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CHAPTER II Edit

PHYSIOLOGY OF THE HONEY BEE Edit

IT would be impossible to minutely describe the physiology of the honey bee within the narrow confines of a single chapter, nevertheless in the keeping of bees it is necessary to understand the most important of their physical characteristics. A more thorough and extensive discussion of their various organs can be found in works by Cheshire and others, who devote whole chapters to a single organ or function of Apis melifera. The honey or hive bee belongs to the order Hymenoptera, perhaps the most comprehensive order of insects, most of which are remarkable for social traits and quality of instinct.

As we look into the brood nest of a colony of bees, we find that they have built a number of accurately spaced combs, in the cells of which they store their honey and pollen, and rear their young. The combs are made of beeswax, and are composed of - 3 worker and drone cells, hexagonal in shape and as thin as paper.

In these cells the queen deposits her eggs, which the clustering bees Honey bee dissected. After Witzgall. maintain at a proper temperature, varying the kind of food according to the cell and the kind of egg that reposes in it. The eggs will hatch in from sixteen to twenty-four days, a worker egg taking twenty-one days, a drone twenty-four, while a queen cell requires but sixteen days. The laying powers of the queen bee are remarkable, as she will lay anywhere from two thousand to five thousand eggs in a given twenty-four hours. She does not, however, lay at this rate during the entire year, but does her best during the breeding season, during the summer and spring months. She is the only perfectly developed female in the hive, whereas the workers are imperfectly developed females; their lack of development being due to the smaller cells in which they are reared and the absence of royal jelly in the food that is given the egg and larvae. The drones are perfectly developed males, and their sole function is the fertilization of the virgin queens, an act taking place while in flight, and resulting in the immediate death of the drone.

Unlike mammals, the bees have no skeleton as a framework for support, but have a framework mostly external, composed of a horny bonelike substance called chitine. The body of the bee is made up of three distinct parts, the head, the thorax, and the abdomen, all closely related.

Extending from the head on each side are the antennae, most delicate organs, in which are located the senses of hearing and smelling, and an unknown sense by which they can communicate their desires one to another. There are also located in the head of the honey bees two sets of eyes, five in number; the three convex eyes, or ocelli, are microscopic in power and are used by the bees while working in the dark recesses of their hives. The two large compound eyes are composed of thousands of little eyes or facets arranged over the front and sides of the head, thus enabling the bee to see in many directions when in flight.

Projecting from the head and mouth of the honey bee is another wonderful and delicate organ, the tongue, marvellously adapted to the work for which it is intended. In the first place, it is not round like a tube, but is in reality a flexible trough, the edges of which can be brought together to enable the busy worker to extract the last drop of nectar from the yielding blossoms.

By various experiments in breeding, the tongue of some strains of bees has been lengthened considerably, thus enabling them to extract the nectar from the red clover, whose corolla is so deep that its hidden sweets are beyond the reach of the ordinary bee. The thorax is the intermediate part of the body of the bee, and in it are located the organs of locomotion, consisting of six legs and four wings. The posterior legs are the most interesting, as they have on them the little receptacles for pollen in which the bees carry the pollen from the flowers to their hives; sometimes they are so heavily loaded as to be seriously impeded in their flight.

The honey sac is located in the abdomen, and is a false or secondary stomach, and is the vessel in which the bee carries the nectar from the field to its hive. The heart of the honey bee is made up of five elongated sections, resembling in appearance a clinical thermometer; beginning in the head, it extends through the thorax clear to the extremity of the abdomen. The blood of the bee is colorless, and is oxygenated by the air coming in contact with it through the many tracheae, or breathingholes, with which the outer shell of the bee is pierced.

Extending from the lower extremity of the abdomen of the bee is its sting. It is barbed like a spear, so that the bee can seldom withdraw it when once it is inserted, and it is the tearing away of its sting that so mutilates and cripples the bee that it usually dies after stinging. The poison of the sting is similar to that of the bite of the rattlesnake, and it is estimated that if a person should be stung by five hundred bees at a time the poison injected into the system would be about the same in quantity as that from the bite of a rattlesnake., The drones have no stings, and the queen seldom uses hers except to aid in depositing her eggs.

As we stated at the beginning of this chapter, it is impossible to give more than a casual glance at the physiology of the bee and merely call attention to some of its organs, for to do full justice to the intricate and delicately adjusted machinery of these wonderful little creatures would require a work three times the size of the present one. The nature student who is interested solely in the natural history of the honey bee, and to whom the commercial and profitable part of bee-keeping does not appeal, we would refer to the excellent books by Cowan, Cheshire, Cook, Langstroth, Burroughs, and others who have gone into a detailed and elaborate discussion of the subject of bee physiology.

The organs and various functions outlined are practically the same in all varieties of bees, and it is the possession and use of these various powers that enables them to carry on their laborious and profitable work.

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