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leave it, perhaps thirty times in an hour. Their admirable labours,
therefore, are inspired by a single desire: zeal to bring as much
wealth as they can to the home of their sisters, which is also the
home of the future. When we discover a cause as disinterested for
the follies of men, we are apt to call them by another name.


However, the whole truth must be told. In the midst of the marvels
of their industry, their policy, their sacrifice, one thing exists
that must always check and weaken our admiration; and this is the
indifference with which they regard the misfortunes or death of
their comrades. There is a strange duality in the character of the
bee. In the heart of the hive all help and love each other. They are
as united as the good thoughts that dwell in the same soul. Wound
one of them, and a thousand will sacrifice themselves to avenge its
injury. But outside the hive they no longer recognise each other.
Mutilate them, crush them, - or rather, do nothing of the kind; it
would be a useless cruelty, for the fact is established beyond any
doubt, - but were you to mutilate, or crush, on a piece of comb
placed a few steps from their dwelling, twenty or thirty bees that
have all issued from the same hive, those you have left untouched
will not even turn their heads. With their tongue, fantastic as a
Chinese weapon, they will tranquilly continue to absorb the liquid
they hold more precious than life, heedless of the agony whose last
gestures almost are touching them, of the cries of distress that
arise all around. And when the comb is empty, so great is their
anxiety that nothing shall be lost, that their eagerness to gather
the honey which clings to the victims will induce them tranquilly to
climb over dead and dying, unmoved by the presence of the first and
never dreaming of helping the others. In this case, therefore, they
have no notion of the danger they run, seeing that they are wholly
untroubled by the death that is scattered about them, and they have
not the slightest sense of solidarity or pity. As regards the
danger, the explanation lies ready to hand; the bees know not the
meaning of fear, and, with the exception only of smoke, are afraid
of nothing in the world. Outside the hive, they display extreme
condescension and forbearance. They will avoid whatever disturbs
them, and affect to ignore its existence, so long as it come not too
close; as though aware that this universe belongs to all, that each
one has his place there, and must needs be discreet and peaceful.
But beneath this indulgence is quietly hidden a heart so sure of
itself that it never dreams of protesting. If they are threatened,
they will alter their course, but never attempt to escape. In the
hive, however, they will not confine themselves to this passive
ignoring of peril. They will spring with incredible fury on any
living thing, ant or lion or man, that dares to profane the sacred
ark. This we may term anger, ridiculous obstinacy, or heroism,
according as our mind be disposed.

But of their want of solidarity outside the hive, and even of
sympathy within it, I can find nothing to say. Are we to believe
that each form of intellect possesses its own strange limitation,
and that the tiny flame which with so much difficulty at last burns
its way through inert matter and issues forth from the brain, is
still so uncertain that if it illumine one point more strongly the
others are forced into blacker darkness? Here we find that the bees
(or nature acting within them) have organised work in common, the
love and cult of the future, in a manner more perfect than can
elsewhere be discovered. Is it for this reason that they have lost
sight of all the rest? They give their love to what lies ahead of
them; we bestow ours on what is around. And we who love here,
perhaps, have no love left for what is beyond. Nothing varies so
much as the direction of pity or charity. We ourselves should
formerly have been far less shocked than we are to-day at the
insensibility of the bees; and to many an ancient people such
conduct would not have seemed blameworthy. And further, can we tell
how many of the things that we do would shock a being who might be
watching us as we watch the bees?



