Apicultura Wiki
Chapter III.
Natural history of the honey-bee

Close examination of any prosperous colony of bees, in the summer season, will discover a marked difference in the individuals composing it. A large majority will appear small, a few hundred large and heavy, while a single one will fix attention by her long, tapering abdomen. Thus we have the workers, drones, and queen: the first being undeveloped females, called neuters; the second, males; and the last the fully developed female. Let us examine these in detail.

The neuters, or worker bees
Worker bee

These (see Fig.1) are by far the most numerous individuals of the hive, there being from 20,000 to 40,000 in every good colony. They are also the smallest members of the colony, measuring but little more than one-half inch in length of the queen. They also possess peculiarities of structure which at once distinguish them from both the queen and drones. Their tongues (see Fig. 12) are almost twice as long as in either the drone or queen; their jaws are much stronger; their wings, like the wings of the drone, attain the extremity of the body, while the tibia and tarsi- names given to the last joints of the legs - of the posterior legs are hollowed out, forming pollen-baskets, in which respect they differ from both the drones and the queen; the eyes do not differ from the same in the queen, but are smaller than those of the drone, and do not meet above.

The workers also possess a natural weapon of defense, the sting (see Fig.2), which they are free to use as occasion requires. The mechanism of this organ is very interesting. At its base is a double gland, which secrets the poison; which, when secreted, is poured into an ample poison sack (Fig.2, c), which is as large as a flax seed. The sting proper is an organ, consisting of three sharp spears, very smooth and of exquisite polish, which lie side by side, and make up the sting as seen by the naked eye. The central lance (Fig. 2, a) is hollow, - a little shorter than the others. The central opening connects with the poison sack, so that the poison all passes through this part of the sting. The side pieces (Fig.2, b b) are marvelously sharp, and each barbed at the end with teeth, of which seven are prominent, and which extend out and back like the barb of a fish-hook, so that the sting cannot be withdrawn when once fairly used, and with its loss the bee's life is sacrificed. These side pieces are worked alternately by small muscles (Fig. 2, d) at the base of the sting, and when fairly inserted the poison is intruded through the central piece. The workers also possess a honey stomach (Fig. 3), or crop, in which honey is carried to the hive.

Worker bee alimentary canal

The workers always hatch from an impregnated egg, which can only come from a fertile queen, and is always laid in the small horizontal cells (see description of the comb and Fig. 11). The eggs are in the form of a short, slightly-curved cylinder, and are fastened by one end to the bottom of the cell. They can be easily seen by holding the comb so that the light will shine into the cells. The eggs hatch in about four days. The larva (Fig. 4) is white and footless, and lies coiled up, floating in a whitish fluid previously placed in the cell. This food is composed of pollen and honey, and is all consumed by the larva. In about five days the cell is capped over by the bees. The cap is composes of pollen and wax, so that it is darker, more porous, and more easily broken than the honey caps. It is also more convex. The larva, now full grown, commences to surround itself with a thin cocoon made of fine silk, and in three days assumes the pupa state (Fig.5), when it is called a nymph. It now looks like the imago of fully developed bee, except that the legs, wings, and tongue are folded on the breast, and the insect is now colorless. Upon the twenty-first day the bee emerges from the cell.

The worker bees never attain a great age. Those reared in autumn may live for nine months, while those bred in spring will wear out in three. None of the worker bees will survive the year through. So there is a limit to the number which may exist in a colony. Their longevity depends upon their activity, and hence upon the time of year in which they live.

The function of the worker bees is to do all the manual labor of the hive. They secrete the wax, which forms in small pellets beneath the abdomen, build the comb, feed the yound bees, or, rather, the larvæ, and cap the cells, whether they be brood or honey cells. Thus far the work is done by the younger bees. The older bees gather the honey, collect the pollen, or bee-bread, as it is generally called, bring in the propolis, or bee-glue, which is used to close up openings, and as a cement, supply the hive with water, defend the hive from all improper intrusion, destroy drones when their day of grace is past, kill and arrange for replacing worthless queens, and lead forth a portion of the bees when the conditions impel them to swarm.

The drones

The male bees (Fig.6) are only found in the hive from May till November, when there will be a few hundred, though the number may be controlled by the Apiarist, and should be greatly reduced. These are longer than the workers, being nearly of an inch in length and more bulky than either the queen or neuters. Their flight is heavy, and they may be known by their deep, low hum. Their tongue is short, jaws weak, and their posterior members destitute of pollen baskets. The eyes meet above, and are very prominent. The drones, too, have no defense organ, the sting being absent. The drones, too, have no defense organ, the sting being absent.

