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Title: The Children's Life of the Bee
Author: Maeterlinck, Maurice, 1862-1949
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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"The black throng issues, or rather pours forth, in a
throbbing, quivering stream"--_Frontispiece_

In the heart of the flower.

"And the bees, forming a circle around the two, will
eagerly watch the strange duel"

"The queen takes possession together with her servants,
guardians and counsellors"

The Sphinx




I have not yet forgotten the first apiary I saw, where I learned to love
the bees. It was many years ago, in a large village of Dutch Flanders,
the sweet and pleasant country that rejoices in brilliant flowers; a
country that gladly spreads out before us, as so many pretty toys, her
illuminated gables and wagons and towers; her cupboards and clocks that
gleam at the end of the passage; her little trees marshaled in line
along quays and canal-banks, waiting, one almost might think, for some
splendid procession to pass; her boats and her barges with sculptured
sterns, her flower-like doors and windows, her spotless dams and
many-coloured drawbridges; and her little varnished houses, bright as
new pottery, from which bell-shaped dames come forth, all a-glitter with
silver and gold, to milk the cows in the white-hedged fields, or spread
the linen on flowery lawns that are cut into patterns of oval and
lozenge and are most amazingly green.

To this spot an aged philosopher had retired, having become a little
weary; and here he had built his refuge. His happiness lay all in the
beauties of his garden; and best-loved, and visited most often, were the
bee-hives. There were twelve of them, twelve domes of straw; and some he
had painted a bright pink, and some a clear yellow, but most were a
tender blue, for he had noticed the fondness of the bees for this
color. These hives stood against the wall of the house, in the angle
formed by one of those pleasant and graceful Dutch kitchens whose
earthenware dresser, all bright with copper and brass, was reflected
through the open door on to the peaceful water of the canal. And the
water, carrying these familiar images beneath its curtain of poplars,
led one's eyes to a calm horizon of meadows and of mills.

Here, as in all places, the hives lent a new meaning to the flowers and
the silence, the balm of the air and the rays of the sun. One seemed to
have drawn very near to all that was happiest in nature. One was content
to sit down and rest at this radiant cross-road, along which the busy
and tuneful bearers of all country perfumes were incessantly passing
from dawn until dusk. One heard the musical voice of the garden, whose
loveliest hours seemed to rejoice and to sing of their gladness. One
came here, to the school of the bees, to be taught how nature is always
at work, always scheming and planning; and to learn too the lesson of
whole-hearted labor which is always to benefit others.

In order to follow, as simply as possible, the life of the bees through
the year, we will take a hive that awakes in the Spring and duly starts
on its labors; and then we shall meet, in their order, all the great
events of the bees. These are, first of all, the formation and departure
of the swarm; then, the foundation of the new city, the birth and flight
of the young queens, the massacre of the males, and, last of all, the
return of the sleep of winter. We will try to give the reasons for each
event, and to show the laws and habits that bring it about; and so,
when we have arrived at the end of the bees' short year, which extends
only from April to the last days of September, we shall have gazed on
all the mysteries of the palace of honey.

Before we knock at the door, and let our inquisitive glance travel
round, it need merely be said that the hive is composed of a queen, who
is the mother of all her people; of thousands of female worker-bees, who
are neuters or spinsters; and, finally, of some hundreds of males, who
never do any work, and are known as drones.

When for the first time we take the cover off a hive we cannot help some
feeling of fear, as though we were looking at something not meant for
our eyes, something alarming and frightening. We have always thought of
the bee as rather a dangerous creature. There is the distressful
recollection of its sting, which produces so peculiar a pain that one
knows not with what to compare it: a sort of dreadful dryness, as though
a flame of the desert had scorched the wounded limb; and one asks
oneself whether these daughters of the sun may not have distilled a
dazzling poison from their father's rays, in order to defend the
treasure which they have gathered during his shining hours.

There is no doubt that if some person, who neither knows nor respects
the habits of the bee, were suddenly to fling open the hive, this would
turn itself immediately into a burning-bush of heroism and fury; but the
slight amount of skill needed to deal with the matter can be readily
acquired. Let but a little smoke be deftly applied, let us be gentle and
careful in our movements, and the heavily-armed workers will permit
themselves to be robbed without the least thought of using their sting.
It is not the fact, as some people have stated, that the bees recognize
their owner, nor have they any fear of man; but, when the smoke reaches
them, when they become aware of what is happening, so quietly and
without any haste or disturbance, they imagine that this is not the
attack of an enemy against whom any defense is possible, but that it is
some natural catastrophe, to which they will do well to submit. Instead
of vainly struggling, therefore, their one thought is to safeguard their
future; and they rush at once to their reserves of honey, into which
they eagerly plunge themselves in order to possess the material for
starting a new city immediately, no matter where, should the old one be
destroyed or they compelled to abandon it.

A person who knows nothing of bees will be a little disappointed the
first time he looks into a hive. Let us say that it is an
observation-hive, made of glass, with black curtains and shutters and
only one comb, thus enabling the spectator to study both sides. These
hives can be placed in a drawing-room or a library without any
inconvenience or danger. The bees that live in the one I have in my
study in Paris are able--even in that great city--to do their own
marketing, as it were--in other words, to find the food they
require--and to prosper. You will have been told, when you are shown
this little glass box, that it is the home of a most extraordinary
activity; that it is governed by a number of wise laws, that it
enshrines deep mysteries; and all you will see is a mass of little,
reddish groups, somewhat resembling roasted coffee-berries or bunches of
raisins, all huddled up against the glass. They look more dead than
alive; their movements are slow, and seem confused and without any
purpose. We ask ourselves, can these be the dazzling creatures we had
seen, but a moment ago, flashing and sparkling as they darted among the
pearls and the gold of a thousand wide-open flowers?

Now, in the darkness, they seem to be shivering; to be numbed,
suffocated, so closely are they huddled together. They look as though
they were prisoners; or shall we say queens who have lost their throne,
who have had their one moment of glory in the midst of their radiant
garden, and are now compelled to return to the dingy misery of their
poor overcrowded home.

It is with them as it is with all the real things in life; they must be
studied, and we have to learn how to study them.

Much is happening inside this mass that seems so inactive, but it will
take you some time to grasp it and see it. The truth is that every
single creature in the little groups that appear scarcely to move is
hard at work, each one at its own particular trade. There is not one of
them that knows what it means to be idle; and those, for instance, that
seem fast asleep, as they hang in great clusters against the glass, are
entrusted with the most mysterious and fatiguing task of all; it is
their duty to create the marvelous wax. But we shall tell later, and in
its place, precisely what each of the bees is doing; for the moment we
will merely point out why it is that the different classes of workers
all cluster together so strangely. The fact is that the bee, even more
than the ant, is only happy when she is in the midst of a crowd; she can
only live in the crowd. When she leaves the hive, which is so densely
packed that she has to keep on butting with her head in order to pass,
she is out of her element, away from what she loves. She will dive for
an instant into flower-filled space, as the swimmer will dive into the
sea that is filled with pearls; but, just as the swimmer must come to
the surface and breathe the air, so must she, at regular intervals,
return and breathe the crowd--or she will die. Take her away from her
comrades, and however abundant the food may be, however gentle the
climate, she will perish in a few days, not of hunger or cold, but
merely of loneliness. She needs the crowd, she needs her own city, just
as she needs the honey on which she lives. This craving for
companionship in some way helps us to understand the nature of the laws
that govern the hive. For in these laws the individual bee, the one bee
apart from the other, simply does not count. Her entire life is
sacrifice, and only sacrifice, to the bees as a race; as it were, to the
everlasting community, of which she forms part.

This, however, has not always been the case, for there is a lower order
of bees that prefers to work alone, and very miserably too, sometimes
never seeing its young, and at others, like the bumble-bee, living in
the midst of its own little family. From these we arrive, through one
stage after another, to the almost perfect but pitiless society of our
hives, where the individual bee exists only for the republic of which it
forms a part, and where that republic itself will at all times be
sacrificed in the interests of the immortal city of the future.



We will now leave our observation hive, and, in order to get nearer to
nature, consider the different events of the swarm as they come to pass
in an ordinary hive, which is about ten times larger than the other, and
offers entire freedom to the bees.

Here, then, they have shaken off the sluggishness of winter. The queen
started laying her eggs in the very first days of February, and the
workers have gone in streams to the willows and nuttrees, the gorse and
violets, anemones and lungworts. Then Spring comes upon the earth, and
in the hive honey and pollen abound in cellar and attic, while each day
sees the birth of thousands of bees. The overgrown males now all sally
forth from their cells, and sun themselves on the combs. So crowded does
the city become that hundreds of workers, coming back from the flowers
in the evening, will vainly seek shelter within, and will be forced to
spend the night on the threshold of the hive, where many will die from
the cold.

The inhabitants of the hive become restless, and the old queen begins to
stir. She feels that there is something to be done; something strange,
that she has to do. So far, she has religiously fulfilled her duty as a
good mother; but, to her, the accomplishment of this duty will bring no
reward. An unknown power threatens her tranquillity; she will soon be
forced to quit this city of hers, where she has so long reigned. But
this city has been made by her. She is not its queen in the sense in
which men use the word. She gives no orders; she obeys, as meekly as the
humblest of her subjects, the hidden power that for the present we will
call the "spirit of the hive." But she is the mother of the city; its
inhabitants are all her children. It is she who has founded it, brought
it together out of nothing, triumphed over the uncertainty and poverty
of its beginning; it is she who has peopled it; and those who move
within its walls--the workers, the males, the larvæ, the nymphs and
young princesses--she is the mother of them all.

What is this "spirit of the hive"--where is it to be found? It is not
like the special instinct that teaches the bird to build its
well-planned nest, and then seek other skies when winter threatens. It
is not a fixed and unchanging habit; it is not a law that deals with
special cases. On the contrary, it deals with all cases; it studies
them, watches them--and then gives orders for the right thing to be
done--just as a faithful steward might do who had only the interests of
his master at heart.

It deals unmercifully with the wealth and the happiness, the liberty and
the life, of all this winged people; and yet it always acts with
judgment and wisdom, as though it were itself directed by some
overpowering duty. It is the "spirit of the hive" that decides how many
bees shall be born every day, arranging this in accordance with the
number of flowers that gladden the country-side. It is the "spirit of
the hive" that warns the queen when it is time to depart, that compels
her to allow the young princesses to come into the world, although these
princesses shall be her own rivals. Or perhaps, when the season is on
the wane, and the flowers are growing less plentiful, the spirit will
instruct the workers to do away with the princesses, so that there may
be no chance of disturbance, and work may once again become the sole
object of all.

The spirit of the hive is prudent and wise, but never niggardly. In the
glad summer days of sunshine and plenty it permits three or four hundred
males to exist in the hive--pompous, useless, noisy creatures, who are
greedy and dirty, vulgar and arrogant; but, one morning when the flowers
are beginning to close earlier and open later, the spirit will quietly
issue instructions that every male shall be killed. It draws up a sort
of time-table for each one of the workers, allotting them tasks in
accordance with their age; it selects the nurses who attend to the
larvæ, and the ladies of honor who wait on the queen and never by any
chance let her out of their sight. It has given the necessary orders to
the house-bees who air and warm the hive by fanning their wings, thereby
also helping the honey to settle; to the architects, masons, waxworkers
and sculptors who form the mysterious curtain and build the combs; to
the foragers who sally forth to the flowers in search of the nectar that
turns into honey, of the pollen that feeds the larvæ, and of the water
and salt required by the youth of the city.

It is the spirit of the hive that has chosen the chemists whose business
it is to keep the honey sweet and fresh by allowing a drop of formic
acid to fall in from the end of their sting; the capsule-makers, who
seal up the provision-cells when these are filled; the sweepers, who
clean the streets and public places of the hive; and the guards who all
day and all night keep watch on the threshold, who question all comers
and goers, recognize the young bees as they return from their very first
flight, scare away vagabonds, loafers and trespassers, expel all
intruders, and, if need be, block up and defend the entrance to the

And, last of all, it is the spirit of the hive which decides on the hour
at which the bees shall swarm; the hour, that is, when we find a whole
people, who have reached the very height of prosperity and power,
suddenly abandoning, in favor of the generation that is to follow, all
their wealth and their palaces, their homes and the fruits of their
labor, content themselves to face the perils and hardships of a journey
into a new and distant country. This act will always bring poverty with
it and sometimes ruin; and the people who once were so happy are
scattered abroad in obedience to a law that they recognize to be
greater than their own happiness.

These things that happen to the bee are regarded by us in the way we
regard most things that happen in the world. We note some of the bees'
habits; we say, they do this, and do that, they work in such and such a
way, this is how their queens are born; we observe that the workers are
all females and that they swarm at a certain time. And having said this,
we think that we know them, and ask nothing more. We watch them
hastening from flower to flower, we see the constant movement within the
hive; and we tell ourselves that we understand all about their life. But
the moment that we try to come nearer the truth, to see more clearly, we
find puzzling questions confronting us, questions as to what part is
played by destiny and what part by will, how much is due to
intelligence and how much to nature; difficult questions, these, that
are never absent even from the most simple acts of our own daily life.

Our hive, then, is preparing to swarm, making ready for the great
sacrifice to the generation that is to come. In obedience to the order
given by the "spirit of the hive," sixty or seventy thousand bees out of
the eighty or ninety thousand that form the whole population, will
forsake their old city at a given hour. They will not be leaving it at a
moment of great unhappiness; they have not suddenly made up their minds
to abandon a home that has been rendered miserable by hunger or illness,
or ruined by war. No; on the contrary, preparations have for a long time
been made, and the hour most favorable for departure patiently awaited.

If the hive were poor, or had suffered from storm or robbery; or if some
misfortune had befallen the royal family, the bees would not dream of
going away. They do this only when everything is at its very best in the
hive; at a time when, thanks to the enormous amount of work done in the
spring, the immense palace of wax has its 120,000 well-arranged cells
overflowing with honey and with the many-colored flour, known as "bees'
bread," on which the larvæ are fed.

