Biography of F.W.L. Sladen
by Brady Beecham
The jumpstart for bumble bee research came from an unlikely source at the end of the 18th century in Northern England. Born in 1876, Frederick Sladen was 13 years old when his fascination with bees began. Wild bees, especially bumble bees, were the first serious research subjects for this self-trained naturalist. His first publication, written at the age of 16, was a comprehensive overview of bumble bee biology. As an adult, Sladen maintained these interests but focused mainly on honey bees where he studied queen rearing and the role of pheromones in communication.
Frederic Sladen, the son of an army colonel and an aristocratic mother, was one of 11 children. He spent his childhood on the family estate, "Ripple Court," and was taught by private teachers. At Ripple Court, Sladen developed an inquisitive scientific mind and a love for the natural world. He later wrote, "It was one of the pleasures of boyhood…to find nest of humble-bees…and transfer them to suitable places in the garden where their workings could be watched."
By 1892, at the age of 16, Sladen had complied enough information on the bumble bee to produce his first publication. That year he wrote, illustrated, reproduced, and bound, "The Humble-Bee," a 40-page booklet that astounded and surprised the bee experts of the day. The booklet included detailed descriptions of bumble bee life history, species names and taxonomy, ways to locate and move nests, natural enemies of the bumble bees, honey and wax production, and artificial nest boxes for relocated nests. Although much was known about honey bees at the time, his booklet was the first English language publication about bumble bees and is recognized as the foundation from which the systematic study of bumble bees is derived.
At the age of 20, Sladen traveled to India where he was introduced to a species of stingless honey bee. Although opposed to importation of Indian bees into Europe, he thought that through selective-breeding stingless colonies could be established in Europe. Upon his return home, he began commercial honey bee keeping and later, to support his family, breeding worker honey bees and queens. In 1912, Sladen and his family moved to Canada where he made many contributions to the understanding of honey bee communication and pheromones.
The same year that Sladen moved to Canada, he published a more complete life-history of the bumble bee, "The Humble-bee; its life history and how to domesticate it." As in his boyhood, Sladen once again relied on careful observation and simple experiments to draw scientific conclusions for his book. With these simple experiments, Sladen was able to make several important contributions to bumble bee research. For example, he was the first to suggest that some species of male bumble bees use scent trails to attract virgin queens. He also realized the importance of bumble bees as pollinators. Many of the nest boxes Sladen designed in the early 1900's are still used in modern research and commercial pollination.
Through his work with honey bees and continued study of bumble bees, Sladen established himself as one of the foremost and knowledgeable beekeepers of his time. Today, Sladen is still recognized for his contributions to bumble bees and is widely considered to be the father of bumble bee research in the English language.
For a more complete view of Sladen's life and bumble bee research read:
The Humble Bee. by F.W.L Sladen. Logaston Press 1989.
Little Logaston, Woonton, Herefordshire
Biography of F.W.L Sladen Compiled From The Humble Bee