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Something About Bees

( Originally Published Ealry 1900's )



Miss Morley's work as an educator, a kindergartner, and an author of many books about Nature as delightful as they are instructive is well known. Birds, flowers, insects, the whole teeming life of the world yield up their secrets to her and she tells them to the world in clear and easy language.

THE queen-bee sometimes lays as many as three thousand eggs a day. . . each little egg must have a cell of comb all to itself. You can imagine that the wax-makers and cell-builders do not have a chance to grow lazy in the busy season of egg-laying; for if the queen does not lay three thousand eggs every day, she may upon some days, and she always lays at least enough to satisfy any reasonable lover of hard work.

The cradle-cells of the. drones are the same as the honey-cells, but the worker-cells are about one-fifth smaller.

You see, the workers are smaller than the drones, and so can lie in smaller cradles.

The cradle-cell of the queen is not shaped like the other cells, but somewhat like a thimble. It opens at the bottom, and is a great deal larger.

The queen goes about and lays an egg in each cell. She first puts in her head and examines the cell with her antenna., as if to make sure it is all right.

This done, she deposits an egg in the bottom of the cell. She lays two kinds of eggs, one kind being what we call fertilized, the other kind unfertilized. The fertilized eggs always hatch into workers or queens, the unfertilized always hatch into drones. The queen is able to fertilize the eggs, or not, as she pleases.

As soon as an egg is laid, the queen pays no further attention to it. It is now the turn of the nurse-bees. The nurse-bees are the younger ones that have not yet gone out of the hive.

For about three days after the egg is laid, you could see no change in it.

Perhaps you think it needs no attention, but a hen would not think so. She knows that eggs have to be kept warm in order to hatch, and so she sits on her own eggs with her feathers tucked down warm all about them. Miss Apis, too, understands that eggs need to be kept warm. She has no feathers, but she has a warm little fuzzy body, and when the eggs are laid, she and her sisters cluster over the comb to keep them warm.

The ancients held a good many wrong ideas, and a good many right ones, about bees, and our Latin friend Pliny was not altogether wrong when he said bees sat upon their eggs like hens.

In about three days the eggs hatch, but not into pretty downy bees with gauzy wings. No, indeed ! If you were to see what hatches out of a bee's egg you would not imagine that queer thing could ever make a bee. It is a little white atom, with no legs and no wings, and looks like a maggot. It may not look like a bee, but still it is a baby bee.

If you do not like to call it a bee, you may call it a larva. For larva is the name we give to the first form of an insect after it leaves the egg.

This little larva is born hungry, and the kind nurse-bees, knowing that, feed it with plenty of —what shall I call it l Bee-milk, perhaps. This bee-milk is manufactured by the nurses in glands in their heads; it is very nutritious, and is the same as the royal jelly with which the queen is fed. They place the food in the cell with the larva, and watch to see that it always has enough. They feed it with honey and pollen as it grows older; and how it does eat !

In a few days it has grown so large that it almost fills its cradle-cell.

It would not do to let this ravenous infant grow entirely out of bounds, but I doubt if you could guess what the nurse-bees do to prevent it. They simply stop feeding it.

That is certainly a sure way to check its growth; only most babies, if treated so, would make up their minds that life without dinner was not worth living, and would die right off.

But bee-babies do not die; they wait to see what will happen next.

It would take a long time for anybody but a bee to guess what happens next.

It is rather a peculiar performance, but Miss Apis's performances are usually peculiar.

She caps over the cell of the baby-bee.

It would be difficult to imagine an easier way of disposing of a baby, bottle it up like a jar of pickles or a cell of honey.

It is not much trouble to take care of such babies.

They only need to be kept warm. Meantime, the infant thus disposed of spins for itself a soft little silken night-cap.

You see, it has nothing else to do. It cannot get any-thing to eat, and they do not give it so much as a rubber ring to bite on, as far as I know; so it amuses itself spinning a night-cap, or a soft little cocoon, about the upper part of its fat little bottled-up body.

Some babies might cry under the circumstances ; but I doubt if this baby could do that even if it wanted to, for how could it cry with its mouth full of silk?