Never is the hive more beautiful than on the eve of its great sacrifice.
Let us try to imagine it for ourselves--not as it appears to the bee,
for we cannot tell what it looks like to her, seen through the triple
eye on her brow and the six or seven thousand facets of the eyes on her
side--but as it would seem to us, were we no bigger than she is. From
the height of a dome greater than that of St. Peter's at Rome waxen
walls descend to the ground; and these walls, although they have all
been built in the dark, are more perfect, more wonderful, than any that
have been erected by human hands. Each one, smelling so fresh and so
sweet, contains thousands of cells that are stored with provisions;
enough, indeed, to feed the whole population for weeks. Here, too, are
transparent cells filled with the pollen of every flower of spring,
making brilliant splashes of red and yellow, of black and mauve. Close
by, sealed with a seal to be broken only in days of distress, is the
honey of April, clearest and most perfumed of all, stored in twenty
thousand vats, which look like a long and beautiful embroidery of gold,
with borders that hang stiff and rigid. Lower down still, the honey of
May is maturing, in huge open tanks, that are fanned all the time by
watchful, untiring guardians. In the center, in the warmest part of the
hive, are the royal nurseries, the domain set apart for the queen and
her attendants; here also are about 16,000 cells wherein the eggs
repose, 15 or 16,000 chambers occupied by the youthful bees, and 40,000
rooms filled with infants in their cradles, cared for by thousands of
nurses. And, last of all, in the most secret and private quarters, are
the three, four, six or twelve sealed palaces, vast in size compared
with the others, where the growing princesses lie who await their hour;
wrapped in a kind of shroud, all of them motionless and pale, and fed in
the darkness.

The appointed day arrives, the one that has been chosen by the "spirit
of the hive"; and a certain part of the population will at once sally
forth. In the sleeping city there remain the males, the very young bees
that look after the brood-cells, and some thousands of workers who go on
gathering honey, guarding the treasure, and keeping up the moral
atmosphere of the hive. For it must be understood that each hive has its
own moral code; some are admirable in every respect, while others have
fallen away sadly from the paths of virtue. A careless bee-keeper will
often spoil his people, and cause them to lose respect for the property
of others, whereby they will become a danger to all the hives around.
They will give up the hundreds of visits to neighboring flowers that are
necessary in order to form one drop of honey, and will prefer to force
their way into other hives, that are too weak for selfdefense, and to
rob these of the fruit of their labors; and it is very difficult to
bring back to the paths of duty a hive that shall have become so

All things go to prove that it is not the queen, but the "spirit of the
hive," that fixes on the hour for the swarm. This queen of ours, like
many a leader among men, is herself compelled to obey commands that are
far more important, and far more secret, than those which she gives to
her subjects. At break of dawn, or perhaps a night or two before, the
word will be given; and scarcely has the sun drunk in the first drops of
dew when a most unusual stir may be noticed inside and all around the
buzzing hive. Sometimes, too, for day after day before the actual
swarming takes place, one will find a curious excitement, for which
there would seem no cause, that suddenly appears, and as suddenly
vanishes, in the golden, gleaming throng. One asks oneself, has a cloud
that we cannot see crept across the sky that the bees are watching; or
is it their mere sorrow at the thought of leaving? Has a council of bees
been summoned to consider whether they really must go? Of all this we
know nothing; we do know that the "spirit of the hive" has no difficulty
in letting its message be known to the multitude. Certain as it may seem
that the bees are able to communicate with each other, we cannot tell
whether this is done in our human fashion. It is possible that they
themselves do not hear their own song, the murmur that comes to us
heavily laden with perfume of honey, the joyous whisper of fairest
summer days that the bee-keeper loves so well, the festival song of
labor that rises and falls around the hive, and that might almost be the
chant of the eager flowers, the voice of the white carnation, the
marjoram, and the thyme.

Certain sounds that the bees put forth, however, can be readily
understood by us, sounds that convey anger, sorrow, rejoicing or
threats. They have their songs of abundance, when the harvest is
plentiful, their psalms of grief and the chorus they chant to the queen;
and at the time when she is being chosen the young princesses will send
forth long and mysterious warcries.... It is quite possible that the
sounds we ourselves make do not reach the bees; in any event these
sounds do not seem in the least to disturb them, but are regarded by the
bees perhaps as not intended for them, not in their world, and anyhow of
no interest. In the same way perhaps we too only hear a very small part
of the sounds that the bees produce, and there may be many of which we
are ignorant. We soon shall be shown how quickly they contrive to
understand each other, and how each one is told precisely the right
thing to do, when, for instance, that great honey-thief, the dreadful
moth that bears a death's head on its back, forces its way into the
hive, humming its own strange song. The news travels quickly from group
to group; and from the guards on the threshold to the workers on the
most distant combs, the whole population of the hive becomes suddenly
alert and eager, and trembles with fear.

For a long time it was thought that when these clever bees, usually so
prudent and well-advised, left the treasures of their kingdom and sought
a future that was so full of uncertainty, they were obeying some foolish
impulse, some suggestion that had no especial meaning. It is our habit,
when we consider the bees, to say that all that we do not as yet
understand is just due to fate, that it happens because it had to
happen. But now that we have discovered two or three of the secrets of
the hive, we have learned why it is that the bees swarm; the reason
being merely that the generation at present in the hive has thought it
its duty to sacrifice itself on behalf of the generation that is to

The fact that this is the case can easily be proved. If the bee-keeper
chooses to destroy the young queens in their cells, to enlarge the
store-houses and dormitories in the hive, all the restlessness,
confusion, the stir and the worry, would at once disappear. The bees
would immediately take up their work again and revisit the flowers; the
old queen, having no one to fill her place, would give up her great
desire for the light of the sun, and decide to remain where she was. All
her doubts as to the future being now set at rest, she would peacefully
continue her labors, which consist in the laying of two or three
thousand eggs a day, as she passes from cell to cell, omitting none, and
never pausing to rest.

This particular hive, however, that we are now watching, has not been
interfered with by man; the bees have been left to do what seemed right
to them. On the appointed day then, the beautiful day, whose dawn, still
moist with the dew, comes nearer and nearer beneath the trees,
approaching with radiant and glowing steps, the bees all become
impatient, and feverishly restless. Over the whole surface of the golden
corridors that divide the walls of the hive, the workers are busily
making preparations for the journey. Each one will first of all provide
herself with honey sufficient for five or six days. From this honey
that they carry within them they will distil the wax needed to build the
new home. They will take with them also some kind of solid substance
with which they will afterwards block up all the holes, strengthen weak
places, varnish the walls and shut out the light; for the bees love to
work in complete darkness, guiding themselves with their wonderful eyes,
or perhaps with their antennæ, or feelers, which very possibly possess
some sense, unknown to us, that enables them to triumph over the

This is the most dangerous day in the life of the bee; it is full of the
most dreadful possibilities; and the bees are well aware of it. Thinking
of nothing now but their mighty adventure, they will have no time to
visit the gardens and meadows; and to-morrow, and after to-morrow, it
may rain, or there may be wind; their wings may be frozen and the
flowers refuse to open. They would soon die of hunger; no one would come
to help them, and they would seek help from none. For one city knows not
the other, and assistance never is given. And even if the bee-keeper
place the new hive by the side of the old one, the queen and her cluster
of bees would not dream of returning to the safety and wealth of the
home they had left, no matter what hardships they might have to endure;
and all, one by one, and down to the last of them, would perish of
hunger and cold around their unhappy queen rather than go back to the
hive where they were born.

This is a thing, some people might say, that men would not do; it is a
proof that the bee cannot have much intelligence. Is this so certain?
Other creatures may have an intelligence that is different from ours,
and produces different results; and yet it does not follow that they are
inferior to us. Are we so readily able to understand of what the people
are thinking whom we see, perhaps, talking behind a closed window or
moving about in the street? Or let us suppose that an inhabitant of
Venus or Mars were to look down from the top of a mountain, and watch
us, who to him would seem mere little black specks, as we come and go in
the streets and squares of our towns. Would the mere sight of our
movements, our buildings, machines and canals, give him any very real
idea of ourselves? All he could do, like ourselves as we gaze at the
hive, would be to take note of one or two facts that seem very
extraordinary. And from these facts he would jump at conclusions that
would be just as uncertain as those that it pleases us to form
concerning the bee.

"What are they aiming at, what are they trying for?" he would wonder,
after years and years of patient watching. "I can see nothing that seems
to direct their actions. The little things that one day they collect and
build up, the next they destroy and scatter. In a great many cases their
conduct is quite extraordinary. There are some men, for instance, who
seem to do no work and hardly to stir from their place. They can be told
from the others by their glossier coat, and also by their being
generally fatter. They live in buildings ten or twenty times bigger than
those of the workers, very much richer, and full of little ingenious
contrivances. They spend a great many hours every day at their meals, of
which they take a great number. They appear to be held in high honor by
all who come near them; and have numbers of men and women to wait on
them, to feed them and look after them. It can only be assumed that
these persons must be of the greatest use and service to the country,
but I have so far not been able to discover what this service may be.
There are others who do nothing but work, and work very hard indeed, in
great sheds full of wheels that are always turning round and round, or
in dark and dirty hovels, or on small plots of earth that from sunrise
to sunset they are always digging and delving. It is certain that this
labor must be an offense, and one which is punished. For the persons who
are guilty of it are lodged in wretched little houses, in which there is
absolutely no comfort at all, and very often no light and no air. They
are clothed in some colorless sort of hide. They are so madly fond of
the foolish things they are doing that they scarcely allow themselves
time to eat or to sleep. In numbers they are to the others as a thousand
to one. The curious thing is that, apart from this extraordinary craving
for their work--which would seem to be very tiring--they appear to be
quite gentle and harmless, and satisfied with the leavings of those who
are evidently the guardians, if not the saviors, of the race."

Whatever we may think about the intelligence of the bee, we must at
least admire the way in which it sacrifices itself to the one thing it
seems to care for or value--and that is, the future. It is the future of
the race, and that only, which directs the bee's actions, its virtues,
and even its cruelties. That is its ideal, the one thing it lives for;
and where shall we find one that is more sublime, where shall we look
for a self-denial that is braver or more complete?

It is such a logical little republic, this one of the bees; they reason
so clearly, they are so careful and wise; and yet they allow this dream
of theirs, this dream that is so uncertain and full of doubt, to master
them completely. Who shall tell us, oh little people, who are so deeply
in earnest, who have fed on the warmth and the light and on all that is
purest in nature, on the very soul of the flowers, who shall tell us why
you seem to have found the answer to questions that to us are
unanswerable still? Oh little city, so full of faith, and mystery, and
hope, why do your thousands of workers sacrifice themselves so
cheerfully? Another spring, another summer, would be theirs if only they
would not waste their strength so recklessly, if only they would take a
little more care of themselves and not work so dreadfully hard; but at
the wonderful moment when the flowers are calling to them, the bees
forget everything but their work, give themselves up to it
whole-heartedly, passionately; with the result that in less than five
weeks they are worn out, their wings are broken, their bodies shriveled
and covered with wounds.

Why, we ask ourselves, why do they give up their sleep, the delights of
honey, the leisure that their winged brother, the butterfly, enjoys so
gaily? It is not because they are hungry. Two or three flowers will
provide each bee with the nourishment that she requires, and in one hour
she will visit two or three hundred, to gather a treasure whose
sweetness she never will taste. Oh bees, we wonder, why all this toil
and suffering? And the answer is that they aim at one thing only, to
live, as long as the world itself, in those that come after them.

But we are forgetting the hive, where the swarming bees have begun to
lose patience; the hive whose black and trembling waves are bubbling and
overflowing, like melting copper beneath a hot sun. It is noon, and the
heat so great that the trees around appear almost to hold back their
leaves, as we hold our breath when something very solemn and wonderful
is about to happen. The bees give their honey and sweet-smelling wax to
the man who keeps them, but more precious gift still is their summoning
him to the gladness of June, to the joy of the beautiful months; for
events in which bees take part happen only when skies are pure, at the
joyous hours of the year when flowers are brightest. The bees are the
soul of the summer, the clock whose hands are marking the moments of
plenty; they are the untiring wing on which delicate scents are
floating; they are the guide of the quivering sunbeams, the song of the
tranquil, gentle air. To see them in their flight recalls to us the many
simple joys of the quiet hours of summer; as we look at them, we seem to
hear the whisper of the good, kindly heat. To him who has known them and
loved them, a summer where there are no bees becomes as sad and as empty
as one without flowers or birds.

It will startle you just a little, the first time you see the great
swarm of a bee-hive. You will be almost afraid to go near it. You will
wonder, can these be the same friendly, hard-working bees that you have
so often watched in the past? A few minutes ago, perhaps, you may have
seen them flocking in from all parts of the country, as busy as little
housewives, with no thought beyond household cares. You will have
watched them stream into the hive, all out of breath, tired, flurried;
you will have seen the young guards at the gate salute them as they
passed by. They will have rushed through, to the inner court, and have
quickly handed over their harvest of honey to the workers on duty there,
exchanging with these the three or four necessary words; or perhaps they
will have hastened to the great vats near the brood-cells, and will have
emptied the two heavy baskets of honey that hung from their thighs, then
going out again without giving a thought to what might be happening in
the royal palace, the work-rooms, or the nurseries, where the young
bees lie asleep; without for one instant heeding the babble in the
public place in front of the gate, the place where the cleaners, when
the heat is very great, are accustomed to gather and gossip.

But to-day everything is changed. A certain number of workers, it is
true, will quietly go off to the fields, as though nothing were
happening, and will come back, clean the hive, attend to the
brood-cells, and take no part whatever in the general rejoicing. These
bees are the ones who are not going away with the queen. They will
remain to guard the old home, to look after the nine or ten thousand
eggs, the eighteen thousand young bees, and the seven or eight royal
princesses who to-day will be forsaken. The order has been given, and is
faithfully obeyed; and hardly ever will one of these resigned
Cinderellas be found in the giddy throng of the swarm.

