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CHAPTER V Edit

THE BEE FAMILY Edit

WHATEVER the race of bees kept, we find at the beginning of the season that there are but three kinds of bees present in a hive, the queen, the drones, and the workers.

With very rare exceptions there is usually but one queen present, a limited number of drones for propagation, and about thirty thousand workers, or about six quarts of bees by measure.

The queen is the mother of the entire colony, and under average conditions will lay from three thousand to five thousand eggs in twenty-four hours, doing her best during the spring and early summer. She is revered by the workers and tenderly cared for, not because of any regal traits she possesses or royal prerogatives she exercises, but rather because she is the sole reproducer of workers, and her death usually means the extinction of the swarm unless the workers have means of replacing her. Their solicitude for her is founded upon the law of self-preservation, and not because she rules them as a monarch. When hatched from a queen cell she is a virgin, and of no use in the matter of reproduction until she takes her matrimonial flight, which usually occurs a few days after she is born, and mates with a drone. Many times a virgin is lost to a colony while seeking to be impregnated, as a bird may catch her in flight, and during her absence the bees are greatly agitated until she returns with evidences of having accomplished her purpose. The mating occurs outside of the hive while the queen is on the wing, and may take place within a hundred yards of the hive or a mile or so away, the distance depending upon the presence of drones in the vicinity.

If it were possible to mate our queens in the hive, we could in every sense control it and be certain that she was purely mated to a drone of the same race, but, the mating occurring in the air, somewhat remote from her hive, we can never be certain that she has mated properly until after some of her eggs have hatched, when the markings of the worker offspring will tell the tale.

This uncertainty has been the bane of queenraisers, and to overcome it they have found it economy to seek out all owners of bees in a radius of three miles and to Italianize their colonies free of charge, by the introduction of pure queens, so as to be reasonably certain of the fact that none but pure drones are present in the immediate neighborhood. Again and again have I had a choice virgin queen mated to the common black drones that may be near by ; and as her offspring will be hybrids with more or less vicious dispositions, the only remedy has been to pinch off her head and try again. The presence of impure races, however, need not prove a serious bugbear, for in a little while the drones from our own apiaries will succeed in fertilizing the virgins from any common stock, until most of the neighboring bees will in time be of pure blood.

When about nine days old a virgin sallies forth, and high in the air is mated to a drone who inserts an amount of seminal fluid into her spermatheca, and the single impregnation is sufficient for her lifetime, during which she may lay nearly half a million eggs. When a virgin sails forth she is usually beset by a large number of drones, and with these in pursuit she flies very rapidly, so that she is overtaken only by the strongest, nature thus insuring vigor in her offspring.

A strange fact concerning the mating of the queen is that the drone usually dies immediately after he has accomplished his purpose, as the end of his existence has been fulfilled, and the queen returns to the hive with the male organs still clinging to her; these in time are either pulled away by the workers or else shrivel and dry up.

The queen is the only perfectly developed female in the hive, as the workers are imperfectly developed females; and though the bees may upon the death of the queen introduce a laying worker, as the head of the hive, yet the laying worker being imperfectly developed, and never having mated with a drone, will lay only drone eggs, so that in time the colony will be made up of drones and become extinct.

Sometimes a virgin with imperfect wing development is not able to accomplish a mating, and will lay nothing but drone eggs. This phenomenon is called parthenogenesis, or "generation from a virgin," and was first discovered by Dzierzon of Germany; it must be regarded as one of the most remarkable discoveries of science.

In appearance the queen is very easily distinguished by even the novice, for while she is not so bulky as the drones, she has a body considerably more elongated than the workers, and is decidedly waspish-looking. Usually she is slow in her movements, though she can move with astonishing rapidity, especially when locked in a death struggle with a rival. She is constantly attended by a retinue of young bees who feed her from time to time, for a queen will in twenty-four hours lay more than her own weight in eggs, and to do this must be abundantly fed, a function carried on by her attendants. The reverence the workers have for her, if such it can be called, is due to their knowledge that without her presence in the hive the colony must eventually perish, as there will be no brood to develop into workers to take the place of the bees that are constantly dying off from old age.

While the average age of a worker bee is about five weeks, queens have been known to live for a period of as many years, though as they grow older their powers of reproduction grow less. When the queen shows signs of failing the workers will rear another to supersede her, and under these conditions we often find two queens present for a limited time. The cells in which the workers rear their queens are entirely different in shape from those in which they rear their workers and drones, and are very similar in appearance to a peanut hanging from the bottom of the brood comb. The eggs from which the workers produce their queens are identically the same in character as those from which they raise the workers, but being deposited in the larger queen cells, and being fed a more stimulative food rich in royal jelly, the larva is enabled to expand to its proper size and permit the full development of its ovaries. In fifteen to sixteen days from the time the eggs were laid the matured virgin emerges, and is ready for mating in a few days,

Usually a large number of cells are started by the workers at the swarming season. It must be remembered that when a swarm comes out seeking new quarters, the hive from which it emerges is left queenless for a few days, as the old queen accompanies the swarm, and the bees and brood that are left in the hive are dependent upon the hatching of one of the remaining queen cells for a queen. If but one queen cell were left and that should fail to hatch, the hive would be hopelessly queenless, as at the time the cell should hatch the old queen would have been away so long that there would be no eggs present sufficiently young from which the remaining bees could rear another, as the egg must not be much over three days old to start it toward royalty. It is this possibility that prompts the bees to leave a large number of cells behind, often as many as fifty, so that provision is made for any emergency.