The male bees come from unimpregnated eggs, a fact which, though it almost staggers credulity, is easy proved, and beyond question. These eggs may come from an unimpregnated queen, a fertile worker, -for very rarely a worker bee will deposit eggs, such bees doubtless meeting in part the conditions which we shall see in the sequel produce queens, - or from an impregnated queen, which may voluntarily prevent impregnation. Such eggs are placed in the larger horizontal cells ( Fig. 11) in the same manner as the worker eggs are placed in the smaller cells. The capping of the drone cells is very convex, and protrudes beyond the worker, and, from the darker color of the capping, both drone and worker brood are very readily distinguished from honey. The development of the drones from egg to larva, to pupa, and to imago, is essentially like that of the workers, though they do not come forth till the twenty-fourth day from the laying of the egg. Of course difference of temperature and other conditions may slightly advance or retard the development of any brood in the different stages. The drones, -in fact all bees, - when they first emerge from the cells, are gray, soft and appear unsophisticated generally.

Just what the longevity of the male bee is I am able to state. They appear in May and are destroyed in October and November. It is not improbable that some may live during the entire time.

The function of the drones is solely to impregnate the queens. this is done on the wing, outside the hive, usually during the heat of warm, sunshiny days. After mating, the drone organs adhere to the queen, and their abstraction is fatal to the life of the drone. As a queen never meets but a single drone, and that only once, it might be asked why nature was so improvident as to decree hundreds of drones to an apiary or colony, whereas a score would suffice as well. Yet nature cognizance of the importance of the queen, and as she goes forth amidst the myriads dangers of the outer world, it is safest and best that her stay abroad be not protracted; hence the superabundance of drones, -especially under natural conditions, isolated in forest homes, where ravenous birds are ever on the alert for insect game,- is most wise and provident. Artificial circumstances require no such conditions, nor are they then enforced.

The queen

The queen (Fig. 7) is the true mother bee, or in other words a perfectly developed female, with large, full formed ovaries, which occupy the larger part of her abdomen. These organs (Fig. 8), one on either side of the back, are multitubular, each consisting of many tubes (Fig. 8, a a), in which grow the eggs, for the eggs of all animals are a growth, not a secretion. From each ovary leads a special duct 8b, Fig. 8), which ducts finally unite into the common oviduct (c, Fig. 8), through which all the eggs pass. By the side of this oviduct is a little pea-shaped sock (e, Fig. 8), called the spermatheca, which, during copulation or mating, is filled with the seminal or male fluid. Abaout this sock are voluntary muscles, so that the queen can bring the fluid, if she desires, in contact with the eggs as they pass. This, of course, is the most important structural peculiarity of the queen, as this makes her a female, but she has other differences worthy of mention: she is longer than either drone or worker, being over seven-eights of an inch long, and with her long, tapering abdomen is not without real grace and beauty. The queen's tongue (Fig. 9) is short, her jaws weak, eyes like the neuter's, wings short, hardly more than half the length of the abdomen. She has no pollen-baskets, but possesses a sting which resembles that of the humble-bee, in being curved (see d, Fig. 8), yet, strange as it may appear, she can seldom be induced to make use of it. I have often tried to provoke a queen's anger, but never with any evidence of success.

The queen, like the neuters, is developed from an impregnated egg, which of course could only come from a fertile queen. These eggs are not placed in a horizontal cell, but in one specially prepared for their reception. These queen cells (Fig. 11) are usually built on the edge of, or around an opening in the comb, extend either vertically or diagonally downward, and much resemble a thimble or a pea-nut in form and size. The eggs are placed in these cells, either by the worker bees, which transfer them from the worker cells, or else by the queen. Some apiarists doubt that the queen ever places an egg in a queen cell, but I have no doubt of the fact, though I never witnessed the act. I have frequently seen the eggs in these cells in exactly the position which the queen usually places her eggs. Nor have I much respect for the arguments which are built on an inferred discord between the queen and the neuters. I believe that is a better understanding between the inmates of the hive than is generally believed by apiarists. It is probably true that the actions of the bees are influenced and controlled by circumstances or conditions, but I have yet to see satisfactory proof that these conditions differently impress the queen and workers. The conditions which usually lead to the building of the queen cells and the peopling of the same, are loss of queen, inability of queen to lay fertile eggs, and too great numbers of bees, or too little room in the hive, which is likely to be true in times of great honey secretion. The queen may be developed from an egg or from a worker larva less than three days old, which will then be transferred from a worker cell to a queen cell. The development of the queen is much the same as that of a worker, though she is fed richer and more plenteous food, called royal jelly. So abundant is this royal pabulum that there is always some remaining in the cell after the queen issues. It is probable that the more profuse and sumptuous diet, perhaps aided by a more ample habitation, is what accelerates and perfects the development of her royal highness. Yet the fact of fertile workers, and the easy probability of their having received a little richer and more plenteous diet than their sisters, would lead us to suppose that the food, both as to quality and quantity, is what had most influence. The cocoon surrounding the queen nymph or pupa is imperfect next the outer end of the celll. It has been supposed by some that this was an act of thoughtfulness on the part of the queen larva, thus to render her own destruction more easy, should the welfare of the colony demend it. In sixteen days from the laying of the egg, or from ten to twelve days from the starting of a queen from the worker larva the queen issues from her cell. As the queen's development is probably minly due to supperior character and quality of the food, it would stand to reason that queens from the eggs are preferable; and under normal circumstances I believe the bees in nature thus start them nearly always. The best experience sustains this conclusion. As the proper food and temperature could best be secured in a full colony- and here again the natural economy of the hive adds to our argument- we should infer that the best queens would come from strong colonies. Experience also confirms this view.

