Arabella B. Buckley.

The Fairy-Land of Science online

. (page 12 of 14)
Online LibraryArabella B. BuckleyThe Fairy-Land of Science → online text (page 12 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

round one bee (2, Fig. 54) blacker than the rest and having a
longer body and shorter wings; for this is the queen-bee, the
mother of the hive, and she must be watched and tended.

But the largest number begin to hang in a cluster from the roof
just as they did from the bough of the apple tree. What are they
doing there? Watch for a little while and you will soon see one
bee come out from among its companions and settle on
the top of the inside of the hive, turning herself round and
round, so as to push the other bees back, and to make a space in
which she can work. Then she will begin to pick at the under
part of her body with her fore-legs, and will bring a scale of
wax from a curious sort of pocket under her abdomen. Holding
this wax in her claws, she will bite it with her hard, pointed
upper jaws, which move to and fro sideways like a pair of
pincers, then, moistening it with her tongue into a kind of
paste, she will draw it out like a ribbon and plaster it on the
top of the hive.

After that she will take another piece; for she has eight of
these little wax-pockets, and she will go on till they are all
exhausted. Then she will fly away out of the hive, leaving a
small lump on the hive ceiling or on the bar stretched across
it; then her place will be taken by another bee who will go
through the same manoeuvres. This bee will be followed by
another, and another, till a large wall of wax has been built,
hanging from the bar of the hive as in Fig. 55, only that it
will not yet have cells fashioned in it.

Meanwhile the bees which have been gathering honey out of doors
begin to come back laden. But they cannot store their honey, for
there are no cells made yet to put it in; neither can
they build combs with the rest, for they have no wax in their
wax-pockets. So they just go and hang quietly on to the other
bees, and there they remain for twenty-four hours, during which
time they digest the honey they have gathered, and part of it
forms wax and oozes out from the scales under their body. Then
they are prepared to join the others at work and plaster wax on
to the hive.

Week 26

And now, as soon as a rough lump of wax is ready, another set of
bees come to do their work. These are called the nursing bees,
because they prepare the cells and feed the young ones. One of
these bees, standing on the roof of the hive, begins to force
her head into the wax, biting with her jaws and moving her head
to and fro. Soon she has made the beginning of a round hollow,
and then she passes on to make another, while a second bee takes
her place and enlarges the first one. As many as twenty bees
will be employed in this way, one after another, upon each hole
before it is large enough for the base of a cell.

Meanwhile another set of nursing bees have been working just in
the same way on the other side of the wax, and so a series of
hollows are made back to back all over the comb. Then the bees
form the walls of the cells and soon a number of six-sided
tubes, about half an inch deep, stand all along each side of the
comb ready to receive honey or bee-eggs.

You can see the shape of these cells in c,d, Fig. 56, and notice
how closely they fit into each other. Even the ends are so
shaped that, as they lie back to back, the bottom of one cell
(B, Fig. 56) fits into the space between the ends of
three cells meeting it from the opposite side (A, Fig. 56),
while they fit into the spaces around it. Upon this plan the
clever little bees fill every atom of space, use the least
possible quantity of wax, and make the cells lie so closely
together that the whole comb is kept warm when the young bees
are in it.

There are some kinds of bees who do not live in hives, but each
one builds a home of its own. These bees - such as the
upholsterer bee, which digs a hole in the earth and lines it
with flowers and leaves, and the mason bee, which builds in
walls - do not make six-sided cells, but round ones, for room is
no object to them. But nature has gradually taught the little
hive-bee to build its cells more and more closely, till they fit
perfectly within each other. If you make a number of round holes
close together in a soft substance, and then squeeze the
substance evenly from all sides, the rounds will gradually take
a six-sided form, showing that this is the closest shape into
which they can be compressed. Although the bee does not know
this, yet as gnaws away every bit of wax that can be
spared she brings the holes into this shape.

As soon as one comb is finished, the bees begin another by the
side of it, leaving a narrow lane between, just broad enough for
two bees to pass back to back as they crawl along, and so the
work goes on till the hive is full of combs.

