How To Start Beekeeping... Click Here!


Natural History of the Honey-Bee

The Races of Bees

§ 1. Of the different races of the honeybee, the common or black bee is the most numerous, though it is less desirable than the Italian, which was known to the ancients several hundred years before the Christian Era, and is mentioned by Aristotle and Virgil. The Egyptian, Carniolan, Cyprian, Caucasian, and others, have also been tried. But the Italian (123) is the favorite in the United States, because of its activity, docility, prolificness and beauty.

A Colony of Bees

§ 2. In its usual working condition, a colony of bees contains a fertile queen, many thousands of workers (more or less numerous according to the season of the year), and in the busy season from several hundred to a few thousand drones.

The Queen

§ 3. The mother-bee, as she is often called, is the only perfect female in the colony and is the true mother of it. Her only duty is to lay the eggs for the propagation of the species. She is little larger than the worker but not so large as the drone. Her body is longer than that of the worker, but her wings are proportionately shorter. Her abdomen tapers to a point. She has a sting, but it is curved, and she only uses it upon royalty; that is to say, to fight or destroy other queens - her rivals.
§ 4. The queen usually leaves the hive only when accompanying a swarm. However, she takes a flight when about five or six days old, to mate with a drone, outside, upon the wing. Once fertilized, she is so for life, though often she lives three or four years (30). On her return to the hive, after mating, if she has been fecundated, the male organs may be seen attached to her abdomen.
§ 5. If for some reason the queen is unable to mate within the first three weeks of her life, she loses the desire to mate, but is nevertheless able to lay eggs that will hatch, as will be shown further (9). These produce only drones. In about two days after mating, she commences to lay, and she is capable, if prolific, of laying three thousand or more eggs per day. These are regularly deposited by her in the cells, within the breeding apartment or body of the hive. When a queen lays eggs in the super or honey receptacle, which is usually provided over the hive-body, it is a sign that the hive is full. Small hives are objectionable because their limited space often causes the queen to desert the breeding apartment and induce swarming.

§ 6. Instinct teaches the workers the necessity of having a queen that is prolific, and should she become barren from any cause, or be lost or even decrease in her fertility (101-5) during the breeding season or die (118) from old age or accident, they immediately prepare to rear another to take her place. This they do by building queencells (Fig. 5) (34) which they supply with eggs from worker-cells.
The bees also rear queens when preparing to swarm (96); the first queen hatched destroys the others and the bees usually help her to do it unless they wish to swarm (98) again.
§ 7. By feeding the embryo queen with royal jelly, the egg that would have produced a worker had it remained in a worker-cell, becomes a queen.
The name “royal jelly” (33) is probably a misnomer, though used by most authors. It seems evident that the royal jelly is the same food which is given to the larva of the worker-bee during the first three days of existence, but at the end of that time it is changed, for the worker, to a coarser food or pap, while the same jelly in plentiful supply is given to the queen larva during the entire time of its growth.
§ 8. The ovaries of the queen, occupying a large portion of the abdomen, are two pear-shaped bodies, composed of 160 to 180 minute tubes, the tubes being bound together by enveloping air-vessels. A highly magnified view is here given (Fig. 4.) The germs of the eggs originate in the upper ends of the tubes which compose the ovary, and the eggs develop in their onward passage, so that at the time of the busy laying season each one of the tubes will contain, at its lower end, one or more mature eggs, with several others in a less developed state following them. These tubes terminate on each side in the oviduct, through which the egg passes into the vagina; in the cut, an egg will be seen in the oviduct on the right.
A globular sac will be noted, attached to the main oviduct by a short, tubular stem. A French naturalist, M. Audouin, first discovered the true character of this sac as the spermatheca, which contains the male semen; and Prof. Leuckart computes its size as sufficient to contain, probably, twenty-five millions of seminal filaments. It seems hardly possible that so large a number should ever be found in the spermatheca, as it would require nearly twenty years to exhaust the supply, if the queen should lay daily 2000 eggs, 365 days in the year, and each egg be impregnated. Each egg which receives one or more of the seminal filaments in passing produces a worker or queen, while an un-impregnated egg produces only a drone. The spermatheca of an unfecundated queen contains only a transparent liquid with no seminal filaments, and the eggs of such a queen produce only drones, whether they are laid in large or small cells. The size of the cell has therefore no influence on the sex.

§ 9. This ability of a queen to lay eggs which hatch into drones, without fertilization, belongs only to a few female insects and is called “parthenogenesis.” This was discovered in queenbees to by Dzierzon. Whether the queen has been for some cause unable to meet a drone or to fly in search of one, or whether the drone’s organs were sterile, or their supply exhausted, or whether yet she has been rendered infertile by refrigeration, in any of these cases a queen may lay eggs which hatch only as drones. Such a queen is, of course, worthless, and should be superseded by the apiarist.
§ 10. The queen usually lays from February to October, but very early in the spring she lays sparingly. When fruit and flowers bloom, and the bees are getting honey and pollen, she lays most rapidly.