LET us now, in order to form a clearer conception of the bees'
intellectual power, proceed to consider their methods of
inter-communication. There can be no doubting that they understand
each other; and indeed it were surely impossible for a republic so
considerable, wherein the labours are so varied and so marvellously
combined, to subsist amid the silence and spiritual isolation of so
many thousand creatures. They must be able, therefore, to give
expression to thoughts and feelings, by means either of a phonetic
vocabulary or more probably of some kind of tactile language or
magnetic intuition, corresponding perhaps to senses and properties
of matter wholly unknown to ourselves. And such intuition well might
lodge in the mysterious antennae - containing, in the case of the
workers, according to Cheshire's calculation, twelve thousand
tactile hairs and five thousand "smell-hollows," wherewith they
probe and fathom the darkness. For the mutual understanding of the
bees is not confined to their habitual labours; the extraordinary
also has a name and place in their language; as is proved by the
manner in which news, good or bad, normal or supernatural, will at
once spread in the hive; the loss or return of the mother, for
instance, the entrance of an enemy, the intrusion of a strange
queen, the approach of a band of marauders, the discovery of
treasure, etc. And so characteristic is their attitude, so
essentially different their murmur at each of these special events,
that the experienced apiarist can without difficulty tell what is
troubling the crowd that moves distractedly to and fro in the

If you desire a more definite proof, you have but to watch a bee
that shall just have discovered a few drops of honey on your
window-sill or the corner of your table. She will immediately gorge
herself with it; and so eagerly, that you will have time, without
fear of disturbing her, to mark her tiny belt with a touch of paint.
But this gluttony of hers is all on the surface; the honey will not
pass into the stomach proper, into what we might call her personal
stomach, but remains in the sac, the first stomach, - that of the
community, if one may so express it. This reservoir full, the bee
will depart, but not with the free and thoughtless motion of the fly
or butterfly; she, on the contrary, will for some moments fly
backwards, hovering eagerly about the table or window, with her head
turned toward the room.

She is reconnoitring, fixing in her memory the exact position of the
treasure. Thereupon she will go to the hive, disgorge her plunder
into one of the provision-cells, and in three or four minutes
return, and resume operations at the providential window. And thus,
while the honey lasts, will she come and go, at intervals of every
five minutes, till evening, if need be; without interruption or
rest; pursuing her regular journeys from the hive to the window,
from the window back to the hive.


Many of those who have written on bees have thought fit to adorn the
truth; I myself have no such desire. For studies of this description
to possess any interest, it is essential that they should remain
absolutely sincere. Had the conclusion been forced upon me that bees
are incapable of communicating to each other news of an event
occurring outside the hive, I should, I imagine, as a set-off
against the slight disappointment this discovery would have
entailed, have derived some degree of satisfaction in recognising
once more that man, after all, is the only truly intelligent being
who inhabits our globe. And there comes too a period of life when we
have more joy in saying the thing that is true than in saying the
thing that merely is wonderful. Here as in every case the principle
holds that, should the naked truth appear at the moment less
interesting, less great and noble than the imaginary embellishment
it lies in our power to bestow, the fault must rest with ourselves
who still are unable to perceive the astonishing relation in which
this truth always must stand to our being, and to universal law; and
in that case it is not the truth, but our intellect, that needs
embellishment and ennoblement.

I will frankly confess, therefore, that the marked bee often returns
alone. Shall we believe that in bees there exists the same
difference of character as in men; that of them too some are
gossips, and others prone to silence? A friend who stood by and
watched my experiment, declared that it was evidently mere
selfishness or vanity that caused so many of the bees to refrain
from revealing the source of their wealth, and from sharing with
others the glory of an achievement that must seem miraculous to the
hive. These were sad vices indeed, which give not forth the sweet
odour, so fragrant and loyal, that springs from the home of the many
thousand sisters. But, whatever the cause, it often will also happen
that the bee whom fortune has favoured will return to the honey
accompanied by two or three friends. I am aware that Sir John
Lubbock, in the appendix to his book on "Ants, Bees, and Wasps,"
records the results of his investigations in long and minute tables;
and from these we are led to infer that it is a matter of rarest
occurrence for a single bee to follow the one who has made the
discovery. The learned naturalist does not name the race of bees
which he selected for his experiments, or tell us whether the
conditions were especially unfavourable. As for myself I only can
say that my own tables, compiled with great care, - and every
possible precaution having been taken that the bees should not be
directly attracted by the odour of the honey, - establish that on an
average one bee will bring others four times out of ten.