And yet, the temptation must seem very great. It is the festival of
honey, the triumph of the race; the one day of joy, of forgetfulness and
light-heartedness, the only Sunday the bees ever know. It seems, too, to
be the one day on which all eat their fill, and revel, to heart's
content, in the treasure which they have amassed. They might be
prisoners freed at last, suddenly led into a land overflowing with
plenty. They cannot contain the joy that is in them. They come and go
without aim or purpose; they depart and return, sally forth again to see
if the queen is ready; they tease and play about with their sisters, and
do anything to pass the time. They fly much higher than usual, and the
leaves of the mighty trees round about are all quivering in reply. The
bees have left all trouble behind, and all care. They no longer are
fierce, suspicious, angry. On this day man can go near them and handle
them, can divide the glittering curtain they form as they fly round and
round in songful circles. He can take them up in his hand, he can gather
them as he would a bunch of grapes; for to-day, in their gladness,
possessing nothing, but full of faith in the future, they will submit to
everything and injure no one, so long as they be not separated from
their queen, on whom that future depends.

But the signal has not yet been given. In the hive there is the
strangest confusion, a disorder which we are unable to understand. At
ordinary times, each bee, as soon as she has returned to the hive,
appears to forget her wings; she will do her work, scarcely making a
movement, on that particular spot in the hive where her special duties
lie. But to-day every bee seems bewitched; they fly in dense circles
round and round the smooth walls, like a living jelly stirred by an
unseen hand. There are times even when the air inside the hive will
become so hot that the wax of which the buildings are made will soften,
and twist out of shape.

The queen, who till now never has stirred from the center of the comb,
is rushing wildly to and fro, in breathless excitement, clambering over
the crowd that keeps on turning and turning. Is she hastening their
departure, or trying to prevent it? Is she commanding or imploring? Is
she the cause of all this emotion, or merely its victim?

There would seem reason to believe that the swarming always takes place
against the wish of the queen. The workers, her daughters, are
extraordinarily good to her, but it is just possible that they have not
much faith in her intelligence. They treat her rather like a mother who
has seen her best days. Their respect for her, their tenderness, is
remarkable, and there is nothing they would not do for her. The purest
honey is kept for her use. She has guardians who watch over her by day
and by night, and get the cells ready in which the eggs are to be laid.
She has loving attendants who pet and fondle her, who feed her and clean
her. Should she meet with the slightest accident, the news will spread
quickly from group to group, and the whole people will rush to and fro
with loud expressions of sorrow. If she were to be taken away from the
hive at a time when the bees had no hope of filling her place, the work
of the city would stop in every direction. No one would look after the
young; the bees would wander about looking for their mother, many of
them leaving the hive. The workers who were building the comb would
scatter, the gatherers of honey would no longer visit the flowers, the
guards at the gate would give up their post; and the enemies of the
hive, who are always watching for a chance to come in and steal, would
enter and leave without any one giving a thought to the defense of the
treasure which it had taken so long to collect. And poverty, little by
little, would creep into the city; and the miserable inhabitants would
before long all die of sorrow and hunger, though every flower of summer
should be blossoming before them.

But if the queen be put back before the bees have suffered too much,
before they believe her to be lost forever, they will give her the
deepest, most touching welcome. They will flock eagerly round her;
excited groups will crawl over each other in their anxiety to see her.
They rush to offer her honey, and lead her in triumph back to the royal
chamber. And order at once comes back and work starts again, from the
comb gatherer of brood-cells to the furthest cells where the reserve
honey is stored. And the bees go forth to the flowers, in long black
files, to return, in less than three minutes sometimes, with their
harvest of nectar and pollen. The streets will be swept, thieves and
other enemies driven out, and in the hive will be heard the soft sounds
of the strange hymn of rejoicing, which would seem to be the chant that
denotes the presence of the queen.

A number of instances could be given of the absolute devotion that the
workers show for their queen. Should a disaster fall on the city;
should the hive or the comb collapse; should the bees suffer from
hunger, from cold or disease, and die in their thousands, the queen will
nearly always be found, alive and safe, beneath the bodies of her
faithful daughters. They may be relied on to protect her, and help her
to escape; they will keep for her the last drop of honey, the last
morsel of food. And be the disaster never so great, they will not lose
heart so long as the queen be alive. You may break their comb twenty
times in succession, twenty times take from them their young and their
food, you will still never succeed in making them despair of the future.
Though they be starving, and so few in number that they scarcely can
conceal their mother from the enemy's gaze, they will set about to start
the city again and to provide for what is most pressing. They will
quietly accept the new conditions, and divide the work between them in
accordance with these conditions; they will take up their labors again
with extraordinary patience, and zeal, and intelligence.

"I have come across a colony of bees," says Langstroth, "that was not
sufficiently large to cover a comb of three inches square, and yet they
tried to rear a queen. For two whole weeks did these bees cherish their
hope. Finally, when their number was reduced by a half, their queen was
born, but her wings were imperfect, and she was unable to fly.
Incomplete as she was, her bees did not treat her with less respect.
Another week, and scarcely a dozen remained alive; a few days more, and
the queen had vanished, leaving only a few wretched, inconsolable
insects mourning for her on the comb."

I have more than once had queens sent to me from Italy, for the Italian
species is stronger, more active and gentler than our own. It is the
custom to forward them in small boxes, with holes made in the top so as
to let in the air. In these boxes, some food is placed, and the queen
put in, together with a certain number of workers, who are selected as
far as possible from among the oldest bees in the hive. (The age of the
bee can easily be told by its body, which becomes more polished, thinner
and almost bald as it grows older; and more particularly by the wings,
which the hard work uses and tears.) It is the mission of these
worker-bees to feed the queen during the journey, to tend her and guard
her. I would frequently find, when the box arrived, that nearly every
one of the workers had died. On one occasion, indeed, they had all
perished of hunger; but in this instance, as in all others, the queen
was alive, unharmed and full of strength. The last of her companions had
probably died in the act of presenting the last drop of honey she held
in her sac to the queen, who was the emblem of a life more precious and
more sacred than her own.

It is probably not because of the queen herself, but of the future that
she represents, that the bees show so great a devotion. For they are by
no means sentimental; and should one of their number return to the hive
so badly wounded that she will be unable to work again, they will
unmercifully drive her away from the city. But for their mother they
always show the same strong attachment. They will recognize her from
among all; and even though she be old, crippled and forlorn, the guards
at the gate will never allow another queen to enter the hive, however
young and much needed she be.

When the queen has grown old, the bees will bring up a certain number of
royal princesses to take her place. What happens then to the old queen?
As to this, we have no certain knowledge; but bee-keepers will
occasionally find a magnificent young queen perched on the central comb
of the hive, and in some dark corner, hidden away at the back, the
haggard old queen who had reigned before her. In cases like this the
bees will have to take the greatest care to protect her from the hatred
of the powerful newcomer who longs for her death; for queen hates queen
so fiercely that, were two to find themselves under the same roof, they
would immediately fly at each other. One would like to believe that the
bees contrive to provide a shelter for their poor old queen, in some
far-away corner of the hive, where she may end her days in peace. But
here we are confronted again by one of the thousand mysteries of the
city of wax; and we are once more shown that the habits and actions of
the bees depend on themselves, and are governed by an intelligence much
greater than we are inclined to believe.

What would the bees do, if we, by force or by some trick, were to bring
a second queen into the city? Though their sting is always in readiness,
and they make constant use of it in fights among themselves, _they will
never draw it against a queen;_ nor will the queen ever draw hers on
man, or an animal or any ordinary bee. She will never unsheath her royal
weapon--which is curved, instead of being straight, like that of the
worker-bee--except only when she is opposed to, and fighting, another

If a new queen were brought into the hive, the bees would at once
surround her, making a ring with their bodies. They would thus form a
sort of living prison in which the captive would be unable to move; and
in this prison they would keep her for twenty-four hours, or longer if
need be, till the victim shall have died of suffocation or hunger.

But if the reigning queen should approach, and seem anxious to attack
the stranger, the living walls would at once fly open; and the bees,
forming a circle around the two, will eagerly watch the strange duel, in
which they themselves will take no part whatever. For it is written that
against a queen-bee only another queen may draw her sting.

If the fight should last too long, or one of the rivals attempt to
escape, then, no matter whether she be the reigning queen or the
intruder, she will at once be seized and kept in the living prison until
she again shows readiness to attack her foe. The reigning queen will
almost always conquer, being emboldened and encouraged perhaps by the
knowledge that she is fighting in her own home, with her subjects around
her. Perhaps too the bees may make some difference in their treatment of
the rivals during the period of imprisonment, for their mother seems
scarcely to suffer from it at all, while the stranger always appears a
little weakened and bruised.

We have shown that, if the queen be taken away from the hive, her people
will mourn her, and display every sign of the deepest distress. If she
be put back, a few hours later, her daughters will hasten joyfully
towards her, offering honey; one section will respectfully form a lane
for her to pass through, while others, their heads bent low, will move
in great semi-circles before her, singing the song of welcome that is
only heard at moments of great happiness and solemn devotion.

But if a new queen were placed in the hive, instead of the old one, the
greatest trouble and disturbance would ensue. The bees would know at
once that a trick had been played on them; the impostor would be seized,
and immediately confined in the terrible living walls made by their
bodies, and held there until she died. She will hardly ever be allowed
to come out alive.

There are ways, however, of dealing with this hatred of the new-comer;
and one of them is to bring her into the hive enclosed in a little cage
with iron wires, which is hung between two combs. The door of the cage
is made of wax and honey; the bees, after their first display of fury,
will gnaw at the wax and honey, thus freeing the prisoner, who will then
sometimes be allowed to go unharmed, and be subsequently accepted. There
is another way, too, that is used by a bee-master at Rottingdean, who
imagined that the unfavorable reception of the new queen might in some
degree be caused by her own curious behavior. No sooner will she have
been put into the hive than she will rush wildly to and fro, vainly
trying to hide in one place or another, and generally doing all she can
to make the bees suspicious. Mr. Simmins, the bee-master in question,
shuts the queen up for half an hour without any food before putting her
into the hive. He then carefully raises a corner of the cover, and
drops her on to the top of one of the combs. She seems overjoyed at
finding the bees around her, and as she is starving she gladly accepts
the food that they offer her. The workers, deceived by her manner, seem
to believe that she actually is their old queen who has come back to
them, and welcome her joyfully. In this case, therefore, it would seem
that Huber, and the other experts who declare that the bees can always
recognize their own queen, are not entirely right.

And there is also this to be said about the affection the bees have for
their queen. That affection is real, and certainly exists; but it is
certain also that it does not last very long. If you were to put back
into the hive a queen who had been away for several days, her daughters
would receive her so badly that you would have to snatch her up very
quickly, and take her away. The explanation is that the bees will have
made their arrangements to replace her, and will have turned a dozen
workers'cells into royal cradles, thus providing for a new queen and
rendering the future safe. They will therefore have nothing more to do
with the old one.

The future is the bees' one consideration, and they sacrifice everything
to it. As a curious instance, one may mention the way in which they will
deal with a mouse, or a slug perhaps, that shall have managed to get
into the hive. They will very soon kill the intruder, but then have to
consider how they will get rid of the body. If they are unable to drag
it out of the hive or tear it to pieces, they will build a perfect waxen
tomb round it, which will tower strangely above the ordinary monuments
of the city. In one of my hives last year I found three such tombs side
by side; they had been made with party-walls, like the cells of the
comb, so that no wax should be wasted. The careful grave-diggers had
raised these tombs over the remains of three snails that a child had
dropped into the hive. Generally, in the case of snails, the bees will
be satisfied to seal the opening of the shell with wax. But here it
seemed that the shells were broken, and the bees had therefore thought
it wiser to bury the entire snail; and so that the entrance-hall should
not be blocked, they had made a number of galleries, wide enough for the
male bees, which are almost twice as big as the workers, to pass
through. In districts where the hideous death's-head moth abounds, the
bees erect little columns of wax at the entrance of the hive, and place
them so closely together that the night-thief cannot pass through.

And now to return to our swarming hive, where the bees have already
given the signal for flight. And at once, as though with one sudden
impulse, every gate in the city is flung open wide; and the black throng
issues, or rather pours forth, in a double or treble jet, in a
throbbing, quivering stream, that quickly divides and melts into space,
where the thousands of beating wings weave a tissue humming with sound.
And this for some moments will hover above the hive, rustling like
gossamer silk; then, like a veil of gladness, all stirring and
quivering, it floats to and fro, from the flowers up to the sky. The
radiant mantle will gather together its four sunlit corners; and, like
the fairy carpet, will fly across space, steering its straight, direct
course to the willow, the pear-tree or lime on which the queen will have
settled. Around her each wave comes to rest, as though on a golden nail,
and from it there hangs the tissue of pearls and of golden wings.

And then there is silence once more; and, in an instant, this mighty
tumult, this bewildering golden hail that streamed upon every object
near, becomes nothing more than a cluster of inoffensive and harmless
bees, that wait patiently, in thousands of little motionless groups
hanging down from the branch of a tree, for the scouts to return who
have gone in search of a place of shelter.

This is the first stage of what is known as the "primary swarm," at
whose head the old queen is always to be found. The bees will usually
settle on the shrub or the tree that is nearest the hive; for the
queen, who has spent all her life in the dark and has almost forgotten
the use of her wings, is afraid to venture too far.

The bee-keeper waits till the great mass of bees is all gathered
together; then, having covered his head with a large straw hat (for the
most inoffensive bee will think it is caught in a trap if entangled in
hair, and will at once use its sting) but, if he be experienced, wearing
neither mask nor veil--having taken the precaution only of plunging his
arms in cold water up to the elbow--he proceeds to gather the swarm by
vigorously shaking, over an inverted hive, the bough from which the bees
are hanging. Into this hive the cluster will fall just like an over-ripe
fruit. Or, if the branch be too thick, he can plunge a spoon into the
mass, and ladle it out, placing the living spoonfuls wherever it pleases
him, as though they were grains of corn. He need have no fear of the
bees that are buzzing around him, and settling on his face and hands;
and he knows that the swarm will not divide, or grow fierce, will not
scatter, or try to escape. This is a day when these strange workers seem
to make holiday, and to be full of a faith and a confidence that nothing
can shake. They have given up the treasure which they used to guard so
preciously; they no longer have enemies. They are harmless because they
are happy; though why they are happy we know not, unless it be because
they are doing what they feel it is right to do.

