By Published: March 4, 2024

Dr. Sammy with beesBefore Samuel Ramsey became the world’s foremost expert on bees — and an assistant professor of ecology, entomology and evolutionary biology at CU Boulder — he was just another kid afraid of bugs. But one pivotal trip to the biology section of a local library changed Ramsey’s life forever. 

“I was 7,” said Ramsey, known by most as “Dr. Sammy.” “My parents handed me a book on bugs and said, ‘People fear what they don’t understand.’ That was it.” 

In opening the book, Ramsey opened a portal to another world, sparking a lifelong passion for all things creepy-crawly. Within the field of entomology, Ramsey quickly narrowed his research to bees, inspired by the many parallels between human and bee behavior.

“Take dancing, for instance,” Ramsey said. “Bees use what’s called a waggle dance to communicate. Every intricate movement and precise gesture provides vital information to the rest of the hive, such as locations for rich sources of nectar or where to build their next hive.” 

Ramsey’s contributions to the study of bees have been substantial. His research encompasses various aspects of bee behavior, ecology and evolutionary biology. 

One of his greatest research endeavors explores the “bee pandemic” — the mass decline of bee populations around the world — and its potential impact on our daily lives. Beyond the immediate threat to basic food crops, his research underscores the interconnectedness of the global food supply chain and the urgent need for bee conservation.

“The average person isn’t going to know there’s a problem until they see the impact on their wallets and tables,” Ramsey said. “The decline in bee populations impacts coffee, fruit, dairy and so much more. What happens when only the wealthy can afford a latte or limes? What happens when we can only buy certain fruits, nuts or vegetables seasonally? These are very real possibilities if we don’t act soon.”

As a professor, Ramsey has never forgotten his childhood lesson that fear often stems from a lack of understanding, which is why he emphasizes science communication in his classroom. Effective science communication, he argues, is not only vital for teaching but also critical for building public trust.

“If nobody can understand you, it doesn’t matter what your message is,” he said. “Unfortunately, we saw this concept play out during the pandemic — scientists couldn’t connect with the general public, even when the message was about life and death.”

Ramsey’s journey from a child afraid of bugs to an expert researcher and teacher of entomology exemplifies how knowledge can eliminate fear, and transform it into action. In and out of the classroom, Ramsey advocates for policy changes and offers practical steps that anyone can take to contribute to bee welfare.

“Refrain from using pesticides on your lawns,” he said. “Rewild your lawn by planting a garden, even a small one. Vote for representatives who will fund scientific research. You can even rehouse bees by drilling holes in a chunk of wood and placing it near plants.

“Little things can make a big difference.”

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Photo by John T. Consoli/University of Maryland