an odor-search hypothesis (as originally postulated by von Frisch) now has a broad following in the wider scientific community.