As soon, however, as a length of about five or six inches of the
first comb has been made into cells, the bees which are bringing
home honey no longer hang to make it into wax, but begin to
store it in the cells. We all know where the bees go to fetch
their honey, and how, when a bee settles on a flower, she
thrusts into it her small tongue-like proboscis, which is really
a lengthened under-lip, and sucks out the drop of honey. This she
swallows, passing it down her throat into a honey-bag or first
stomach, which lies between her throat and her real stomach, and
when she gets back to the hive she can empty this bag and pass
honey back through her mouth again into the honey-cells.

But if you watch bees carefully, especially in the spring-time,
you will find that they carry off something else besides honey.
Early in the morning, when the dew is on the ground, or later in
the day, in moist shady places, you may see a bee rubbing itself
against a flower, or biting those bags of yellow dust or pollen
which we mentioned in Lecture VII. When she has covered herself
with pollen, she will brush it off with her feet, and, bringing
it to her mouth, she will moisten and roll it into a little ball,
and then pass it back from the first pair of legs to the second
and so to the third or hinder pair. Here she will pack it into a
little hairy groove called a "basket" in the joint of one of the
hind legs, where you may see it, looking like a swelled joint, as
she hovers among the flowers. She often fills both hind legs in
this way, and when she arrives back at the hive the nursing bees
take the lumps form her, and eat it themselves, or mix it with
honey to feed the young bees; or, when they have any to spare,
store it away in old honey-cells to be used by-and-by. This is the
dark, bitter stuff called "bee- bread" which you often find in a
honeycomb, especially in a comb which has been filled late in the

When the bee has been relieved of the bee-bread she goes off to
one of the clean cells in the new comb, and, standing on the
edge, throws up the honey from the honey-bag into the cell. One
cell will hold the contents of many honey-bags, and so the busy
little workers have to work all day filling cell after cell, in
which the honey lies uncovered, being too thick and sticky to
flow out, and is used for daily food - unless there is any to
spare, and then they close up the cells with wax to keep for the

Meanwhile, a day or two after the bees have settled in the hive,
the queen-bee begins to get very restless. She goes outside the
hive and hovers about a little while, and then comes in again,
and though generally the bees all look very closely after her to
keep her indoors, yet now they let her do as she likes. Again
she goes out, and again back, and then, at last, she soars up
into the air and flies away. But she is not allowed to go alone.
All the drones of the hive rise up after her, forming
a guard of honour to follow her wherever she goes.

In about half-an-hour she comes back again, and then the working
bees all gather round her, knowing that now she will remain
quietly in the hive and spend all her time in laying eggs; for
it is the queen-bee who lays all the eggs in the hive. This she
begins to do about two days after her flight. There are now many
cells ready besides those filled with honey; and, escorted by
several bees, the queen-bee goes to one of these, and, putting
her head into it remains there a second as if she were examining
whether it would make a good home for the young bee. Then,
coming out, she turns round and lays a small, oval, bluish-white
egg in the cell. After this she takes no more notice of it, but
goes on to the next cell and the next, doing the same thing, and
laying eggs in all the empty cells equally on both sides of the
comb. She goes on so quickly that she sometimes lays as many as
200 eggs in one day.

Then the work of the nursing bees begins. In two or three days
each egg has become a tiny maggot or larva, and the nursing bees
put into its cell a mixture of pollen and honey which they have
prepared in their own mouths, thus making a kind of sweet bath
in which the larva lies. In five or six days the larva grows so
fat upon this that it nearly fills the cell, and then the bees
seal up the mouth of the cell with a thin cover of wax, made of
little rings and with a tiny hole in the centre.

As soon as the larva is covered in, it begins to give out from
its under-lip a whitish, silken film, made of two threads of silk
glued together, and with this it spins a covering or cocoon all
round itself, and so it remains for about ten days more. At last,
just twenty-one days after the egg was laid, the young bee is
quite perfect, lying in the cell as in Fig. 57, and she begins to
eat her way through the cocoon and through the waxen lid, and
scrambles out of her cell. Then the nurses come again to her,
stroke her wings and feed her for twenty-four hours, and after
that she is quite ready to begin work, and flies out to gather
honey and pollen like the rest of the workers.