Where the queen has alighted the swarm will remain; and if she goes into
the hive, the long black files of the bees will closely follow, as soon
as the news shall reach them. Most of them will go eagerly in; but many
will stay for an instant on the threshold of the new home, and there
form themselves into solemn, ceremonious circles, which is their method
of celebrating happy events. "They are beating to arms," the French
peasants say. The new home will at once be adopted, and its furthest
corners explored. Its position, its shape, its color, are taken note of
and never forgotten by these thousands of eager and faithful little
memories, which have also duly recorded the neighboring landmarks; the
new city is founded and the thought of it fills the mind and the heart
of all its inhabitants; the walls resound with the song that proclaims
the royal presence; and work begins.

But if the swarm be not gathered by man, its history will not end here.
It will cling to the branch of the tree till the scouts return who have
been flying in every direction looking for a new home. They will come
back one by one, and give an account of their mission. The report of
each scout will probably be very carefully considered. One of them,
perhaps, will speak favorably of some hollow tree it has seen; another
has something to say about a crack in a ruined wall, a hole in a grotto,
or an abandoned burrow. Sometimes the assembly will stop and weigh
matters over till the next morning; but at last the choice is made and
agreed to by all. At a given moment the entire mass stirs, divides and
sets forth; and then, in one sustained and impetuous flight that this
time knows no obstacle, it steers its straight course, over hedges and
cornfields, over haystack and lake, over river and village, to its fixed
and always far-away goal. It is rarely indeed that this second stage
can be followed by man. The swarm returns to nature; and we know not
what becomes of it.



The bee-keeper has gathered the swarm into his hive; let us now see what
they will do. And, first of all, let us not be unmindful of the
sacrifice that these fifty thousand workers have made, who, as Ronsard
says "In a little body bear so brave a heart," and let us, yet again,
admire the courage with which they begin their life anew in the desert
into which they have fallen. They have forgotten the wealth and
magnificence of their native city; they are indifferent to all they have
left behind. They give not a thought to the vast store of pollen that
they had collected, to the 120 pounds of honey, a quantity, let it be
remembered, which is more than twelve times the weight of all the bees
in the hive put together, and close on 600,000 times that of the single
bee. Or you might say that to us it would mean something like 42,000
tons of provisions, a great fleet laden with nourishment more precious
than any known to us; for to the bee honey is a kind of liquid life,
which it absorbs with almost no waste whatever.

Here, in the new abode, there is nothing; not a drop of honey, not a
morsel of wax; there is nothing to begin on, there is nothing to serve
as a starting-point. There is only the dreary emptiness of an enormous
building with its bare sides and roof. The smooth and rounded walls
enclose only darkness; under the lofty arch is a mere void. But useless
regrets are unknown to the bee; at any rate, they are not allowed to
interfere with work. And instead of being depressed or moping in a
corner, the bee sets to at once, and more energetically than ever.

Immediately, and without the smallest delay, the tangled mass divides,
splits up and forms itself into groups. Most of these will proceed,
marching abreast in regular columns, like regiments obeying the word of
command, and will begin to climb the steep walls of the hive. The first
bees to reach the dome will cling to it with the claws of their front
legs; those behind will hang on to the ones in front of them, and the
next the same, and so on to the end, till long chains have been made
that serve as a sort of bridge for the crowd which is ever mounting and
mounting. And, by slow degrees, these chains, as the number of bees
which form them becomes greater and greater, become a kind of dense,
three-cornered curtain. When the the last of the bees has joined itself
to this curtain that hangs in the darkness, all movement ceases in the
hive; and for long hours this strange cluster will wait, in a stillness
so complete as to be almost uncanny, for the mystery of wax to appear.

In the meantime, the rest of the bees--those whose business it was to
remain below in the hive--have paid not the smallest attention to the
others who were forming the curtain, and have made no effort whatever to
add themselves to the number. They have been told off to inspect the
hive, and to do what is immediately necessary. They start sweeping the
floor, and most carefully remove, one by one, every twig, grain of sand,
and dead leaf. This satisfactorily accomplished, they will most
thoroughly examine and test the floor of the new dwelling. They will
fill up every crack and crevice with a kind of raw wax; they will start
varnishing the walls, from the top to the bottom. A certain number of
guards will be sent to the gate, to take up their post there; and very
soon a detachment of workers will go forth to the fields, whence they
will come back with their store of pollen.

Before we raise the folds of the mysterious curtain, let us try to form
some idea of the skill and industry shown by the bees in fitting up the
new hive to serve their purposes. Within the walls there is merely a
desert; they must plan out their city, decide where the dwellings shall
be; and these must be built as quickly as possible, for the queen is
ready to begin to lay her eggs. They must consider the ventilation of
these dwellings, and these, too, must be strong and substantial.
Different buildings will be wanted for the different kinds of food that
are to be stored in them; also it is important that they should be
handily placed, so that there shall be no difficulty in finding them;
and passages and streets must be contrived between the cells and
store-houses. And there are many other problems besides, too many indeed
to relate, but they have all to be dealt with.

Bee-keepers provide different kinds of hives for the bees, ranging from
the hollow tree, or the earthenware pot, or the familiar bell-shaped
dome of straw which we find in our farmers' kitchen-gardens or under
their windows, hidden away between masses of sunflowers, phlox and
hollyhock, to what may be called the model factory, which is, as it
were, the last word of man's ingenuity as applied to the bee. It is a
building that will hold more than three hundred pounds of honey, having
three or four layers of combs set in a frame which makes it easy to
remove or handle the combs and take out the honey; after which, the
combs can be put back in their place like a book that we return to the
shelf. Now let us imagine that one fine day an obedient swarm of bees is
lodged in one of these hives. The little insects are expected to be able
to find their way about, to make their home there, to accept all these
strange things as natural. They have to make up their minds where the
winter storehouses shall be, and where the brood-cells; and these last
must not be too high or too low, neither too near to or far from the
entrance gate. The swarm may very likely just have come from the trunk
of a fallen tree, in which there was one long, narrow gallery; it finds
itself now in a tower-shaped building, whose ceiling is lost in the
gloom. And in the midst of this building is a confused and bewildering
network of frames and scaffolding, the like of which the bee never has
seen; and all around it are puzzling signs of the impertinent
interference of man.

But all this makes no difference to the bee; and no case has ever been
known of a swarm refusing to do its duty, or of allowing the strangeness
of its surroundings to discourage it--except only if the new home should
be too much exposed to the weather, or have an offensive smell. And even
then they will not give way to despair; they will promptly abandon the
place, fly away and seek better fortune a little further off.

But if no objection of this kind offers itself in a huge factory of this
kind, the bees will calmly go their own way, paying no heed whatever to
man's desires or intentions; the frames seem to them of use for their
combs, they will readily accept them. This will be more particularly the
case if the bee-keeper has artfully surrounded the upper layers of the
comb with a little strip of wax; the bees will pick out the wax, and go
on with the comb. If this should be covered all over with leaves of
foundation-wax, the bees will often be content to deepen and lengthen
the cells that have been traced out in the leaves, but will be careful
to alter the position of the cells should these not form an absolutely
straight line. And thus, in the space of a week, they will be in
possession of a city as comfortable and well-built as the one they have
left; whereas, in the ordinary way, if all the work had had to be done
by them, it would have taken them two or three months to erect the
buildings and storehouses out of their own shining wax.

Sir John Lubbock, who has written many interesting books on ants, bees,
and wasps, does not believe that the bee has any real intelligence of
its own, once it departs from what it has always been accustomed to do.
And as a proof of this he mentions an experiment that any one can try
for himself. If you put half a dozen bees, and the same number of flies
into a bottle, then place the bottle on the table with its foot to the
window, you will find that the bees will be quite unable to find their
way out, and will go on flinging themselves against the glass, till they
die of fatigue and hunger; while the flies will all have escaped, in
less than two minutes, through the open neck of the bottle. Sir John
Lubbock concludes from this that the bee cannot reason at all, and that
the fly shows more ingenuity in getting out of a difficulty. It is not
quite sure, however, that this conclusion is the right one. If you take
up the bottle and turn it round and round, holding now the neck and now
the foot to the window, you will find that the bees will turn with it,
so as always to face the light. It is their love of the light, it is
actually because of their intelligence, that they come to grief in this
experiment. They feel convinced that the escape from every prison must
be there where the light shines clearest. To them glass is a mystery
which they have never met with in nature; they cannot understand why
they are unable to pass through it, and convinced that there must be a
way, they persevere to the end; in fact, it is because of their
intelligence that they make these unhappy efforts to discover the
secret. The feather-brained flies, on the other hand, to whom the
mystery of glass means nothing and who possess no power of thought
whatever, merely flutter wildly hither and thither, and end by rushing
against the friendly opening that sets them free.

As another instance of the bees' lack of intelligence, Sir John Lubbock
quotes a passage from a book written by a great American bee-keeper, Mr.
Langstroth: "As the fly has to feed on many substances in which it might
easily be drowned, it has learned to be very prudent, and alights
carefully on the edge of a vessel containing liquid food; the bee, on
the other hand, plunges in headlong, and very quickly perishes. The sad
fate of their companions does not hinder others from madly rushing in in
their turn, to share the same miserable end. No one can understand the
extent of their folly till he has seen a confectioner's shop which has
been besieged by a crowd of hungry bees. I have known thousands to be
strained out from a vat of sirup in which they had been drowned;
thousands more kept on plunging into the boiling sweets; the floors were
covered and the windows completely darkened with bees, some crawling,
others flying, and some so bedaubed that they could neither fly nor
crawl--not one bee in ten able to carry home its ill-gotten spoil, and
yet the air filled with new hosts of thoughtless comers!"

It will not do, however, to condemn the bees too hastily; there is
something to be said on their side. They are accustomed to live in the
midst of nature, which has her own regular laws; and the ways of man are
strange and bewildering to them. In the forest, in their ordinary life,
the madness which Langstroth describes might have come over them if
some accident suddenly had destroyed a hive full of honey; but in that
case there would have been no fatal glass, no boiling sugar or cloying
sirup; there would have been no death or danger other than that to which
every animal is exposed while seeking its food. And let us remember too
that it was not mere greed, not the bees' own hunger, that caused them
to rush so wildly into the boiling vat. It was not for themselves that
they plunged into the deadly sugar; they can always feast on honey at
home, if they want to. The first thing the bee does when it returns to
the hive is to add the honey which it has gathered to the general store;
thirty times in an hour perhaps it will bring its offering to the
marvelous treasure-house. Their labors, therefore, their eagerness, have
no selfish motive; they have one desire, and one only, to increase the
wealth in the home of their sisters, which is also the home of the

However, the whole truth must be told. Their industry is beyond all
praise; their methods, their sacrifice of self, arouse all our
admiration; but there is one thing that shocks us somewhat, and that is
the indifference with which they regard the misfortunes or death of
their comrades. The bee appears to possess two sides to her nature; in
the hive, in their home, they all help and care for each other; the
union between them, the fellowship, is very close and very true. A
thousand bees will sacrifice themselves to avenge an injury done by a
stranger to one of their sisters. But outside the hive, away from the
home, all this changes; they no longer appear to know one another. If a
piece of honeycomb were placed a few steps away from their dwelling, and
out of the crowd of bees that would flock to it you were to crush or
injure twenty or thirty, the others who had not been attacked would not
even turn their head. That strange tongue of theirs, curved like some
Chinese weapon, would quietly go on licking up the fluid that they
regard as more precious than life, and they would pay no heed whatever
to the agony, the cries of distress, of their sisters. And when they
have sucked the comb dry, they will be so anxious that not one drop
shall be lost, that they will even climb over the dead and the dying to
lick up the honey these hold in their jaws, and not one sound and
unharmed bee will make the slightest effort to help or relieve the
victims. The thought that they themselves run any danger does not
disturb them; they give no thought to the death that may perhaps await
them too.

But the fact is that the bees do not know the meaning of fear, and smoke
is the one thing in the world that they are afraid of. When they are out
of the hive, they are curiously inoffensive. They will avoid anything
that comes in their way, they will appear not to notice it, provided
always that it does not venture too near. This indulgence, however, this
meekness, hides a heart that is very sure of itself, very confident,
very reliant. No threat will induce the bee to alter her course; she
will never attempt to escape. Inside the hive, any danger, whatever it
be, will at once be boldly faced. Should any living creature, be it ant
or bear or man, venture to attack the sacred dwelling, every bee will
spring up and defend the home with passionate fury.

But we must frankly admit that they show no fellowship outside the hive,
and no sympathy, as we understand the word, within it. On the other
hand, nowhere in the world shall we discover a more perfect organization
of work for the benefit of all, a more amazing devotion to the coming
generation. It may be, perhaps, that this very devotion may have caused
them to ignore everything else. All their love goes to what lies ahead
of them; we give ours to what is around us. And are we so sure that, in
our own lives, there are not many things that we do that would seem
heartless and cruel to some being who might be watching us as closely as
we watch the bees?

Let us now see what means the bees have of communicating with each
other. Such means must obviously exist, for it would not be possible
for the work of so large a city, work which is so varied and so
perfectly organized, to be carried on without them. They must have some
method of communication, either by sounds or by some language of touch.
This strange sense may perhaps lie in the antennæ, which are little
horns, or feelers, containing, in the case of the workers, 12,000
delicate hairs and 5,000 "smell hollows"; with these antennæ they seem
to question and understand the darkness.