I even one day came across an extraordinary little Italian bee,
whose belt I had marked with a touch of blue paint. In her second
trip she brought two of her sisters, whom I imprisoned, without
interfering with her. She departed once more, and this time returned
with three friends, whom I again confined, and so till the end of
the afternoon, when, counting my prisoners, I found that she had
told the news to no less than eighteen bees.

In fact you will find, if you make this experiment yourself, that
communication, if not general, at least is frequent. The possession
of this faculty is so well known to American bee-hunters that they
trade upon it when engaged in searching for nests. Mr. Josiah Emery
remarks on this head (quoted by Romanes in his "Intellect of Animals"):
"Going to a field or wood at a distance from tame bees with
their box of honey, they gather up from the flowers and imprison one
or more bees, and after they have become sufficiently gorged, let
them out to return to their home with their easily gotten load.
Waiting patiently a longer or shorter time, according to the
distance of the bee-tree, the hunter scarcely ever fails to see the
bee or bees return accompanied by other bees, which are in like
manner imprisoned till they in turn are filled; then one or more are
let out at places distant from each other, and the direction in
which the bee flies noted; and thus, by a kind of triangulation, the
position of the bee-tree proximately ascertained."


You will notice too in your experiments that the friends who appear
to obey the behests of good fortune do not always fly together, and
that there will often be an interval of several seconds between the
different arrivals. As regards these communications, therefore, we
must ask ourselves the question that Sir John Lubbock has solved as
far as the ants are concerned.

Do the comrades who flock to the treasure only follow the bee that
first made the discovery, or have they been sent on by her, and do
they find it through following her indications, her description of
the place where it lies? Between these two hypotheses, that refer
directly to the extent and working of the bee's intellect, there is
obviously an enormous difference. The English savant has succeeded,
by means of an elaborate and ingenious arrangement of gangways,
corridors, moats full of water, and flying bridges, in establishing
that the ants in such cases do no more than follow in the track of
the pioneering insect. With ants, that can be made to pass where one
will, such experiments are possible; but for the bee, whose wings
throw every avenue open, some other expedient must of necessity be
contrived. I imagined the following, which, though it gave no
definite result, might yet, under more favourable conditions, and if
organised more carefully, give rise to definite and satisfactory

My study in the country is on the first floor, above a somewhat
lofty room; sufficiently high, therefore, to be out of the ordinary
range of the bees' flight, except at times when the chestnuts and
lime trees are in bloom. And for more than a week before I started
this experiment I had kept on my table an open comb of honey,
without the perfume having attracted, or induced the visit of, a
single bee. Then I went to a glass hive that was close to the house,
took an Italian bee, brought her to my study, set her on the comb,
and marked her while she was feeding.

When satisfied, she flew away and returned to the hive. I followed,
saw her pass over the surface of the crowd, plunge her head into an
empty cell, disgorge her honey, and prepare to set forth again. At
the door of the hive I had placed a glass box, divided by a trap
into two compartments. The bee flew into this box; and as she was
alone, and no other bee seemed to accompany or follow her, I
imprisoned her and left her there. I then repeated the experiment on
twenty different bees in succession. When the marked bee reappeared
alone, I imprisoned her as I had imprisoned the first. But eight of
them came to the threshold of the hive and entered the box
accompanied by two or three friends. By means of the trap I was able
to separate the marked bee from her companions, and to keep her a
prisoner in the first compartment. Then, having marked her
companions with a different colour, I threw open the second
compartment and set them at liberty, myself returning quickly to my
study to await their arrival. Now it is evident that if a verbal or
magnetic communication had passed, indicating the place, describing
the way, etc., a certain number of the bees, having been furnished
with this information, should have found their way to my room. I am
compelled to admit that there came but a single one. Was this mere
chance, or had she followed instructions received? The experiment
was insufficient, but circumstances prevented me from carrying it
further. I released the "baited" bees, and my study soon was
besieged by the buzzing crowd to whom they had taught the way to the