By this time the number of working bees in the hive is becoming
very great, and the storing of honey and pollen-dust goes on
very quickly. Even the empty cells which the young bees have
left are cleaned out by the nurses and filled with honey; and
this honey is darker than that stored in clean cells, and which
we always call "virgin honey" because it is so pure and clear.

At last, after six weeks, the queen leaves off laying worker-
eggs, and begins to lay, in some rather larger cells, eggs from
which drones, or male bees, will grow up in about twenty days.
Meanwhile the worker-bees have been building on the edge of the
cones some very curious cells (q, Fig. 57) which look like
thimbles hanging with the open side upwards, and about every three
days the queen stops in laying drone-eggs and goes to put an egg
in one of these cells. Notice that she waits three days between
each of these peculiar layings, because we shall see presently
that there is a good reason for her doing so.

The nursing bees take great care of these eggs, and instead of
putting ordinary food into the cell, they fill it with a sweet,
pungent jelly, for this larva is to become a princess and a
future queen bee. Curiously enough, it seems to be the peculiar
food and the size of the cell which makes the larva grow into a
mother-bee which can lay eggs, for if a hive has the misfortune
to lose its queen, they take one of the ordinary worker-larvae
and put it into a royal cell and feed it with jelly, and it
becomes a queen-bee. As soon as the princess is shut in like the
others, she begins to spin her cocoon, but she does not quite
close it as the other bees do, but leaves a hole at the top.

Week 27

At the end of sixteen days after the first royal egg was laid,
the eldest princess begins to try to eat her way out of her
cell, and about this time the old queen becomes very uneasy, and
wanders about distractedly. The reason of this is that there can
never be two queen-bees in one hive, and the queen knows that
her daughter will soon be coming out of her cradle and will try
to turn her off her throne. So, not wishing to have to fight for
her kingdom, she makes up her mind to seek a new home and take a
number of her subjects with her. If you watch the hive about this
time you will notice many of the bees clustering together after
they have brought in their honey, and hanging patiently, in order
to have plenty of wax ready to use when they start, while the
queen keeps a sharp look-out for a bright, sunny day, on which
they can swarm: for bees will never swarm on a wet or doubtful day
if they can possibly help it, and we can easily understand why,
when we consider how the rain would clog their wings and spoil the
wax under their bodies.

Meanwhile the young princess grows very impatient, and tries to
get out of her cell, but the worker-bees drive her back, for
they know there would be a terrible fight if the two queens met.
So they close up the hole she has made with fresh wax after
having put in some food for her to live upon till she is

At last a suitable day arrives, and about ten or eleven o'clock
in the morning the old queen leaves the hive, taking with her
about 2000 drones and from 12,000 to 20,000 worker-bees, which
fly a little way clustering round her till she alights on the
bough of some tree, and then they form a compact swarm ready for
a new hive or to find a home of their own.

Leaving them to go their way, we will now return to the old hive.
Here the liberated princess is reigning in all her glory; the
worker-bees crowd round her, watch over her, and feed her as
though they could not do enough to show her honour. But still
she is not happy. She is restless, and runs about as if looking
for an enemy, and she tries to get at the remaining royal cells
where the other young princesses are still shut in. But the
workers will not let her touch them, and at last she stands still
and begins to beat the air with her wings and to tremble all over,
moving more and more quickly, till she makes quite a loud, piping

Hark! What is that note answering her? It is a low, hoarse sound,
and it comes from the cell of the next eldest princess. Now we
see why the young queen has been so restless. She knows her
sister will soon come out, and the louder and stronger the sound
becomes within the cell, the sooner she knows the fight will
have to begin. And so she makes up her mind to follow her
mother's example and to lead off a second swarm. But she cannot
always stop to choose a fine day, for her sister is growing very
strong and may come out of her cell before she is off. And so
the second, or after swarm, gets ready and goes away. And this
explains why princesses' eggs are laid a few days apart, for if
they were laid all on the same day, there would be no time for
one princess to go off with a swarm before the other came out of
her cell. Sometimes, when the workers are not watchful enough,
two queens do meet, and then they fight till one is killed; or
sometimes they both go off with the same swarm without finding
each other out. But this only delays the fight till they get
into the new hive; sooner or later one must be killed.