It is evidently not only in their work that the bees are able to
communicate with each other, for we know that any news, good or bad, any
sudden event, will at once be noised about in the hive; the loss or
return of the queen, for instance, the entrance of an enemy, the
intrusion of a strange queen, or the discovery of treasure. And each
separate incident produces such a different emotion among them, the
sounds they make are so essentially varied, that the experienced
bee-keeper, listening to the murmur that arises from the hive, can at
once and without any difficulty tell what it is that disturbs the
multitude that are moving restlessly to and fro in their city.

If you would like to have a more definite proof, you have only to watch
a bee which shall just have found a few drops of honey on your
window-sill or the edge of your table. She will immediately lap it up;
and so eagerly that you will have time to put a tiny touch of paint on
her belt without disturbing or interrupting her. It is not that she is
greedy; she rejoices at the thought that she has found some honey for
the hive. As soon as she has filled her sac, she will go, but watch her
manner of going; she will not, like the fly, for instance, merely buzz
around or make a dart for the window; for a moment or two she will hover
about the room, with her back to the light, eagerly fixing in her mind
the exact position of the honey. Then, and not till then, she will
return to the hive, empty her sac into one of the provision-cells; and
in three or four minutes you will find her back again, going
unhesitatingly to the spot, and making straight for the honey. And so
she will come and go, till evening, if need be, as long as a drop
remains; and her journeys from the hive to the window, from the window
to the hive, will be as regular as clock-work; there will be no interval
for rest; there will be no interruption.

I will frankly admit that the marked bee often returns alone. Are there
the same differences among the bees, perhaps, as among ourselves, some
of them being gossips, and others not given to talk? When I was trying
this experiment once a friend who was with me said that it must be mere
selfishness or vanity on the part of the bee that kept her from letting
her comrades know of the treasure she had found. But, be this as it may,
it will often happen that the lucky bee will bring two or three friends
back with her; and I have found this to be the case four times out of
ten. One day it was a little Italian bee which was the first to find the
honey; I marked her belt with a touch of blue paint. When she had gorged
herself she flew off, and came back with two of her sisters; these I
imprisoned, but did not interfere with her. After her second feast she
went forth once more, and this time returned with three friends, whom I
again shut away, and kept on doing this for the rest of the afternoon,
when, counting my prisoners, I found that she had brought no less than
eighteen bees to the feast.

One may safely say that the bees will very frequently communicate with
each other, even though this is not an invariable rule. American
bee-hunters are so sure of the bees possessing this faculty that their
methods of searching for nests depend in some measure upon it. "They
will take a box of honey," Mr. Josiah Emery writes, "to a field or a
wood far away from any tame bees, and then pick up two or three wild
ones, and let them fill themselves with the honey. The bees will fly off
to their home with the spoil, and soon return with their friends, to
whom they have told the glad news. These will again be allowed to drink
their fill, and then taken to different points of the compass, and
allowed to fly home; the direction of their flight will be carefully
noted, and in this way the hunters are able to discover the position of
the tree in which the bees have built their nest."

It is to be noticed, too, that the bees do not all come together to feed
on the honey we have put on the table; there will be several seconds
between the different arrivals. We ask ourselves therefore whether the
bees are led by, and merely follow the original discoverer, or whether
they go independently, having been told by her where it is? Experts hold
different opinions as to this; in the case of the ant Sir John Lubbock
is satisfied that the ant which finds the treasure merely leads the way
and is followed by the others; but the ant, of course, merely crawls
along the ground, while the bee's wings throw every avenue open.

My study in the country is on the first floor, and rather above the
ordinary range of the flight of the bees, except at times when the lime
and chestnut trees are in blossom. I took an open honeycomb, and kept it
on my table for a week, without its perfume having attracted a single
bee. Then I went to a glass hive that was close by the house, took an
Italian bee, brought her in to my study, set her on the comb, and marked
while she was feeding. When she had drunk her fill, she flew off and
returned to the hive. I followed quickly, saw her crawl over the huddled
mass of the bees, plunge her head into an empty cell, disgorge her
honey, and then get ready to set forth again. At the entrance of the
hive I had placed a glass box, divided by a trap-door 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 left her there, and then
repeated the experiment on twenty bees in succession. By means of the
trap, with its two little compartments, I was able in each case to
separate the marked bee from the ones that might accompany her, and to
keep her a prisoner in one of the little rooms. Then I marked all the
bees in the other room with paint of a different color, and set them
free; I myself returned quickly to my study, to await their arrival.

Now if the bees which had not visited my study had been able to
communicate with the others, and to be told by them precisely where the
comb was, with instructions how to get at it, a certain number of them
would have found their way to my room. I must frankly admit that, to my
disappointment, there was only one that did actually arrive. And I
cannot tell even whether this may not have been a mere chance. I went
down and released the first bee, and my study soon was invaded by the
buzzing crowd to whom she showed the way to the treasure.

We need not trouble any further with this unsatisfactory experiment of
mine, for there are many other curious circumstances to be noted among
the bees which make it quite certain that they can tell each other
things that go much further than a mere yes or no. In the hive, for
instance, the wonderful way in which they divide up their work, the way
in which the work is combined, one bee holding herself in readiness to
take the place of another who has finished her own particular job and is
waiting for her--these things all prove that they must be able to let
each other know. I have often marked bees that went out in the morning
collecting food; and found that, in the afternoon, if there was no
special abundance of flowers, these same bees would take on another job
altogether; would either be fanning and heating the brood-cells, or
perhaps adding themselves to the mysterious, motionless curtain in whose
midst the sculptors and waxmakers would be at work. In the same way I
have found that bees which for one whole day would be gathering nothing
but pollen would, on the next, evidently in obedience to some order that
had been given, devote themselves entirely to the search for nectar.

Day after day, the sun will scarcely have risen when the explorers of
the dawn return to the hive, which awakes to receive the glad tidings of
what is happening on 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." The news is handed in to
headquarters, and arrangements are quickly made to divide up the work.
Five thousand of the strongest and most active will be sent to the
lime-trees, while three thousand juniors sally forth to the clover.
Those who yesterday were gathering nectar will to-day give a rest to
their tongues and the glands of their sac, and will bring back red
pollen from the mignonette or yellow pollen from the tall lilies; for
you will never find a bee gathering or mixing up pollens of a different
color or species, and indeed it is one of the special cares of the hive
to keep the different-hued pollens apart in separate store-rooms.

The workers set out, in long black files, each one flying straight to
its own particular task. George de Layens stoutly declares that they
have been told where to go to, and which flowers they are to visit; that
they are aware how much nectar each flower will give, and know its
precise value. It is their business to collect the greatest possible
amount of honey; and if we watch the different directions in which the
bees fly, we will find that they divide themselves up most carefully
among the flowers which offer the best chance of a prosperous harvest.
As these vary day by day, so will the different orders be given. In the
spring, for instance, when the fields are still bare, the bees will
flock to the flowers in the woods, and eagerly visit the gorse and the
violets, langworts and anemones. But, a few days later, when cabbage and
colza are beginning to flower, the bees will turn their attention to
these alone, neglecting the woods almost entirely, for all the abundance
that still may be found there. They know that the colza and cabbage
flowers are richer in honey, and therefore give them the preference;
thus deciding, day by day, what plants they shall visit, their one idea
being to amass the greatest value of treasure in the least possible

You may ask, perhaps, what does it matter to us whether the bees have or
have not a real intelligence of their own? I think that it matters a
very great deal. If we could be quite certain that other creatures
beside ourselves are able to think or to reason it would give us
something of the emotion that came over Robinson Crusoe when he saw the
print of a human foot on the sandy shore of his island. Like him, we
should seem less alone. And when we study, when we try to understand,
the intelligence of the bees, we are at the same time trying to
understand what is the most wonderful thing in ourselves; the power that
enables the will to effect its purpose, and overcome obstacles in its

We will now go on with the story of the hive, take it up where we left
it, and lift a fold of the curtain of bees which are hanging, head
downwards, from the dome. A curious kind of sweat, as white as snow and
airier than the down on the wing of a bird, is beginning to show itself.
This is the wax that is forming; but it is unlike the wax that we know;
it has no weight, it is amazingly pure, being, as it were, the soul of
the honey, which is itself the essence of the flowers.

It is very difficult to follow, stage by stage, the manufacture of wax
by the swarm, or even the use to which they put it, for all this comes
to pass in the very blackest depth of the mass of bees all huddled
together. We know that the honey in the sac of the bees that are
clinging to each other turns itself into wax, but we have no idea how
this is done. All we can tell is that they will stay in this position,
never stirring or making the least movement, for eighteen or twenty-four
hours, and that the hive becomes so hot that it is almost as though a
fire had been lit. And then at last white and transparent scales show
themselves at the opening of four little pockets that every bee has
underneath its stomach.

When the bodies of most of the bees forming the curtain have thus been
adorned with ivory tablets, we shall suddenly see one of them detach
herself from the crowd, and eagerly, hurriedly, clamber over the backs
of the motionless crowd till she has reached the top of the dome. To
this she will fix herself firmly, banging away with her head at those of
her neighbors who seem to interfere with her movements. Then, she will
seize with her mouth and her claws one of the scales that hang from her
body, and set to work at it like a carpenter planing a soft piece of
wood. She will pull it out, flatten it, bend it and roll it, moistening
it with her tongue and licking it into shape; and, when at last she has
got it to be just what she wanted, she will fix it to the highest point
of the dome, thus laying the stone, the foundation, of the new city; for
we have here a city that is being built downwards from the sky, and not
from the earth upwards, like the cities of men. To this beginning she
will add other morsels of wax, which she takes from beneath her belt;
and at last, with one final lick of the tongue, one last touch of her
feelers, she will go, as suddenly as she came, and disappear among the
crowd. Another bee will at once take her place, carry on the work from
the point where the first has left it; she will go through her own
carpentering, just like her sister, and add to or improve the first
one's job if she thinks this is called for. And then a third will
follow, a fourth and a fifth, all coming from different corners, all
eager and earnest, till numbers and numbers have taken their turn, none
of them finishing the work but each adding her share to the task in
which all combine.

A small lump of wax, as yet quite formless, hangs down from the top of
the hive. As soon as it is sufficiently thick, we shall see another bee
coming out of the mass. This one is very sure of herself, puts on a
little side as it were; and she is watched very closely by the eager
crowd below. She is one of the sculptors or carvers; she does not make
any wax herself, her job being to deal with the material which the
others have provided. She marks out the first cell, settles where it
shall be; digs into the block for a moment, putting the wax she has
taken out from the hole on the borders around it; and then she goes,
making way for another, who is impatiently waiting her turn, and will go
on with the work that a third will continue, while others close by are
digging away at the wax on the opposite side. And very soon we shall be
able to see the outline of the new comb. In shape it will be something
like our own tongue, if you can imagine this to be made up of little
six-sided cells, which all lie back to back. When the first cells have
been built, the architects put on the ceiling, and then start building a
second row, and a third and a fourth, and so on, gallery on the top of
gallery, and the dimensions so carefully worked out that there will
always be ample space, when the comb is finished, for the bees to move
freely between its walls.

It happens, however, sometimes that a mistake has been made; that too
much space, or too little, will have been left between the combs. The
bees will do the best they can to set matters right; they will slant the
one comb that is too near the other, or fill up the space that has been
left with a new comb specially shaped.

The bees build four different kinds of cells. There are the royal cells,
rather like an acorn in shape; the large cells in which the males are
reared, and provisions stored when flowers are plentiful; the small
cells used as cradles for the workerbees and also as ordinary
store-rooms. These last are the most common kind, and about four-fifths
of the buildings will be composed of them. Then there are also a certain
number of what are known as "transition-cells," irregular in shape,
which connect the larger cells with the smaller.

Each cell, with the exception of the transition ones, is worked out
absolutely to scale, with extraordinary accuracy. It is a kind of
six-sided tube, and two layers of these tubes form the comb. It is in
these tubes that the honey is stored; and to prevent it from spilling,
the bees tilt the tubes slightly forward. Each cell is solidly built,
and the position of one to the other has been carefully thought out and
arranged. Indeed, such wonderful skill and ingenuity is shown in the
construction of the cells that it is difficult to believe that instinct
alone is sufficient to account for it. The wasps, for instance, also
build combs with six-sided cells; but their combs have only one layer of
cells, and are not only less regular, but also less substantial;
further, the wasps are so wasteful in their manner of working that, to
say nothing of the loss of material, they also deprive themselves of
about a third of the space that they might have used. Some bees
again--which are not as civilized as those in our hives--build only one
row of rearing-cells and rest their combs on shapeless and extravagant
columns of wax. Their provision-cells are nothing but great pots,
grouped together without any system or order. You could no more compare
these nests with the cities of our own honey-bees than you could a
village made up of huts with a modern town.

The very greatest ingenuity is shown in the construction of the combs,
quite apart from the admirable precision of the architecture. Thus, for
instance, there is a most skillful arrangement of alleys and gangways
through and around the comb, which provide short cuts in every
direction, allow the air to circulate, and prevent any block of the
traffic. The connecting cells again, which join the large cells to the
small ones, are so made that their shape can be altered with the least
possible delay. There may be different reasons for desiring this
alteration: an overflowing harvest may render more store-rooms
necessary, or the workers may consider that the population of the hive
should not be further increased, or it may be considered advisable that
more males should be born. In any of these cases the bees will proceed,
with unerring, unhesitating accuracy and precision to make the necessary
changes, turning small cells into large, and large into small; and this
without any waste of space or material, without allowing a single one of
their buildings to become mis-shapen or purposeless, without in any way
interfering with the neatness or general harmony of the hive.

