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Beehive from The Theater of Insects

8 July 2024

The National Library of Wales is home to one of the world's leading collections of literature about bees. The collection came to the Library as a gift from the International Bee Research Association. The Society was founded by Dr Eva Crane (1912-2007) in 1949 for the purpose of collecting, organising and distributing information received through the research and good practice of keeping and studying bees. We continue to add to the collection by receiving donations and purchasing books about bees and beekeeping.


The Theater of Insects

A recent example of a book bought by the Library to add to the collection is The Theater of Insects by Thomas Mouffet published in 1658. Mouffet travelled extensively through Europe and made detailed notes about the insects he studied. His research was published in this volume including attractive woodcut illustrations of his subjects. The book was innovative and established new standards in entomology (the study of insects).

Mouffett studied the insects without using a microscope and recorded his findings on a manuscript. After Mouffet's death the manuscript was bought and the work published in 1634 by Sir Theodore Turquet de Mayerne under the title Insectorum, sive, Minimorum Animalium Theatrum. J. Rowland translated this work into English, and it was appended to Edward Topsell's work History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents in 1658.



The first chapter compares bees with other insects and shows why they are considered so important to humanity. It begins with:

Of all insects, bees are the principal and are chiefly to be admired, being the only creature of that kinde, framed for the nourishment of man, but the rest are procreated to either to be useful in Physick, or for delight of the eyes, the pleasure of the ears, or the completing and ornament of the body; the bee doth exceed them all in every one of these.

It is interesting to note that Mouffett discusses the nature and behaviour of bees and other insects as well as their biological characteristics. As we see here:

Bees are neither wilde nor tame creatures, but a middle kinde of nature between both, but of all in manner the most serviceable and most profitable.

Hywel Lloyd

Assistant Librarian

Category: Article