The silk for its cocoon comes out of its mouth, strange to say,— or rather out of a little hole in its lip, — and I have no doubt it is great fun for it to draw out the fine thread and spin.

Then it changes its shape. You see, it is really an infant Miss Apis, so we cannot be surprised that it should perform in queer ways, even at that tender age.

It changes from a larva into a pupa.

If you do not know what a pupa is, it is time you did. It is the same as a chrysalis.

You see, it is not a larva, nor yet a perfect insect, but something halfway between the two.

When Baby Apis becomes a pupa, she does nothing more wonderful than butterflies and many other insects do, — for they too become pupae on the way to being grown up, just as we become boys or girls on the way to being men or women.

You may like to know that larva is a Latin word, and means ghost, or mask, for the larva is, in one sense, the ghost or mask of the perfect insect.

But what do you think pupa means'?

It, too, is a Latin word, and means doll.

The pupa of insects is generally inactive, and does not seem to be alive, though, of course, it is alive, and so it is called a doll, or image of the insect.

Baby Apis remains a pupa for several days, then she makes up her mind that if they want to keep other babies in bottles, they may, but as for her, she has had enough of it, so she puts up her mouth and gnaws a hole the shape of a crescent in the cap they put over her, and probably peeps out to see the world, — rather a dark world in the hive, one would think.

Then she puts out her head.

Then out she comes, a lovely young bee, light-colored and downy, and with beautiful gauzy wings.

The cap that is put over the young bee is very porous, so the air can get in. Baby Apis may be bottled up with safety, but she must not be deprived of air, for if she is she will die.

The queen-bee is hatched from an egg exactly like that of the worker-bees. But this egg, as we know, lies in a large cell, and when it hatches, the nurse-bees fairly stuff the queen larva with food.

The worker infants get very little bee-milk; they have to eat honey and bee-bread, but the queen infant is fed almost entirely upon this precious food, this " royal jelly."

It is because she eats so much of this that she develops into a queen. Sometimes the queen in a hive dies or gets lost. Then what do you suppose the workers do, Why. go to work and make a new queen, of course.

It is a terrible thing for a hive to be without a queen, and the bees are very unhappy when it happens. But if they have eggs or very young larvæ they need not despair.

They enlarge a worker cell in which lies an egg or a very young larva, by tearing down the cells next to it. Then they feed the infant thus promoted to royalty upon queen's food, and, lo the little creature becomes a queen.

Drones get much more royal jelly than workers, but no amount of feeding or starving will make them any-thing but drones.

It takes all the eggs three days to hatch, but the queen larva attains its growth in five and a half days, while it takes the worker six, and the drone six and a half.

The queen spins her cocoon, changes into a pupa, and comes forth a perfect bee all in seven and a half days, while it takes the worker twelve days and the drone four-teen and a half to complete these changes.

If you do a little sum in addition, you will find that it takes sixteen days for an egg to become a queen-bee, twenty-one days for it to become a worker, and twenty-four days for a drone egg to become a drone.

As soon as the worker-bees hatch out, they go to work.

They take care of the queen, following her about and feeding her with royal jelly whenever she is hungry, which is very often.

They seem to be very fond of their hive-mother; and you will always see a little cluster of bees about her, caressing her with their antennae, and paying her the greatest respect.

The workers also take care of the eggs and the young bees, but do not generally lay any eggs themselves; only the queen does that.

They make wax, build comb, and keep the hive clean, carrying out dead bees, or anything that does not belong in it.

No doubt they watch at the door, too. For bees keep sentinels on guard to see that thieves and robbers do not come in and steal their honey.

If you knock on a hive, the sentinels will fly out to see what is the matter.

In a few days the young bees leave the home work to the newly hatched, and go forth to gather honey, and pollen, and bee-glue.

You ought to know that bee-glue is called propolis,--a word that means " before the city,"— and it is so named, because the bees use it to build fortifications in time of war.