We need not concern ourselves with this incomplete attempt of mine,
for many other curious traits compel us to recognise the existence
among the bees of spiritual communications that go beyond a mere
"yes" or "no," and that are manifest in cases where mere example or
gesture would not be sufficient. Of such, for instance, are the
remarkable harmony of their work in the hive, the extraordinary
division of labour, the regularity with which one worker will take
the place of another, etc. I have often marked bees that went
foraging in the morning, and found that, in the afternoon, unless
flowers were specially abundant, they would be engaged in heating
and fanning the brood-cells, or perhaps would form part of the
mysterious, motionless curtain in whose midst the wax-makers and
sculptors would be at work. Similarly I have noticed that workers
whom I have seen gathering pollen for the whole of one day, will
bring no pollen back on the morrow, but will concern themselves
exclusively with the search for nectar, and vice-versa.


And further, we might mention what M. Georges de Layens, the
celebrated French apiarist, terms the "Distribution of Bees over
Melliferous Plants." Day after day, at the first hour of sunrise,
the explorers of the dawn return, and the hive awakes to receive the
good news of the earth. "The lime trees are blossoming to-day on the
banks of the canal." "The grass by the roadside is gay with white
clover." "The sage and the lotus are about to open." "The
mignonette, the lilies are overflowing with pollen." Whereupon the
bees must organise quickly, and arrange to divide the work. Five
thousand of the sturdiest will sully forth to the lime trees, while
three thousand juniors go and refresh the white clover. Those who
yesterday were absorbing nectar from the corollas will to-day repose
their tongue and the glands of their sac, and gather red pollen from
the mignonette, or yellow pollen from the tall lilies; for never
shall you see a bee collecting or mixing pollen of a different
colour or species; and indeed one of the chief pre-occupations of
the hive is the methodical bestowal of these pollens in the
store-rooms, in strict accordance with their origin and colour. Thus
does the hidden genius issue its commands. The workers immediately
sally forth, in long black files, whereof each one will fly straight
to its allotted task. "The bees," says De Layens, "would seem to be
perfectly informed as to the locality, the relative melliferous
value, and the distance of every melliferous plant within a certain
radius from the hive.

"If we carefully note the different directions in which these
foragers fly, and observe in detail the harvest they gather from the
various plants around, we shall find that the workers distribute
themselves over the flowers in proportion not only to the numbers of
flowers of one species, but also to their melliferous value. Nay,
more - they make daily calculations as to the means of obtaining the
greatest possible wealth of saccharine liquid. In the spring, for
instance, after the willows have bloomed, when the fields still are
bare, and the first flowers of the woods are the one resource of the
bees, we shall see them eagerly visiting gorse and violets,
lungworts and anemones. But, a few days later, when fields of
cabbage and colza begin to flower in sufficient abundance, we shall
find that the bees will almost entirely forsake the plants in the
woods, though these be still in full blossom, and will confine their
visits to the flowers of cabbage and colza alone. In this fashion
they regulate, day by day, their distribution over the plants, so as
to collect the greatest value of saccharine liquid in the least
possible time.

"It may fairly be claimed, therefore, for the colony of bees that,
in its harvesting labours no less than in its internal economy, it
is able to establish a rational distribution of the number of
workers without ever disturbing the principle of the division of


But what have we to do, some will ask, with the intelligence of the
bees? What concern is it of ours whether this be a little less or a
little more? Why weigh, with such infinite care, a minute fragment
of almost invisible matter, as though it were a fluid whereon
depended the destiny of man? I hold, and exaggerate nothing, that
our interest herein is of the most considerable. The discovery of a
sign of true intellect outside ourselves procures us something of
the emotion Robinson Crusoe felt when he saw the imprint of a human
foot on the sandy beach of his island. We seem less solitary than we
had believed. And indeed, in our endeavour to understand the
intellect of the bees, we are studying in them that which is most
precious in our own substance: an atom of the extraordinary matter
which possesses, wherever it attach itself, the magnificent power of
transfiguring blind necessity, of organising, embellishing, and
multiplying life; and, most striking of all, of holding in suspense
the obstinate force of death, and the mighty, irresponsible wave
that wraps almost all that exists in an eternal unconsciousness.

