The Fairy-Land of Science eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 211 pages of information about The Fairy-Land of Science.

And now let us suppose that we are able to watch what is going on in the hive.  Before five minutes are over the industrious little insects have begun to disperse and to make arrangements in their new home.  A number (perhaps about two thousand) of large, lumbering bees of a darker colour than the rest, will it is true, wander aimlessly about the hive, and wait for the others to feed them and house them; but these are the drones, or male bees (3, Fig. 54), who never do any work except during one or two days in their whole lives.  But the smaller working bees (1, Fig. 54) begin to be busy at once.  Some fly off in search of honey.  Others walk carefully all round the inside of the hive to see if there are any cracks in it; and if there are, they go off to the horse-chestnut trees, poplars, hollyhocks, or other plants which have sticky buds, and gather a kind of gum called “propolis,” with which they cement the cracks and make them air-tight.  Others again, cluster round one bee (2, Fig. 54) blacker than the rest and having a longer body and shorter wings; for this is the queen-bee, the mother of the hive, and she must be watched and tended.

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

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

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

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The Fairy-Land of Science from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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