Usually as soon as a good virgin comes forth, the bees will proceed to tear down the remaining cells, though very frequently as many as a half dozen queens will hatch at nearly the same time, in which case the bees and the virgin first hatched will destroy the surplus. Frequently the hatching of two or more queens at a time will result in the emergence of after-swarms, a thing not to be desired, as these swarms are at best very small and seldom amount to much, and the best thing to do in such a case is to throw them back into the hive and let them fight it out until but one queen is in charge.

About two days after mating, a queen will begin laying, usually in the centre of the brood nest, but as the season advances and the attending nurse bees increase, she will cover a much larger area of comb, until at times, in the case of a very vigorous queen, every comb will be more or less brooded.

The workers which constitute the main population of the hive are, as we have said, undeveloped females, and in size are smaller than either the queens or drones. The eggs from which they are reared are eggs that have been fertilized by a drone and are deposited in worker cells by the queen. These eggs when first laid look like a piece of cotton thread about a thirty-second of an inch long, and are attached to the bottom of the cell by a bluish white gelatinous secretion.

Although at the time it is deposited the egg retains an upright position, on the second day it inclines to an angle of about forty-five degrees, and by the third day it lies perfectly flat in its cell, containing in itself the vital germ of life. On its fourth day it has developed into a tiny white grub, and is supplied with a sufficient amount of food, known as pap, which the nurse bees give to it as soon as it has developed past the egg stage.

The food fed to the larvae is produced by the chyle-stomach of the nurse bees and is liberally given until the third day, when less is given, honey and pollen being added to the mass. When the larva is about six days old, or about ten days from the time the egg was deposited by the queen, the bees close up the cells with a substance made of bee bread and wax, which under the microscope is seen to be porous so as to enable the developing bee to secure the necessary air, and in twentyone days from the time the egg was laid the fully developed worker bites through the cap of the cell, and at once heads for a cell filled with honey, from which she sips a liberal supply. In about four days she is ready for her duties as a nurse bee, and about two weeks after birth is ready to begin her work as a field bee.

It is an interesting sight to watch a lot of young bees having a play spell in front of their hive. They will fly back and forth in front of the entrance, seldom flying more than three feet away, but as they become older they become self-reliant, and in a few days they may be seen returning to their homes heavily laden with propolis, pollen, and nectar. Their life is short, only about five weeks, as they work themselves to death, and it has been estimated that a dessert-spoonful of honey represents the life-work of each field bee. The drones are reared from infertile eggs, and are the male or father bees, and during the early spring and breeding season are present in large numbers. It takes about twenty-four days for the drone egg to develop into a fully matured bee, and though the cappings to their cells are raised much higher than those of the worker cells, they are porous and made of the same material.

They are in every sense of the word gentlemen of leisure, as all of the work of gathering pollen, propolis, honey, nursing the larvae, as well as defending the hives, devolves upon the workers. As sentinels the drones would be useless, as they have no stings, and can be handled with ease; it is perhaps this lack of defence that makes them manifest signs of fright when we take them in our hands. While the drones do no work and are large consumers of honey, yet their presence in the hive is more or less beneficial, as they doubtless help to conserve the heat of the hive and indirectly aid thereby in the development of the brood. When flying to and from their hives the drones are big noisy fellows, and one unacquainted with their history may be frightened by their buzzing, but they are perfectly harmless and can be picked up and carried about, as they have no stings with which to defend themselves.

It has not been definitely determined whether in laying an infertile egg from which springs the drone, the queen lays it through choice, or is compelled to owing to the increased size of the drone cell. The fact remains, however, that in depositing the drone egg, the enlarged size of the cell permits the queen to spread her limbs farther apart, and thus the egg slips out without coming in contact with the fertilizing fluid as does the worker egg in the case of the smaller cell, which compels the queen to keep her limbs closer together.

It is a remarkable fact that the drone is produced from an unimpregnated egg, and even to this day there are many who doubt it, but careful experiments have proved it to be true. A microscopical examination of the eggs for worker bees reveals the fact that spermatozoa are always present in numbers of from one to five, but in the case of the drone egg, none are present. This fact is further proved when we find that laying workers incapable of mating will also produce drones, though such drones are much smaller in size than those produced by a queen. It may be that the size of the drone reared from the egg of a laying worker is influenced by its being laid in a worker cell.

Having no stings, nor suitable proboscis with which to gather honey, nor baskets on their legs to gather and carry pollen, nor wax scales with which to secrete wax, nature has restricted them to their sole function in the hive; namely, the fecundation of the virgin queens.

During the breeding season the drones are permitted to roam as they please through the hive and are fed a pap by the workers, who seem to know that the drones are needed for breeding purposes, but when the honey flow begins to show signs of ending, and especially in the early fall, the workers withhold from them the strengthening pap and drive them from the hives.

It is interesting and even pathetic at this time to find them clustered on the bottom board of the hive after the workers have driven them from the combs and life for them becomes a problem. Again and again I have seen a little worker tugging at a big drone to hustle him out of the hive, and though he plead in the language of the bees to be readmitted, the workers are inexorable in their decision that out he must go, for, being a heavy consumer of honey, and the days of his usefulness over, the decree for his exclusion has been issued and the hand of every worker is turned against him.

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