Certain moths attack bee-hives by crawling in and laying their eggs in the corners. When the eggs hatch, the little caterpillar-like larvae that come out of them eat the comb and spoil the honey. To keep them out the bees sometimes build walls of propolis just inside the hive door, making the entrance so narrow that only one bee can pass at a time. In this way the sentinels are better able to keep out the intruders.

Bees have been known to use propolis in strange ways. You know they chink up all the holes with it and glue the frames fast. Once, so the story goes, they glued a snail to the bottom of the hive. His snailship had crawled into the hive and the bees fastened his shell tightly to the floor. So, for going where he was not wanted, he found his house converted into his sepulchre.

Another story is of a mouse that went into a bee-hive. The bees stung him to death, but he was so large they could not remove him, so what did they do but cover him all over with propolis. Safe under the resinous bee-glue, his body could do no harm.

Bees breathe as well as other creatures; they take in pure air and give out impure. They do not do this by means of lungs, as we do, but through little holes in their sides. They cannot live without fresh air, and you can well imagine that a house as crowded as theirs needs careful ventilation.

They cannot lower the windows, because they have none, and they would not dare open any if they had them, for all sorts of creatures would come flying, and creeping, and running, and stealing in to get their precious honey.

The only openings to the hives, as we know, are the little holes at the bottom where the bees go in and out. How, then, do they get fresh air?

You will not be surprised to learn that Miss Apis has solved this problem in a very ingenious manner.

The only possible way of ventilating a hive through the little holes at the bottom is by fanning or pumping the air in and out.

The bees fan a current of air through the hive, by standing near the entrance holes and buzzing with their wings.

The buzzing sound is made by the rapid motion of the wings, and even one bee can cause quite a little breeze. When a number of them stand together just inside, and sometimes also just outside the hive, and fan, they pro-duce currents of air strong enough to keep the crowded hive perfectly ventilated.

Bees are more careful to have plenty of fresh air than are people. Huber discovered that the air in the hive is nearly as pure as the air out of doors, and we should have reason to feel proud if our public buildings were as well ventilated as are the bee-hives.

One cannot go on adding several thousand members a week to one's family without sooner or later being obliged to enlarge the house—or move out. The Apis people move out.

As soon as a young queen comes out of her cell,. the old queen packs up, so to speak, and prepares to depart.

She does not carry as much luggage as the Queen of England carries when she goes from Buckingham Palace to the Isle of Wight.

She merely gathers up her thousands of eyes, her shortish, but still valuable tongue, her basketless legs, and other personal possessions and starts off, taking with her most of the old bees in the hive, and leaving behind the young queen with the young bees and the honey-comb, and the brood comb full of eggs and larvæ and pupæ.

She is very generous to the young queen, who of course is her own daughter, and leaves all the furniture and silver spoons and everything of that sort behind. .

Away she goes, with her faithful followers surrounding her in a dense swarm.

The whole swarm goes careering through the air like a small cyclone, and I for one should not like to stand in its path.

Some say the bees send out scouts to find a good place before the swarm starts, either a hollow tree or some other convenient shelter, or else they go into a nice new hive if somebody has been watching and has one ready.

Into the new home they go, and to work they go ; and in a little while you would never suspect the family had recently moved in, so busy and so thoroughly at home do they all appear.

They build new combs, make new honey and bee-bread, and just as soon as the cells are ready the queen continues her egg-laying. Meantime all is not fair weather in the old hive.

The new queen, although just out of her cell, under-stands her business perfectly, and is quite capable of going about it, but there are complications. Hers was not the only queen cell in that hive.

There were others. And now, just as she has ascended the throne with the old queen peaceably out of the way, the succession being accomplished without opposition, to and behold ! she hears a sound, — a sound that probably sends the blood to her heart, and causes her very toes to tingle.

The sound she hears is not that of cannon afar, nor of drum-beats in the distance, but it might as well be, for it is the piping of another young queen just about to come forth from its cell.

The throne is not secure, after all, for there is another queen to dispute it.

Of course there are ways of disposing of rivals to the throne, or there used to be, as any one who has read the early history of England knows.

You may smother them in a tower, or poison them, or do something of that sort.

