Bee History – Natural History


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Orders of Insects—Stages of Development—Egg, Larva, Pupa, Imago or Perfect Insect—Three Classes of Bees: Queen, Drones, Workers.

It will be observed from the title of this book that it deals with the honey-bee. The necessity of this restriction will become immediately evident when we mention the fact that in Great Britain there are no less than twenty-seven genera and 177 species of native bees, none of which have been successfully domesticated except Apis mellifica, or the ordinary hive-bee.

The term “insect” has unfortunately been loosely employed in popular parlance to include such diverse beings as coral-polyps and house-flies. As the name itself indicates, it is properly applicable only to such animals as are more or less distinctly divided into segments. All true insects, in fact, are plainly divisible in their perfect state into three portions, the head, thorax, and abdomen. The most important classes in this portion of the animal kingdom are distinguished by the characteristics of their wings, and are—

I. Coleoptera, or those possessing crustaceous sheathing wing-covers, including all the beetles.

II. Orthroptera, having the wings when at rest in straight longitudinal folds, comprising such families as the earwigs, cockroaches, grasshoppers, and locusts.

III. Neuroptera, nerve-winged, characterised by four naked, strongly reticulated organs of flight, as seen in dragon-flies, may-flies, and white ants.

IV. Hymenopteramembrane-winged, resembling the Neuroptera in some respects, but with fewer reticulations, and their organs of flight when in use are hooked together along the margins, so as to expose a continuous surface. Another distinguishing character is the appendage at the tail, in the form of either a sting or an ovipositor. The chief representative families are the bees, wasps, gad-flies, ants, and ichneumons.

V. Lepidoptera, having the wings covered with a scale-like powder, set like the tiles of a house. The butterflies and moths all belong to this order.

VI. Diptera, or two-winged insects, embracing the gnats, “daddy-long-legs,” blow-flies, and house-flies.

Less important are the Homoptera, which have the wings of the same consistence throughout, as the aphides or blight-insects.

The Heteroptera, having the fore-wings coriaceous (or leathery) at the base and membranous towards the extremity. These comprise the bug tribe; while fleas belong to the Aptera, or wingless insects.

Insects pass through four stages during their lifetime: the egg, the larva, the pupa, and the imago conditions. The honey-bee exists in each of these states.

The egg.—All the eggs of the community are laid by the queen. The cells in which they are deposited vary in size and in shape, according to whether queens, drones, or workers are to be developed in them. In length the eggs are about one-twelfth of an inch; in shape, oblong, but a little broader at the upper than at the lower end, and slightly curved; in colour they are white, with a bluish tinge. Their external coat is slightly glutinous when they are first laid, and thus they adhere to the bottom of the cell in which they are deposited.

Fig. 1.—Egg’s and Larva of Bees.

The larva.—Under the genial influence of the heat of the hive, ranging from 66° to 70° Fahr., the formation of the larva from the egg-contents immediately begins; and, in the course of three days, a tiny worm or grub has been developed, and makes its way out of its delicate shell. It now lies curled round, still at the base of its dwelling, and, fed by the nurse-bees on a jelly-like mixture of pollen and honey, it rapidly grows. Its food supply is made strictly correspondent to its wants, and by the time the larva is ready for its next change not a drop of the jelly is unconsumed. The fleshy white grub is in shape at first slightly, and afterwards strongly curved, and a little pointed at each end. The future segments of the insect now become gradually visible, fifteen in number, and ten of them are furnished each with a minute aperture on opposite sides of the body, and connected with air-tubes, or spiracles, by which respiration is carried on. The segments have also a series of minute tubercles, whose office seems to be to aid in the motions of the grub, which motions doubtless contribute to the assimilation of food, and so to growth. The head of the larva is small, is smooth above, and is furnished with two little projecting horns, from which will be developed the future antennæ.

Fig. 2.—Larvæ.
a. Worker larvæ. b. Queen larva. c. Queen cell sealed.

The jaws are small, and articulate below a narrow lip. They are constantly in motion, probably to reduce the pollen-grains existing in the so-called bee-bread, which, with honey, as already mentioned, constitute their food. Beneath the jaws, and centrally between them, is a fleshy protuberance, which has a perforation at its extremity, through which the larva emits a sticky fluid, similar to that from which spider’s-web or silk is made. With this the grub spins for itself a cocoon, in which a further and important transformation takes place in the structure of the insect.Fig. 3.—Sealed Cells.

The time occupied in making this silken dress is, for drone- and worker-larvæ, thirty-six hours. Princesses, who trouble themselves to make only half-cocoons, finish theirs in twenty-four hours. So soon as the grubs are ready for this process, the nurse-bees form over the entrance to each cell a lid made of wax and a sticky substance called propolis; leaving, however, minute perforations for the admission of air. These coverings are darker than the caps of the honey-cells. They are also somewhat convex over worker-larvæ, and over drone-grubs they stand out almost hemispherically. Hence it is easy to distinguish the look of brood cells from that of those containing food-stores. Moreover, the former are situated usually in or near the centre of each comb, while the latter, where the two co-exist, are found near the top. It is very important to learn the difference in appearance between the two, as several points of successful manipulation depend upon the knowledge.

Fig. 4.—A. Larva full grown, viewed sideways. B. Larva preparing for pupa state.

The nymph or pupa.—In this condition the insect is at first semi-transparent, and white, with a yellowish tinge. Hour by hour the various organs of the perfect bee proceed in their development, and become more and more discernible through the thin pellicle enshrouding them. On the head, the eyes and antennæ assume their ultimate size and marvellous structure. The legs and wings are clearly seen folded lengthwise along the thorax and abdomen. The chitinous covering of the body attains increasing firmness, and the colour of the exterior deepens to a greyish brown.

At length, in periods varying in the three classes of inmates of the hive, maturity is reached. In the case of queens, sixteen days suffice for complete metamorphosis from the egg to the full-grown insect. Drones require twenty-four days, and workers from nineteen to twenty-two days, according to the warmth of the weather, to go through all their changes.

Fig. 5.—Worker Larva and Pupa in Comb.

When ready to emerge from the cell, the young bee nibbles round the lid of its abode, and bursting its cocoon along the back, it crawls forth in its imago or perfect condition. Forthwith the busy nurses clean it from any remains of its silken covering; brush its legs and antennæ; pull its wings and fuss about it, as if to urge it to action and to arouse it to a due sense of its newly acquired powers. Speedily awakened to its responsibilities, the young bee assumes, as its earliest duties, the tending of the brood-cells, the feeding of the larvæ, and the various offices so recently performed for itself by its slightly older sisters. Then, as strength increases, the wings are tried in flight; the locality of its home is reconnoitred, and in two or three days after its emergence into its complete condition it issues forth on journeys, nearer or more remote, in search of stores for the perpetually recurring wants of the succession of children continually being reared in the hive.

Each complete community of bees consists of three classes; first, the queen, who is the parent of all the offspring; second, the drones, or males; and third, the workers, which are really undeveloped females.

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