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.

Week 26

And now, as soon as a rough lump of wax is ready, another set of bees come to do their work.  These are called the nursing bees, because they prepare the cells and feed the young ones.  One of these bees, standing on the roof of the hive, begins to force her head into the wax, biting with her jaws and moving her head to and fro.  Soon she has made the beginning of a round hollow, and then she passes on to make another, while a second bee takes her place and enlarges the first one.  As many as twenty bees will be employed in this way, one after another, upon each hole before it is large enough for the base of a cell.

Meanwhile another set of nursing bees have been working just in the same way on the other side of the wax, and so a series of hollows are made back to back all over the comb.  Then the bees form the walls of the cells and soon a number of six-sided tubes, about half an inch deep, stand all along each side of the comb ready to receive honey or bee-eggs.

You can see the shape of these cells in c,d, Fig. 56, and notice how closely they fit into each other.  Even the ends are so shaped that, as they lie back to back, the bottom of one cell (B, Fig. 56) fits into the space between the ends of three cells meeting it from the opposite side (A, Fig. 56), while they fit into the spaces around it.  Upon this plan the clever little bees fill every atom of space, use the least possible quantity of wax, and make the cells lie so closely together that the whole comb is kept warm when the young bees are in it.

There are some kinds of bees who do not live in hives, but each one builds a home of its own.  These bees — such as the upholsterer bee, which digs a hole in the earth and lines it with flowers and leaves, and the mason bee, which builds in walls — do not make six-sided cells, but round ones, for room is no object to them.  But nature has gradually taught the little hive-bee to build its cells more and more closely, till they fit perfectly within each other.  If you make a number of round holes close together in a soft substance, and then squeeze the substance evenly from all sides, the rounds will gradually take a six-sided form, showing that this is the closest shape into which they can be compressed.  Although the bee does not know this, yet as gnaws away every bit of wax that can be spared she brings the holes into this shape.

As soon as one comb is finished, the bees begin another by the side of it, leaving a narrow lane between, just broad enough for two bees to pass back to back as they crawl along, and so the work goes on till the hive is full of combs.

As soon, however, as a length of about five or six inches of the first comb has been made into cells, the bees which are bringing home honey no longer hang to make it into wax, but begin to store it in the cells.  We all know where the bees go to fetch their honey, and how, when a bee settles on a flower, she thrusts into it her small tongue-like proboscis, which is really a lengthened under-lip, and sucks out the drop of honey.  This she swallows, passing it down her throat into a honey-bag or first stomach, which lies between her throat and her real stomach, and when she gets back to the hive she can empty this bag and pass honey back through her mouth again into the honey-cells.

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