Bees know how to smother bees that they hate, and they know how to poison them, but queen bees prefer to fight like queens for their thrones, and not get them by stealth or by striking in the dark; that is, if the rival is already out of her cradle.

If a second queen hatches out of her cell before the first young queen finds her, there is a fight.

The workers stand around and watch the conflict, but they never interfere, nor have I ever heard that they take sides and cheer their own candidate.

The combatants seize each other with their jaws, and clasp each other with their feet, trying in every way to thrust the fatal poisoned dagger into a vital part, — that is, into the soft parts between the rings of the abdomen, or where the neck joins the thorax, or the thorax the abdomen, — all these places being soft and allowing a dagger that is thrust into them to reach the inner vital parts.

At length the fatal thrust is given : One of the queens is victor; the other lies dead upon the field of battle. The workers carry out the dead body, but whether they mourn I cannot say. Certainly they do not have a grand funeral. I suppose it would not be exactly polite to the victorious queen to show too much sorrow for the vanquished one.

Evidently our queen considers , one such display of courage quite enough to establish her royal character, for she does not waste time fighting any more queens, but goes to the remaining queen cells, pulls off the caps where the bottled-up queen babies lie, and sticks her dagger right into their poor, soft, helpless little bodies.

After she has stung all the baby queens she puts up her dagger, very likely determined never to put anything so valuable to such a use again, for you remember her sting is also her ovipositor.

She does not lose it when she stings a bee, because the parts where the sting enters are so soft that she can pull it out again; but you can imagine what a sad wound the barbs make when pulled out.

Workers never sting a queen. If a strange queen is put into the hive, or flies in by mistake, and they do not want her, they gather about her so closely as to smother her to death, but they will not sting her.

Only queens sting queens.

If there should happen to be a good many bees still in the hive after a swarm leaves, the workers will not allow the queens to fight, but surround them and keep them apart until the older queen can be sent off with another swarm.

If the hive is very much crowded, the bees may swarm out of it several times in one season.

When all is serene within the hive, if the day is fair, the young queen takes an airing.

She does not have an escort, but goes alone to view the beautiful world outside the hive.

Huber was the first to discover that she flies up into the blue sky, where she meets a drone, who is her mate. He fills her pocket, which she carries on purpose, with pollen, not flower-pollen, but bee-pollen. This pollen lasts as long as she lives, and she uses it to fertilize the queen and worker eggs.

So you see the drone is not so useless as he seems. Indeed, if it were not for him, there could be no workers and no queens.

When she has taken her airing, Queen Apis goes home, and she never leaves the hive alone again. In fact, she never leaves it at all, except at the end, when she goes off with a swarm.

As the season wears on, the workers take counsel together. Winter is coming, and what will become of them all if the supplies give out?

There must be no more mouths to feed than necessary. The queen, of course, must be taken care of, and so must the workers; but there are the drones, perhaps hundreds or even thousands of them. They are no longer of any use: they bring in no honey; they do no work: they only endanger the lives of the whole family by eating up the winter food, so these little brown workers, on the plea of necessity, send the drones to the happy hunting grounds.

Whether they are sorry about it or not I do not know; but, in any event, they fall upon their poor brothers and sting them to death, or else drive them from the hive, where they soon die from cold, exposure, and hunger.

In late summer you will sometimes see a disconsolate drone sitting on a flower, very likely grieving at the bitterness of his lot.

Miss Apis, it seems to us very cruel of you to treat your brothers so.

But we must remember that bees are not people, and that what would be very wicked in us may be perfectly right in them.

The worker-bees labor very hard through the summer, so that sometimes they wear themselves out in a few weeks, and die.

Those hatched later in the season live through the winter, and are all ready to begin work as soon as the flowers come in the spring.

Bees spend the winter clustered together in the hive, and are then so inactive that they seem to be scarcely alive.

When bees go out from the hive for the first time to gather nectar, they are very smooth and fine-looking.

But they, too, grow old. Their pretty velvety down wears off, and their wings become broken and ragged. I do not think they turn gray or get wrinkles in their faces, but they certainly do get to wear very shabby-looking wings.



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