Five days after issuing from the cell, if the day is pleasant, the queen goes forth on her marriage flight, otherwise she will improve the first pleasant day for this purpose. If she fails to find an admirer the first day, she will go forth again and again till she succeeds. If the queen is observed upon her return from her wedding tour, it may be easily determined whether or no she has been successful, for if she has she will bear suspended to her body the organd og the drone. If the queen lays any eggs before meeting the drone, or if for any cause she fails to meet the drone, the eggs will of course only produce drone bees. About two days after fertilization takes place the queen commences under normal circumstances to lay worker eggs, and the first year lays few others.

The queen, when considered in relation to the other inhabitants of the colony, possesses a surprising longevity. It is not uncommon for hr to attain the age of three years in the full possession of her powers, while queens have been known to live even five years. Queens, often at the expiration of one, two, three, or four years, depending upon their vigor and excellence, either cease to be fertile or else become impotent to lay but drone eggs, the spermatheca having become emptied of the seminal fluid. In such cases the workers usually supersede the queen; that is, they destroy the old queen and start queen cells for the purpose of rearing young, fertile, and vigorous queens.

The function of the queen is simply to lay eggs, and thus keep the colony populous; and this she does with an energy that is fairly startling. A good queen in her best estate will lay two or three thousand eggs a day. Yet with even these figures as an advertisement, the queen bee can not boast of superlative fecundity, as the queen white-ant - an insect closely related to the bees in habits, though not in structure, as the white-ants are lace-wings and belong to the sub-order Neoptera, which includes our day-flies, dragon flies, etc. - is known to lay over 80,000 eggs daily. Yet tis poor helpless thing whose abdomen is the size of a men's thumb, and composed almost wholly of eggs, while the rest of her body is not larger than the same in our common ants, has no other amusement. She cannot walk, she can not even feed herself or care for her eggs. What wonder then that she should attempt big things in the way of egg-laying? She has nothing else to do or to feel proud of. Different queens vary as much in fecundity as do different breeds of fowls. Some queens are so prolific that they fairly demand hives of india rubber to accommodate them, keeping their hives fairly gushing with bees and profitable activity, while others are so inferior that the colonies make a poor sickly effort to survive at all, and usually succumb early, before those adverse circumstances which are ever waiting to confront all life on the globe.

The old poetical notion that the queen is the revered and admired sovereign of the colony, whose pathway is ever lined by obsequious courtiers, whose person is ever the recipient of loving caresses, and whose will is law in this bee-hive kingdom, controlling all the activities inside the hive, and leading the colony whithersoever they may go, is unquestionably mere fiction. In the hive, as in the world, individuals are valued for what they are worth. The queen, as the most importand individual, is regarded with solicitude, and her removal or loss noted with consternation, as the welfare of the colony is threatened; yet, let the queen become useless, and she is despatched with the same absence of emotion that characterizes the destruction of the drones when they have become supernumeraries. It is very doubtful if emotion or sentimentality are ever moving forces among the lower animals. There are probably certain conspires against, or tends to intercept the action of these principles, becomes an enemy to the bees.

All are interested, and doubtless more united than is generally believed, in a desire to promote the free action of these principles. No doubt the principle of antagonism among the various bees has been overrated. Even the drones when they are being killed off in the autumn made a sickly show of defense, as much as to say, the welfare of the colony demands that such worthless vagrants should be exterminated; so mote it be, go ahead. The statement, too, that there is often serious antagonism between the queen and the workers, as to the destruction or preservation of inchoate queens, yet in the cell, is a matter which may well be investigated. It is most probable that what tends most for the prosperity of the colony is well understood by all, and without doubt there is harmonious action among all the denizens of the hive, to foster that which will advance the general welfare, or to make war on whatever may tend to interfere with it. If the course of any of the bee seems wavering and inconsistent, we may rest assured that circumstances have changed, and that could we perceive the bearings of all the surrounding conditions, all would appear consistent and harmonious.