The swarm whose movements we are following have started building their
combs, which are already becoming fit for use. And although, as we look
into the hive, we see little happening, there will be no pause, either
by day or by night, in the creation of the wax, which will proceed with
amazing quickness. The queen has been restlessly pacing to and fro on
the borders that shine out gleamingly white in the darkness; and no
sooner has the first row of cells been built than she eagerly takes
possession, together with her servants, her guardians and
counselors--though whether it be she who leads them, or they who direct
her, is a matter beyond our knowledge. When the spot has been reached
that she, or her retinue, regard as the proper one, she will arch her
back, lean forward, and introduce the end of her long spindle-shaped
body into one of the cells. Her escort form a circle around her, their
enormous black eyes watching her every movement; they caress her wings,
they feverishly wave their antennæ as though to encourage her, to urge
her on, or perhaps to congratulate her. You can always easily tell where
the queen is, because around her there will be a kind of starry
cockade, something like the oval brooch that our grandmothers used to
wear; of this she will be the center. And there is one curious thing
that we may note here: the worker-bees never by any chance turn their
back to the queen. When she approaches a group they immediately form
themselves so as to face her, and walk backwards before her. It is a
token of respect or reverence that they never fail to show; it is the
unvarying custom.

Very soon the queen will be passing from cell to cell, busily laying her
eggs. She will first peep into the cell to make sure that all is in
order, and that she has not been there before. In the meanwhile two or
three of her escort will have hastened into the cell which she has just
left, in order to see that her work has been properly done, and to care
for, and as it were tuck up, the little bluish egg she has laid. From
now on right up to the first frosts of autumn the queen will never stop
laying; she lays while she is being fed, she even lays in her sleep, if
she ever does sleep, which may perhaps seem rather doubtful.

It will sometimes happen that the worker-bees, in their eagerness to
find room for their honey, will have stored it in some of the vacant
cells reserved for the queen; when she comes to these the workers
frantically carry away the honey so that she may lay her eggs. If there
is a shortage of cells for honey, and this is accumulating very fast,
the bees will contrive, as quickly as they can, to get ready a block of
large cells for the queen, as these take less time to build. But they
are cells for male bees; and when the queen comes to them, she seems
vexed; she will lay a few eggs, then stop, move away, and insist on
being given the smaller cells that are used for the workers' eggs. Her
daughters obey; they set to at once and reduce the size of the cells;
and the queen, in the meantime, goes back to the cells at which she had
started at the very beginning. These will be empty now, for the larvæ
will have come to life, leaving their shadowy corner, and will already
have spread themselves over the flowers around, glittering in the rays
of the sun and quickening the smiling hours; and soon they will
sacrifice themselves in their turn to the new generation that now is
beginning to take their place in the cradles they have left.

The bees all obey the queen; and yet they themselves contrive to direct
her movements; for the number of eggs that she lays will be in strict
proportion to the food that is given her. She does not take it herself;
she is fed like a child by the workers. And if flowers are abundant, so
will the food be, and therefore the number of eggs. Here we find, as
everywhere in life, cause and effect working together in a circle of
which one part is always in darkness; the bees, like ourselves, obey the
lord of the wheel that is always turning and turning.

Some little time back I was showing one of my glass hives to a friend,
and he was almost startled to see the frantic activity there. Each comb
seemed alive; on every side there was movement, hurry, bustle, activity;
the nurses, incessantly stirring and doing, were busy around the
broodcells; the wax-makers were forming their ladders and living
gangways; the sculptors, the architects, cleaners, the builders, all
were at work, feverishly, restlessly, never pausing for food or sleep;
there was constant and pitiless effort among them all, save only in the
cradles where lay the larvæ that soon themselves would be taking their
turn in this chain of unending duty, which permits of no illness and
accords no grave. And my friend, his curiosity soon satisfied, turned
away, and in his eyes there were signs of sorrow, and almost of fear.

And in good truth, beneath all the gladness that we find in the hive,
with its memories of precious jewels of summer--of flowers, of running
waters and peaceful skies--beneath all this there dwells a sadness as
deep as the eye of man ever has seen. And we, who dimly gaze at these
things, we who know that around us, in our own lives, among our own
people, there also is sadness, we know too that this has to be, as with
all things in nature. And thus it ever shall be, so long as we know not
her secret; and yet there are duties all must do, and those duties
suffice. And in the meantime let our heart murmur, if it will, "It is
sad," but let our reason be content to add "So it must be."



Let us now leave the new hive, which we find to be already beginning to
work as before, and go back to the old one, the mother-city, which the
swarm had left. Here, at the start, all looks forlorn, and dreary, and
empty. Two-thirds of the population have gone, have departed forever.
But thousands of bees remain; and these, whatever their feelings may be,
still are faithful to the duty that lies on them, and have not forgotten
what they have to do. They set to work, therefore, and try their best to
fill the places of those who have joined the swarm. They start cleaning
the city, look to the store-cells and put things in order there, attend
to what is necessary in the hive, and despatch their bands of
worker-bees to collect fresh food from the flowers.

And if the outlook at first appear rather gloomy, there still are signs
of hope wherever the eye may turn. One might almost fancy oneself in one
of the castles they tell of in fairy-stories, where there are millions
of tiny phials along the walls containing the souls of men about to be
born. For here, too, are lives that have not yet come to life. On all
sides, asleep in their closely-sealed cradles, in their thousands of
waxen cells, lie the larvæ, the baby bees, whiter than milk, their arms
folded and their head bent forward as they wait for the hour to awake.
Around them hundreds of bees are dancing and flapping their wings. The
object of this seems to be to increase the temperature, and procure the
heat that is needed--or perhaps there may be some reason that is still
more obscure; for this dance of theirs combines some very extraordinary
movements whose meaning no observer has as yet been able to understand.

In another few days the lids of these thousands of urns--of which there
will be from sixty to eighty thousand in a hive--will break, and two
large, earnest black eyes will peer forth, while active jaws will be
busily gnawing away at the lid, to enlarge the opening. The nurses at
once come running; they help the young bee out of her prison, they clean
her and brush her, and with the tip of their tongue they give her the
first drop of honey that ushers in the new life. But the bee that has
come so strangely from another world is still trembling and pale, and
stares wildly around; she has something of the look of a tiny old man
who might have been buried alive, and has made his escape from his tomb.
She is perfect, however, from head to foot; and she loses no time, but
hastens at once to other cells that have not yet opened, and there joins
in the dance and starts beating her wings with the others, so that she
may help in quickening the birth of her sisters who have not yet come to

The most arduous labors, however, will at first be spared her. She will
not leave the hive till a week has passed since the day of her birth.
She will then undertake her first flight, known as the
"cleansing-flight," and absorb the air into her lungs, which will fill
and expand her body; and thenceforward she becomes the mistress of
space. The first flight accomplished, she returns to the hive, and waits
yet one week more; and then, with her sisters, who were born the same
day as herself, she will for the first time sally forth and visit the
flowers. A special emotion, now, will lay hold of her; a kind of
shrinking, almost of fear. For it is evident that the bees are afraid;
that these daughters of the crowd, of secluded darkness, shrink from the
vault of blue, from the infinite loneliness of the light; and their joy
is halting, and woven of terror. They cross the threshold, and pause;
they depart, they return twenty times. They hover aloft in the air,
their heads turned towards their home; they describe great soaring
circles, their thirteen thousand eyes taking in, registering and
recording, the trees and the fountain, the gate and the walls, the
neighboring windows and houses, till at last the outside world becomes
familiar to them, and they know that they will be able to find their way
back to the hive.

It is curious how they are able to accomplish this; to return to a home
that they cannot see, that is hidden perhaps by the trees, and that in
any event must form so tiny a point in space. Put some of them into a
box and set them free at a place that is two or three miles from their
hive, they will almost invariably succeed in discovering their way home.
Have they landmarks by which they guide themselves, or do they possess
the instinct, the sense of direction, that is common among swallows and
pigeons? Different experiments that have been made appear to show that
this latter is not the case. I have, however, on more than one occasion
noticed that the bees seem to pay no attention to the color or shape of
the hive. It is rather the platform on which the hive rests that
attracts them, the position of the entrance-gate and of the
alighting-board. When the winter comes on, a hive may be taken away and
put perhaps into some dark cellar where it will remain till the spring;
if then it should be set a little to right or to left of its former
position on the platform, all the bees, on their first return from
visiting the flowers, will steer their straight, direct, unhesitating
course to the precise spot which the hive had occupied in the preceding
year; and it will only be after much hesitating and groping that they
will find the door whose place has now been shifted. And some will be
unable to do this, or will be altogether lost.

In the old hive thousands of cradles are stirring and the larvæ coming
to life; such bustle and movement is there that the solid walls seem to
shake. But the city still lacks a queen. In the center of one of the
combs you may notice seven or eight curious structures, each one about
three or four times as large as the ordinary worker's cell; they look
something like the circles and hillocks that we see on the photographs
of the moon. These dwellings are surrounded by guards who never leave
them, and are always watchful and alert. They know that they are
protecting the home of the queen that is to be.

In these cells eggs will have been placed by the old queen, or more
probably perhaps by one of the workers, before the departure of the
swarm; the eggs will have been taken from some cell that was near, and
will be exactly the same as those from which the ordinary worker-bee is
hatched. And yet the bee that will in due time come out is so unlike the
others that she might almost belong to an entirely different race. Her
life will last four or five years, instead of the six or seven weeks
that are the portion of her worker-sister. Her body will be twice as
long, her color clearer, and more golden; her sting will be curved, and
her eyes have only seven or eight thousand facets instead of twelve or
thirteen thousand. Her brain will be smaller, and she will have no
brushes, no pockets in which to secrete the wax, no baskets to gather
the pollen. She will not crave for air, or the light of the sun; she
will die without once having sipped at a flower. She will spend her life
in the darkness, in the midst of an ever-moving crowd; and her one
thought, her one idea, will be the constant search for cradles in which
she can lay her eggs. It is probable that she will not, twice in her
life, look on the light of day; and as a rule she will only once make
use of her wings.

A week has passed, let us say, since the old queen has gone, at the head
of the swarm. The royal princesses who still are asleep in their cots
are not all of the same age; for the bees prefer that there should be an
interval between the birth of each one. The time of the eldest princess
draws near; she is already astir, and has begun eagerly to gnaw at the
rounded lid of her cradle, whose walls the workers have already for
several hours been thinning, so as to make it easier for her to get out.
And at last she thrusts her head through the lid; the workers at once
rush eagerly to her, and help her to get clear; they brush her, caress
her and clean her, and soon she is able to take her first trembling
steps on the comb. At first, her food will be the same as that given to
the ordinary workers, but after a very few days she is nourished on the
choicest and purest milk, which is known as "royal jelly."

The princess, at the moment of birth, is weak and pale; but in a very
few minutes she gets her strength, and then a strange restlessness comes
over her; she seems to know that other princesses are near, that her
kingdom has yet to be won, that close by rivals are hiding; and she
eagerly paces the waxen walls in search of her enemies.

This is the gravest and most serious moment in the history of the hive.
The bees have to consider how many swarms they intend to send out; at
times they make mistakes, and leave the mother-city too empty, at times
also the swarms themselves are not sufficiently strong. These are
matters that the "spirit of the hive" has to settle; it has to decide
whether another queen will be required, in addition to the young one who
has just come to birth, in order that she may head a swarm in the
future. On this decision rests the whole prosperity of the hive; and
very rarely will the judgment of the bees go astray.

But let us assume that here the spirit of the hive has decided against a
second swarm. The young princess, who has just come to life, will be
allowed to destroy the rivals who are still asleep in their cradles. She
will hasten towards them, and the guard will respectfully make way. She
will fling herself furiously on to the first cell she comes across,
strip off the wax with teeth and claws, tear away the cocoon and dart
her sting into the victim whom she has laid bare. She will stab her to
death and then go, with the same passionate fury, to the next cell, and
then the next, again uncovering the cradle and killing her rival, till
at last, breathless and exhausted, she has destroyed all her sleeping

The watchful circle of bees who surround her have stood by, inactive
and calm, and have not interfered; they have merely moved out of her way
and have let her indulge her fury; and no sooner has a cell been laid
waste than they rush to it, drag out the body, and greedily lap up the
precious royal jelly that clings to the sides of the cell. And if the
queen should be too weak or too tired to carry out her dreadful purpose
to the end, the bees will themselves complete this massacre of the
innocent princesses, and the royal race, and their dwellings, will all
disappear. This is the terrible hour of the hive.

At times it will happen that two queens will come to life together,
though this occurrence is rare, as the bees take special pains to
prevent it. But should such a case arise, the deadly combat would start
the very moment the rivals come out of their cradles. Afraid of each
other, and yet filled with fury, they attack and retreat, retreat and
attack, till at last one of them succeeds in taking her less adroit, or
less active, rival by surprise, and in killing her without risk to
herself. For the law of the race has demanded one sacrifice only.

But let us suppose that the spirit of the hive has decided that there
shall be a second swarm. In this case, as before, the queen will advance
threateningly towards the royal cells; but instead of finding herself
surrounded by obsequious servants, her way will be blocked by a guard of
stern and unflinching workers. In her mad fury, she will try to force
her way through, or to get round them; but in every direction sentinels
have been posted to protect the sleeping princesses. The queen will not
be denied; she returns again and again to the charge, puts forth every
effort; but each time she will be driven back, hustled even, till at
last it begins to dawn upon her that behind these little workers there
stands a law that does not yield even to a queen. And at last she goes,
and wanders unhappily from comb to comb, giving voice to her thwarted
fury in the war-song that every bee-keeper knows well; a note like that
of a far-away silver trumpet, and so clear that one may hear it, at
evening especially, two or three yards away from the double walls of the

This cry, this war-song, has the strangest effect on the workers. It
fills them with terror, it has an almost paralyzing influence upon them.
When she sends it forth, the guards, who the moment before may have been
treating her rather roughly, will at once cease all opposition, and will
wait, with bent heads, in meekest submission, till the dreadful song
shall have stopped.

For two or three days, sometimes even for five, the queen's lament will
be heard, the fierce challenge to her well-guarded rivals. And these, in
their turn, are coming to life; they are beginning to gnaw at the lids
of their cradles. Should they emerge from them while the angry queen is
still near, with her one desire to destroy them, a mighty confusion
would spread itself over the city.