And now a third queen begins to reign in the old hive, and she
is just as restless as the preceding ones, for there are still
more princesses to be born. But this time, if no new swarm wants
to start, the workers do not try to protect the royal cells. The
young queen darts at the first she sees, gnaws a hole with her
jaws, and, thrusting in her sting through the hole in the cocoon,
kills the young bee while it is still a prisoner. She then goes to
the next, and the next, and never rests till all the young
princesses are destroyed. Then she is contented, for she knows no
other queen will come to dethrone her. After a few days she takes
her flight in the air with the drones, and comes home to settle
down in the hive for the winter.

Then a very curious scene takes place. The drones are no more
use, for the queen will not fly out again, and these idle bees
will never do any work in the hive. So the worker-bees begin to
kill them, falling upon them, and stinging them to death, and as
the drones have no stings they cannot defend themselves, and in
a few days there is not a drone, nor even a drone-egg, left in
the hive. This massacre seems very sad to us, since the poor
drones have never done any harm beyond being hopelessly idle.
But it is less sad when we know that they could not live many
weeks, even if they were not attacked, and, with winter coming,
the bees cannot afford to feed useless mouths, so a quick death
is probably happier for them than starvation.

And now all the remaining inhabitants of the hive settle down to
feeding the young bees and laying in the winter's store. It is
at this time, after they have been toiling and saving, that we
come and take their honey; and from a well-stocked hive we may
even take 30 lbs. without starving the industrious little
inhabitants. But then we must often feed them in return and give
them sweet syrup in the late autumn and the next early spring when
they cannot find any flowers.

Although the hive has now become comparatively quiet and the work
goes on without excitement, yet every single bee is employed in
some way, either out of doors or about the hive. Besides the
honey collectors and the nurses, a certain number of bees are
told off to ventilate the hive. You will easily understand that
where so many insects are packed closely together the heat will
become very great, and the air impure and unwholesome. And the
bees have no windows that they can open to let in fresh air, so
they are obliged to fan it in from the one opening of the hive.
The way in which they do this is very interesting. Some of the
bees stand close to the entrance, with their faces towards it,
and opening their wings, so as to make them into fans, they wave
them to and fro, producing a current of air. Behind these bees,
and all over the floor of the hive, there stand others, this time
with their backs towards the entrance, and fan in the same
manner, and in this way air is sent into all the passages.

Another set of bees clean out the cells after the young bees are
born, and make them fit to receive honey, while others guard the
entrance of the hive to keep away the destructive wax-moth,
which tries to lay its eggs in the comb so that its young ones
may feed on the honey. All industrious people have to guard
their property against thieves and vagabonds, and the bees have
many intruders, such as wasps and snails and slugs, which creep
in whenever they get a chance. If they succeed in escaping the
sentinel bees, then a fight takes place within the hive, and the
invader is stung to death.

Sometimes, however, after they have killed the enemy, the bees
cannot get rid of his body, for a snail or slug is too heavy to
be easily moved, and yet it would make the hive very unhealthy
to allow it to remain. In this dilemma the ingenious little bees
fetch the gummy "propolis" from the plant-buds and cement the
intruder all over, thus embalming his body and preventing it
from decaying.

And so the life of this wonderful city goes on. Building,
harvesting, storing, nursing, ventilating and cleaning from morn
till night, the little worker-bee lives for about eight months,
and in that time has done quite her share of work in the world.
Only the young bees, born late in the season, live on till the
next year to work in the spring. The queen-bee lives longer,
probably about two years, and then she too dies, after having had
a family of many thousands of children.