Were we sole possessors of the particle of matter that, when
maintained in a special condition of flower or incandescence, we
term the intellect, we should to some extent be entitled to look on
ourselves as privileged beings, and to imagine that in us nature
achieved some kind of aim; but here we discover, in the hymenoptera,
an entire category of beings in whom a more or less identical aim is
achieved. And this fact, though it decide nothing perhaps, still
holds an honourable place in the mass of tiny facts that help to
throw light on our position in this world. It affords even, if
considered from a certain point of view, a fresh proof of the most
enigmatic part of our being; for the superpositions of destinies
that we find in the hive are surveyed by us from an eminence loftier
than any we can attain for the contemplation of the destinies of
man. There we see before us, in miniature, the large and simple
lines that in our own disproportionate sphere we never have the
occasion to disentangle and follow to the end. Spirit and matter are
there, the race and the individual, evolution and permanence, life
and death, the past and the future; all gathered together in a
retreat that our hand can lift and one look of our eye embrace. And
may we not reasonably ask ourselves whether the mere size of a body,
and the room that it fills in time and space, can modify to the
extent we imagine the secret idea of nature; the idea that we try to
discover in the little history of the hive, which in a few days
already is ancient, no less than in the great history of man, of
whom three generations overlap a long century?


Let us go on, then, with the story of our hive; let us take it up
where we left it; and raise, as high as we may, a fold of the
festooned curtain in whose midst a strange sweat, white as snow and
airier than the down of a wing, is beginning to break over the
swarm. For the wax that is now being born is not like the wax that
we know; it is immaculate, it has no weight; seeming truly to be the
soul of the honey, that itself is the spirit of flowers. And this
motionless incantation has called it forth that it may serve us,
later - in memory of its origin, doubtless, wherein it is one with
the azure sky, and heavy with perfumes of magnificence and
purity - as the fragrant light of the last of our altars.


To follow the various phases of the secretion and employment of wax
by a swarm that is beginning to build, is a matter of very great
difficulty. All comes to pass in the blackest depths of the crowd,
whose agglomeration, growing denser and denser, produces the
temperature needful for this exudation, which is the privilege of
the youngest bees. Huber, who was the first to study these
phenomena, bringing incredible patience to bear and exposing himself
at times to very serious danger, devotes to them more than two
hundred and fifty pages; which, though of considerable interest, are
necessarily somewhat confused. But I am not treating this subject
technically; and while referring when necessary to Huber's admirable
studies, I shall confine myself generally to relating what is patent
to any one who may gather a swarm into a glass hive.

We have to admit, first of all, that we know not yet by what process
of alchemy the honey transforms itself into wax in the enigmatic
bodies of our suspended bees. We can only say that they will remain
thus suspended for a period extending from eighteen to twenty-four
hours, in a temperature so high that one might almost believe that a
fire was burning in the hollow of the hive; and then white and
transparent scales will appear at the opening of four little pockets
that every bee has underneath its abdomen.

When the bodies of most of those who form the inverted cone have
thus been adorned with ivory tablets, we shall see one of the bees,
as though suddenly inspired, abruptly detach herself from the mass,
and climb over the backs of the passive crowd till she reach the
inner pinnacle of the cupola. To this she will fix herself solidly,
dislodging, with repeated blows of her head, such of her neighbours
as may seem to hamper her movements. Then, with her mouth and claws,
she will seize one of the eight scales that hang from her abdomen,
and at once proceed to clip it and plane it, extend it, knead it
with her saliva, bend it and flatten it, roll it and straighten it,
with the skill of a carpenter handling a pliable panel. When at last

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