But the spirit of the hive has taken its precautions, and the guards
have received the necessary instructions. They know exactly what must be
done, and when to do it. They are well aware that if the princesses were
to come out of their lodging too soon, they would fall into the hands of
their furious elder sister, who would destroy them one by one. To avoid
this, therefore, the workers keep on adding layers of wax to the cells
as fast as the princesses within are stripping it away; so that all
their gnawing and eagerness are of no avail, and the captives must bide
their time. One of them perhaps will hear the war-cry of her enemy; and
although she has not yet come into contact with life, nor knows what a
hive may be, she answers the challenge from within the depths of her
prison. But her song is different; it is hollow and stifled, for it has
to pass through the walls of a tomb; and when night is falling and
noises are hushed, while high over all is the silence of the stars, the
bee-keeper is able to distinguish, and recognize, this exchange of
challenges between the restlessly wandering queen and the young
princesses still in their prison.

The young queens will have benefited by the long stay in their cradles,
for when at last they come out they are big and strong, and able to fly.
But this period of waiting has also given strength to the first-born
queen, who is now able to face the perils of the voyage. The time has
come, therefore, for the second swarm, called the "cast," to depart,
with the eldest queen at its head. No sooner has she gone than the
workers left in the hive will release one of the princesses from her
cradle; she will at once proceed to show the same murderous desires, to
send forth the same cries of anger, as her sister had done before her,
till at last, after another three or four days, she will leave the hive
in her turn, at the head of the third swarm, to build a new home far
away. A case has been known where a hive, through its swarms and the
swarms of its swarms, was able in a single season to send forth no less
than thirty colonies.

This excessive eagerness, which is known as "swarming-fever," usually
follows a severe winter; and one might almost believe that the bees,
always in touch with the secrets of nature, are conscious of the dangers
that threaten their race. But at ordinary times, when the seasons have
been normal, this "fever" will rarely occur in a strong and
well-governed hive; many will swarm only once, and some, indeed, not at

The second swarm will in any event generally be the last, as the bees
will be afraid of unduly impoverishing their city, or it may be that
prudence will be urged upon them by the threatening skies. They will
then allow the third queen to kill the princesses in their cradles;
whereupon the ordinary duties of the hive will at once be resumed, and
the bees will have to work harder than ever in order to provide food for
the larvæ and generally to replenish the storehouses before the arrival
of winter.

The second and third swarms will sally forth in the same way as the
first, with the difference only that the bees will be fewer in number,
and that, owing perhaps to less scouts being available, operations will
not be conducted with quite as much prudence and forethought. Also, the
younger queen will be more active and vigorous than her sister, and will
therefore fly much further away, leading the swarm to a considerable
distance from the hive. As a consequence, these second and third swarms
will have greater difficulties to meet, and their fate will be more
uncertain. So all-powerful, however, is the law of the future, that
none of these perils will induce the queen to show the least hesitation.
The bees of the second and third swarms display the same eagerness, the
same enthusiasm, as those of the first; the workers flock round the
fierce young queen, as she gropes her way out of her cell, and there is
not one of them that shrinks from accompanying her on the voyage where
there is so much to lose and so little to gain. Why, one asks, do they
show this amazing zeal; what makes them so cheerfully abandon all their
present happiness? Who is it selects from the crowd those who shall stay
behind, and dictates who are to go? The exiles would seem to belong to
no special class; around the queen who is never to return, veteran
foragers jostle tiny worker-bees who will for the first time be facing
the dizziness of the skies.

We will not attempt to relate the many adventures that these different
swarms will encounter. At times, two of them will join forces; at
others, two or three of the imprisoned princesses will contrive to join
the groups that are forming. The bee-keeper of to-day takes steps to
ensure that the second and third swarms shall always return to the
mother-hive. In that case, the rival queens will face each other on the
comb; the workers will gather around and watch the combat; and, when the
stronger has overcome the weaker, they will remove the bodies, forget
the past, return to their cells and their storehouses, and resume their
peaceful path to the flowers that are awaiting and inviting them.



If the skies remain pure, the air still warm, and pollen and nectar are
plentiful in the flowers, the workers will endure the presence of the
males for a brief space longer. The males are gross feeders, untidy in
their habits, wasteful and greedy; fat and idle, perfectly content to do
nothing but feast and enjoy themselves, they crowd the streets, block up
the passages, and are always in the way; they are a nuisance to the
workers, whom they treat with a certain good-natured arrogance,
apparently never suspecting how scornfully they themselves are
regarded, or the deep and ever-growing hatred to which they give rise.
They are still happily unconscious of the fate in store for them.

Careless of what the workers have to do, the males invariably select the
snuggest and warmest corners of the hive for their pleasant slumbers;
then, having slept their fill, they stroll jauntily to the choicest
cells, where the honey smells sweetest, and proceed to satisfy their
appetite. From noon till three, when the radiant countryside is a-quiver
beneath the blazing stare of a July or August sun, the drones will
saunter on to the threshold, and bask lazily there. They are gorgeous to
look at; their helmet is made of enormous black pearls, they have
doublet of yellowish velvet, two towering plumes and a mantle draped in
four folds. They stroll along, very pleased with themselves, full of
pomp and pride; they brush past the sentry, hustle the sweepers, and get
in the way of the honey-collectors as these return laden with their
humble spoil. Then one by one, they lazily spread their wings, and sail
off to the nearest flower, where they doze till they are awakened by the
fresh afternoon breeze. Thereupon they return to the hive, with the same
pomp and dignified air, sure of themselves and perfectly satisfied; they
make straight for the storehouses, and plunge their head up to the neck
into the vats of honey, taking in nourishment sufficient to restore
their strength that has been exhausted by so much labor; afterwards,
with ponderous steps, seeking the pleasant couch and giving themselves
up to the good, dreamless slumber that shall fold them in its embrace
till it be time for the next meal. But bees are less patient than men;
and one morning the long-expected word of command goes through the hive.
And there is a sudden transformation: the workers, hitherto so gentle
and peaceful, turn into judges, and executioners. We know not whence the
dreadful word issues; it may be that endurance has reached its limit,
and that indignation and anger have bubbled over. At any rate we find a
whole portion of the bee-people giving up their visits to the flowers,
and taking on themselves the administration of stern justice.

An army of furious workers suddenly attacks the great idle drones, as
they lie pleasantly asleep along the honeyed walls, and ruthlessly tear
them from their slumbers. The startled drones wake up, and stare round
in amazement, convinced at first that they must be dreaming, and the
prey of some dreadful nightmare. There must be some shocking mistake;
their muddled brains grope like a stagnant pond into which a moonbeam
has fallen. Their first impulse is to the nearest food-cell, to find
comfort and inspiration there. But gone for them are the days of May
honey, the essence of lime-trees and the fragrant ambrosia of thyme and
sage, of marjoram and white clover; the path that once lay so invitingly
open to the tempting reservoirs of sugar and sweets now bristles with a
burning-bush of poisonous, flaming stings. The air itself is no longer
the same; the dear smell of honey is gone, and in its place only now the
terrible odor of poison, of which thousands of tiny drops glisten at the
tip of the threatening stings. Around them is nothing but fury and
hatred; and before the bewildered creatures have begun to realize that
there is an end to the happy conditions of the hive, each drone is
seized by three or four ministers of justice, who proceed to hack off
his wings and antennæ and deftly pass their sword between the rings of
his armor. The huge drones are helpless; they have no sting with which
to defend themselves; all they can do is to try to escape, or to oppose
the mere force of their weight to the blows that rain down. Forced on to
their back, with their enemies hanging on to them, they will use their
powerful claws to shift them from side to side; or, with a mighty
effort, will turn round in wild circles, dragging with them the
relentless executioners, who never for a moment relax their hold. But
exhaustion soon puts an end; and, in a very brief space, their condition
is pitiful. The wings of the wretched creatures are torn off, their
antennæ severed, their legs hacked in two; and their magnificent eyes,
now softened by suffering, reflect only anguish and bitterness. Some die
at once of their wounds, and are dragged away to distant burialgrounds;
others, whose injuries are less, succeed in sheltering themselves in
some corner, where they lie, all huddled together, surrounded by guards,
till they perish of hunger. Many will reach the gate, and escape into
space, dragging their tormentors with them; but, towards evening, driven
by famine and cold, they return in crowds to the hive and pray for
admission. But there they will meet the merciless guard, who will not
allow one to pass; and, the next morning, the workers, before they start
on their journey to the flowers, will clear the threshold of the corpses
that lie strewn on it; and all recollection of the idle race will
disappear till the following spring.

It will often happen that, when several hives are placed close together,
the massacre of the drones will take place on the same day. The richest
and best-governed hives are the first to give the signal; smaller and
less prosperous cities will follow a few days later. It is only the
poorest and weakest colonies that will allow the males to live till the
approach of winter. The execution over, work will begin again, although
less strenuously, for flowers are growing scarce. The great festivals of
the hive, the great tragedies, are over. The autumn honey, that will be
needed for the winter, is accumulating within the hospitable walls; and
the last reservoirs are sealed with the seal of white, incorruptible
wax. Building ceases; there are fewer births and more deaths; the nights
lengthen and days grow shorter. The rain and the wind, the mists of the
morning, the twilight that comes on too soon--these entrap hundreds of
workers who never return to the hive; and over this sunshine-loving
little people there soon hangs the cold menace of winter.

Man has already taken for himself his good share of the harvest. Every
well-conducted hive has presented him with eighty or a hundred pounds of
honey; there are some even which will have given twice that quantity,
all gathered from the sun-lit flowers that will have been visited a
thousand or two times every day. The bee-keeper gives a last look at his
hives, upon which slumber now is falling. From the richest he takes some
of their store, and distributes it among those that are less
well-provided. He covers up the hives, half closes the doors, removes
the frames that now are useless, and abandons the bees to their long
winter sleep.

They huddle together on the central comb, with the queen in the midst of
them, attended by her guard. Row upon row of bees surround the sealed
cells, the last row forming the envelope, as it were; and when these
feel the cold stealing over them, they creep into the crowd, and others
at once take their places. The whole cluster hangs suspended, clinging
on to each other; rising and falling as the cells are gradually emptied
of their store of honey. For, contrary to what is generally believed,
the life of the bee does not cease in winter; it merely becomes less
active. These little lovers of sunshine contrive, through a constant and
simultaneous beating of their wings, to maintain in their hive a degree
of warmth that shall equal that of a day in spring. And they owe this
to the honey, which is itself no more than a ray of heat which has
passed through their bodies, and now gives its generous blood to the
hive. The bees that are nearest the cells pass it on to their neighbors,
and these in their turn to those next them. Thus it goes from mouth to
mouth through the crowd, till it reaches those furthest away. And this
honey, this essence of sunshine and flowers, circulates through the hive
until such time as the sun itself, the glorious sun of the spring, shall
thrust in its beam through the half-open door, and tell of the violets
and anemones that are once more coming to life. The workers will wake,
and discover that the sky again is blue in the world, and that the wheel
of life has turned, and begun afresh.



It is as well, before ending this book--as we have ended the story of
the hive with the silence that winter brings--to add a few words about
the extraordinary industry of the bees. People are apt to say, while
admitting that it is very wonderful, that it has always been the same
from the very beginning of time. Have the bees not, for thousands of
years, built their combs, their marvelous combs, in just the same way;
these combs that combine the most perfect science of chemist and
architect, mathematician and engineer; combs in which it would be
impossible for us to suggest a single improvement? Where shall we find
any instance of progress, of the bees having discovered some new method
or change in the old; show us that, and we will gladly admit that the
bees, besides their instinct, possess also an intellect worthy of being
compared with that of man!

This method of reasoning is not without its perils. It is the same kind
of "mere common sense" that the people of Galileo's time displayed when
they refused to believe that the earth revolved in space. "The earth
cannot possibly turn," they would say, "for we can see the sun move in
the sky, see it rise in the morning and set in the evening. Nothing can
deceive our eyes." Common-sense is all very well; but it is not a sure
guide unless it go hand in hand with a certain reflection and judgment.

The bees give abundant proof that they are capable of reason. As an
instance, we may mention that Andrew Knight, a wellknown student of
insect life, once covered the bark of some diseased trees with a kind of
cement which he had made out of turpentine and wax. Some time after he
noticed that the bees round about were making use of this mixture, which
they had tried and adopted; they had found it close to their hive, and
appeared to prefer it to their own. As a fact, the science of
bee-keeping consists largely in giving the bees the opportunity of
developing the spirit of initiative that they undoubtedly possess. Thus
the bee-keeper, when pollen is scarce and it is important that there
should be food for the larvæ, will scatter a quantity of flour near to
the hive. This is a substance that the bees, in a state of nature, in
their native forests in Asia, can never have met with, or known. And
yet, if care be taken to tempt them with it--if one or two be placed on
the flour, and induced to touch it and try it, they will quickly realize
that it more or less resembles the pollen of which they are in need;
they will spread the news among their sisters, and we shall soon find
every forager-bee hurrying to gather this strange food, and supplying it
to the infant-bees in place of the accustomed pollen.

It is only during the last hundred years that the bees have been
seriously studied by man; only fifty years ago that the movable frames
and combs were designed by means of which we were able to watch their
movements. Need we wonder, then, if our knowledge is still somewhat
limited? The bees have existed many thousands of years; we have
observed them only for what is relatively a very short time. And if it
could be proved that, during that time, no change has taken place in the
hive, should we be right in assuming that there had been no change
before our first questioning glance? Remember that a century is no more
than a drop of rain that falls into the river; that a thousand years
glide over the history of nature as a single one over the life of man.

It is of interest to compare the honey-bee of the hive with the great
tribe of "Apiens," which includes all the wild bees. We shall discover
differences more extraordinary than those that exist among men. But let
us merely, for the moment, consider what is known as the domestic bee,
of which there are sixteen different kinds, all, the largest as the
smallest, exactly alike, except for the slight modifications caused by
the climate or the conditions in which they exist. The difference
between them, in appearance, is no greater than between an Englishman
and a Russian, a European or a Japanese.