We have already pointed out that in our fairy-land of nature all
things work together so as to bring order out of apparent
confusion. But though we should naturally expect winds and
currents, rivers and clouds, and even plants to follow fixed
laws, we should scarcely have looked for such regularity in the
life of the active, independent busy bee. Yet we see that she,
too, has her own appointed work to do, and does it regularly and
in an orderly manner. In this lecture we have been speaking
entirely of the bee within the hive, and noticing how
marvellously her instincts guide her in her daily life. But
within the last few years we have learnt that she performs a most
curious and wonderful work in the world outside her home and that
we owe to her not only the sweet honey to eat, but even in a great
degree the beauty and gay colours of the flowers which she visits
when collecting it. This work will form the subject of our next
lecture, and while we love the little bee for her constant
industry, patience, and order within the hive, we shall, I think,
marvel at the wonderful law of nature which guides her in her
unconscious mission of love among the flowers which grow around

Week 28

Lecture X

Whatever thoughts each one of you may have brought to the
lecture to-day, I want you to throw them all aside and fancy
yourself to be in a pretty country garden on a hot summer's
morning. Perhaps you have been walking, or reading, or playing,
but it is getting too hot now to do anything; and so you have
chosen the shadiest nook under the old walnut-tree, close to the
flower-bed on the lawn, and would almost like to go to sleep if
it were not too early in the day.

As you lie there thinking of nothing in particular, except how
pleasant it is to be idle now and then, you notice a gentle
buzzing close to you, and you see that on the flower-bed close
by, several bees are working busily among the flowers. They do
not seem to mind the heat, nor to wish to rest; and they fly so
lightly and look so happy over their work that it does not tire
you to look at them.

That great humble-bee takes it leisurely enough as she goes
lumbering along, poking her head into the larkspurs, and
remaining so long in each you might almost think she had fallen
asleep. The brown hive-bee on the other hand, moves busily and
quickly among the stocks, sweet peas, and mignonette. She is
evidently out on active duty, and means to get all she can from
each flower, so as to carry a good load back to the hive. In
some blossoms she does not stay a moment, but draws her head back
directly she has popped it in, as if to say "No honey there."
But over the full blossoms she lingers a little, and then
scrambles out again with her drop of honey, and goes off to seek
more in the next flower.

Let us watch her a little more closely. There are plenty of
different plants growing in the flower-bed, but, curiously
enough, she does not go first to one kind and then to another;
but keeps to one, perhaps the mignonette, the whole time till she
flies away. Rouse yourself up to follow her, and you will see
she takes her way back to the hive. She may perhaps stop to
visit a stray plant of mignonette on her way, but no other flower
will tempt her till she has taken her load home.

Then when she comes back again she may perhaps go to another kind
of flower, such as the sweet peas, for instance, and keep to them
during the next journey, but it is more likely that she will be
true to her old friend the mignonette for the whole day.

We all know why she makes so many journeys between the garden and
the hive, and that she is collecting drops of honey from each
flower, and carrying it to be stored up in the honeycomb for
winter's food. How she stores it, and how she also gathers
pollen-dust for her bee-bread, we saw in the last lecture; to-day
we will follow her in her work among the flowers, and see, while
they are so useful to her, what she is doing for them in return.

We have already learnt from the life of a primrose that plants
can make better and stronger seeds when they can get pollen-dust
from another plant, than when they are obliged to use that which
grows in the same flower; but I am sure you will be very much
surprised to hear that the more we study flowers the more we find
that their colours, their scent, and their curious shapes are all
so many baits and traps set by nature to entice insects to come
to the flowers, and carry this pollen-dust from one to the other.

So far as we know, it is entirely for this purpose that the
plants form honey in different parts of the flower, sometimes in
little bags or glands, as in the petals of the buttercup flower,
sometimes in clear drops, as in the tube of the honeysuckle.
This food they prepare for the insects, and then they have all
sorts of contrivances to entice them to come and fetch it.

You will remember that the plants of the coal had no bright or
conspicuous flowers. Now we can understand why this was, for
there were no flying insects at that time to carry the pollen-

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14

Online LibraryArabella B. BuckleyThe Fairy-Land of Science → online text (page 12 of 14)