Bees do not, like ourselves, dwell in towns that are open to the sky and
exposed to the caprice of rain and storm, but in cities that are
entirely covered with a protecting envelope. If they were guided solely
by their instinct, they would build their combs in the air. In the
Indies we find that they do not even seek a hollow tree or a cleft in
the rocks. The swarm will hang down from the branch of a tree, and the
comb will be lengthened, the queen's eggs laid, provisions stored, with
no shelter other than that which the workers' own bodies provide. Our
Northern bees have at times been known to do this, deceived perhaps by a
too gentle sky; and swarms have been found living in the center of a

But even in the Indies this exposure to all weathers is by no means an
advantage. So many workers are compelled to remain always on one spot,
in order to keep up the heat that is required for those who are molding
the wax and rearing the brood, that they are unable to erect more than a
single comb; whereas, if they have the least shelter, they will build
four or five more, thereby increasing the wealth and population of the
hive. And so we find that every species of bee that lives in cold and
temperate regions has given up building its hive in exposed places. Its
intelligence has decided that it is better to select more sheltered
spots. But it is none the less true that, in forsaking the open sky that
was so dear to them, and seeking shelter in the hollow of a tree or a
cave, the bees have been guided by what was at first a daring idea,
which came to them through their observation, experience and reasoning.

There can be no doubt that they have made great progress. We have
already mentioned the intelligence they show in using flour instead of
pollen, cement in place of wax. We have seen with what skill they are
able to adapt a new building to their requirements, and the amazing
cleverness they display in the matter of combs made of foundation wax.
They handle these marvelous combs, which are so curiously useful and yet
so incomplete, in the most ingenious fashion, and actually contrive to
meet interfering man half-way.

Imagine for a moment that we had for centuries past been building our
cities, not with bricks, stones and lime, but with a substance as soft
as is the wax secreted by the bees. One day an all-powerful being lifts
us into the air and places us in the midst of a fairy city. We recognize
that it is made of a substance resembling the wax that we have been
using; but, as regards all the rest, we are merely lost and bewildered.
We are called upon to make this city suit our requirements. Each of the
houses in it is so small that our two hands can cover it. We can
distinguish the beginnings of thousands of incomplete walls. There are
many things that we have never come across before; there are gaps to be
filled and joined up with the rest, there are many parts that have to be
propped up and supported. We see a chance of getting things right, but
around us there is nothing but hardship and danger. Some superior
intellect, able to guess at most of our desires, has evidently been at
work, but has been baffled and confused by the vastness and variety of
the necessary details.

It becomes our business, therefore, to disentangle this confusion, to
induce order where now is disorder; we must find out what this superior
intellect wanted us to do; we must build in a few days what would
normally have taken us years; we must alter our methods of labor, we
must change these in accordance with the work that has already been
done. In the meanwhile we must deal with all the problems that arise, we
must meet all the difficulties that the superior intellect had not
foreseen; we must learn how to make the fullest use of the wonderful
opportunities that have been provided. This is more or less what the
bees are doing to-day in our modern hives.

What one may call the local self-government, the bees' methods of
dealing with their own affairs--such as the swarm, for instance, or the
treatment of queens--these vary in every hive. Syrian hives have been
known to produce 120 queens, whereas our own will never rear more than
ten or twelve. In one hive in Syria 120 dead queen-mothers were found,
together with ninety living ones. The bee is capable, too, of altering
her ways, should conditions require it; of changing her methods. Take
one of them to California or Australia, and her habits will become quite
other than when she was in Europe. Having discovered that summer always
abides in the land and that flowers never are absent, she will, after a
time, be content to live from day to day, and gather only honey and
pollen sufficient for her immediate requirements; and her observation
of the new conditions will teach her that it is not necessary to make
provision for the winter. All this she will learn in a year or two; and
in fact it becomes necessary for the bee-keeper to deprive her of the
fruits of her labor, in order to maintain her activity. Similarly it is
said that, in the Barbadoes, the bees in such hives as are close to the
sugar-refineries will entirely cease visiting the flowers, but will
gather their store from the vast quantity of sweets that surround them.

Of wild bees no less than 4500 varieties are known. Some naturalists
believe that the "Prosopis," a little wild bee that is found all over
the world, is the original kind from which all the others have sprung.
This unfortunate little insect is to our domestic bee more or less what
a cave-dweller would be to a highly-civilized man of to-day. You will
probably more than once have seen it, hovering over the bushes in a
deserted corner of your garden, and it will never have occurred to you
that there, fluttering before you, was the first-comer of those to whom
we probably owe most of our flowers and plants; for it is a fact that
more than a hundred varieties of plants would disappear if they were not
regularly visited by the bees.

The prosopis is nimble and not unattractive, the French variety being
elegantly marked with white over a black background. She leads a
miserable life of starvation and solitude. Her body is almost bare; she
has not the warm and sumptuous fleece of her happier sisters. She has no
baskets in which to gather the pollen, no brushes, no towering plumes.
With her tiny claws she must scratch away the powder from the cups of
the flowers; and she must swallow this powder in order to bring it home.
She has no tools to work with, nothing but her tongue, her mouth and her
claws; and her tongue is short, her claws are feeble and her jaws
without strength. Unable to form any wax, to bore holes through wood or
dig in the earth, she builds clumsy galleries in the soft pith of dry
berries; she puts up a few shapeless cells, and stores these with a
little food for the young whom she never will see. And then, having done
all this as best she can, she goes off and dies in some hidden corner,
as lonely now at the end as she has been through all her poor life.

As the bees progress from wildness to civilization, we note that their
tongue gradually lengthens, thus enabling more nectar to be drawn from
the flowers; hairs and tufts grow and develop, and brushes for
collecting the pollen; mandibles and claws become firmer and stronger
and the bees acquire the intellect that enables them to make
improvements in their dwellings. To relate all the different changes
would require a whole volume; I will merely dwell on one or two
instances of their development.

We have seen the unhappy prosopis living her lonely little life in the
midst of this vast and indifferent universe. Some of her more civilized
sisters, who have tools of their own and are skilled in the use of them,
still exist in absolute solitude. If by chance some creature attach
itself to them and share their dwelling, it will be an enemy or, more
often, what is known as a parasite. For the world of bees contains many
strange phantoms; and there are some species which will have a kind of
indolent double, a creature exactly similar to the victim it has chosen
to live with, save only that its uninterrupted idleness has caused it to
lose one by one its implements of labor. It never works, or tries to
work, it collects no food itself, but lives on that which is painfully
got together by the unfortunate bee on whom it has fastened.

Little by little, by slow degrees and slow stages, the bees advance in
civilization and intellect till we find them dwelling together in the
regular life of a city. They have abandoned their solitude, their
isolation; their existence, formerly so narrow and incomplete, has now
become more assured, more concerned with the existence of those round
about them. Instead of thinking only of their own offspring, they have
learned that they must devote themselves to the race, that they must
live and work together in order to make the future sure and safe.

There are certain building-bees which dig holes in the earth, and unite
in large colonies to construct their nests. Between the individual
members of the crowd, however, there is no communication and no
understanding; they join together in a common task, but each one thinks
only of her own particular interest. A little higher up in the scale we
come to a race of bees, known as the Panurgi, who seem to have
recognized the advantage of living and working as one community. They
build in the same haphazard fashion as the others, each one digging its
own underground chambers, but the entrance is common to all, as is also
the gallery which winds from the surface to the different cells below.
Here we find the idea of fellowship beginning to penetrate into the
life of the bee, and it progresses with their civilization. As this
increases, their manners and methods soften; what was formerly a mere
instinct, due to the fear of cold and hunger, has become an active
intelligence, working in the interests of life.

The bumble-bees, the great, hairy creatures that are so familiar to us
all, so inoffensive although they appear so fierce, begin their life in
solitude. In the first days of March the mother-bee, who has survived
the winter, will start to construct her nest, either underground or in a
bush, according to the species to which she belongs. She is alone in the
world, and around her is only the miracle of awakening spring. She
chooses a spot that seems favorable; she clears the rubbish away, digs
down and builds her cells. Into these, which will have no special shape
of their own, she will store the honey and pollen that she collects, and
here she will lay and hatch her eggs; soon a troop of daughters will
surround her, and these will all help in the work within the nest and
without. More cells will be added, and the construction of these will be
better; the colony grows, and there are signs of some prosperity. The
old mother finds herself now at the head of a little kingdom which might
serve as the model on which that of our honey-bee was formed. But the
model is still in the rough. The good-fortune of the humble-bee never
lasts. If they have laws, they do not obey them; the elder bees will at
times devour the larvæ, the buildings still are far from perfect and
much material has been wasted in putting them up; but the most
remarkable and essential difference between the two is that the
honey-bees' city will endure forever while the poor shelter that the
humble-bees have raised will disappear when the winter comes, its two or
three hundred inhabitants all perishing, with the exception of one
single female. The others have vanished, and left no trace behind; she,
when next spring comes, will begin again, in the same solitude and
poverty as her mother before her, and with the same useless result.

Yet another stage up, and we find a more civilized class of bee, whose
organization is as complete as in our own hives. The males of this race,
which are known as the "Meliponitæ," are not wholly idle, and they help
in the secretion of wax. The entrance to the hive is carefully guarded;
it has a door that can be closed when nights are cold, and a sort of
curtain that will let air in when the heat is oppressive. But still
there is not the same good government, the same security and general
prosperity, as among the honey-bees. Labor is not so well distributed;
much less skill is shown in the designing of the city, and the spirit of
the hive is not so fully developed.

It is only about a hundred and ninety years ago that people first began
to study the habits of wild bees; at that time few were known, and
although since then many others have been observed, there may be
hundreds, possibly thousands, of whom we know very little. It was in the
year 1730 that the first book on the subject was published; and the
humble-bees, all powdered with gold, that were feasting then on the
flowers, were precisely the same, as regards their habits and ways, as
those that to-morrow will be noisily buzzing in the woods round about
you. A hundred and ninety years, however, are but as the twinkling of an
eye; and many lives of men, placed end to end, form but a second in the
history of Nature.

Although the highest type of bee-life is found in our domestic hives, it
must not be imagined that these reveal no faults. They contain one
masterpiece, the six-sided cell, which displays absolute perfection; a
perfection that all the geniuses in the world, were they to meet in
council, could in no way improve. No living creature, not even man, has
achieved in his sphere what the bee has achieved in her own; and if some
one from another world were to descend on this globe and to ask what was
the most perfect thing that unaided reason had produced here below, we
should have to offer the humble comb of honey.

But such perfection as the honey-comb reveals is not shown in all the
works of the bee. We have already drawn attention to some shortcomings,
such as the vast number of males and their persistent idleness, the
excessive swarming, the entire absence of pity, and the almost monstrous
sacrifice that each individual is called upon to make to the community.
To these must be added a curious inclination to store enormous masses of
pollen, often far in excess of what is required; with the result that
the pollen soon turns rancid and goes solid, blocking up the surface of
the comb.

Of these defects the most serious is the repeated swarming. But here we
must bear in mind that for thousands of years the bee has been
interfered with by man. From the Egyptian of the time of Pharaoh down
to the peasant of our own day the bee-keeper has always disregarded the
desires and the intentions of the bees. The most prosperous hives are
those which send out only one swarm after the beginning of summer. They
have done their duty; they have safeguarded the future of the swarm,
which is composed of so large a number of bees that they will have ample
time to erect solid and well-provisioned dwellings before the arrival of
autumn. If man had not come in the way, it is clear that these first
swarms and their colonies would have been the only ones to survive the
hardships of winter, which would have destroyed the others, owing to
their weakness and poverty; and the bees would gradually have learned
the folly of swarming so frequently, and would have acted accordingly.
But it is precisely these prudent, careful hives that man has always
destroyed in order to possess himself of the honey which they contained.
He allowed only the feeblest colonies to survive; the second or third
swarms, which had barely sufficient food to endure through the winter.
The result will probably have been that the habit of excessive swarming
fastened itself on the bees, in whom, particularly in the black
varieties, it is much too general. For some years, however, modern and
scientific bee-keeping has done much to correct this dangerous habit;
and it is possible, perhaps, that in time the bees themselves will learn
to abandon it.

As for the other faults which we have noticed, they are probably due to
causes unknown to us, that still remain the secrets of the hive. As for
the bees' intelligence, their power of reasoning, let every one judge
for himself. To me, many actions of theirs appear to prove that they do
possess this power; but, were it otherwise, if it could be conclusively
established that all that they do is directed by some blind instinct, my
interest in them would not be one whit the less. We are taught by them
at least that there are many things in nature that we cannot understand
and cannot explain, and this induces us to look with more eagerness on
the things around us, and is not without its effect on our thoughts and
our feelings, and on all that we try to say.

And, further, I am not at all sure that our own intellect is the proper
tribunal to judge the bees and pass a verdict upon their mistakes. Do we
not ourselves live in the midst of errors and blunders without being
aware of them; and even when aware of them, are we so quick at finding
a remedy? The bees might have much to say if they passed us in review,
and criticized our world as we do theirs; they would find a good deal
to puzzle them in our own reason and moral sense, and would be compelled
to admit that we seemed to be governed by principles quite beyond their

I have referred to the way in which man interferes with the bees; and
truly they do here provide a most admirable lesson. No matter to what
extent their own plans have been thwarted, they will none the less do
what they know to be their profound and primitive duty. And as to what
this duty may be they are never in doubt. It is written in their tongue,
in their mouth, over every organ of their body, that they are in this
world to make honey; as it is written in our eyes, our ears, our
nerves, in every lobe of our brain, that we have been created to think,
to reason, to understand, to improve our sense of justice, our
knowledge, to cultivate our soul. The bees know not who will eat the
honey they harvest, as we know not who shall profit by the spiritual
treasure we gather. As they go from flower to flower absorbing nectar
beyond what they or their hive will need, so let us go from thought to
thought, forever seeking the truth. And let the knowledge that this is
our duty quicken the zeal, the ardor and purity with which our soul
turns to the light.


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