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Age Of Bees

The queen bee, (as has been already stated,) will live four, and
sometimes, though very rarely, five years. As the life of the drones is
usually cut short by violence, it is not easy to ascertain its precise
limit. Bevan, in some interesting statements on the longevity of bees,
estimates it not to exceed four months. The workers are supposed by him,
to live six or seven months. Their age depends, however, very much upon
their greater or less exposure to injurious influences and severe
labors. Those reared in the spring and early part of summer, and on whom
the heaviest labors of the hive must necessarily devolve, do not appear
to live more than two or three months, while those which are bred at the
close of summer, and early in autumn, being able to spend a large part
of their time in repose, attain a much greater age. It is very evident
that "the bee," (to use the words of a quaint old writer,) "is a summer
bird," and that with the exception of the queen, none live to be a year

Notched and ragged wings, instead of gray hairs and wrinkled faces, are
the signs of old age in the bee, and indicate that its season of toil
will soon be over. They appear to die rather suddenly, and often spend
their last days, and sometimes even their last hours, in useful labors.
Place yourself before a hive, and see the indefatigable energy of these
aged veterans, toiling along with their heavy burdens, side by side with
their more youthful compeers, and then say if you can, that _you_ have
done work enough, and that you will give yourself up to slothful
indulgence, while the ability for useful labor still remains. Let the
cheerful hum of their industrious old age inspire you with better
resolutions, and teach you how much nobler it is to meet death in the
path of duty, striving still, as you "have opportunity," to "do good
unto all men."

The age which individual members of the community may attain, must not
be confounded with that of the colony. Bees have been known to occupy
the same domicile for a great number of years. I have seen flourishing
colonies which were twenty years old, and the Abbe Della Rocca speaks
of some over forty years old! Such cases have led to the erroneous
opinion that bees are a long-lived race. But this, as Dr. Evans has
observed, is just as wise as if a stranger, contemplating a populous
city, and personally unacquainted with its inhabitants, should on paying
it a second visit, many years afterwards, and finding it equally
populous, imagine that it was peopled by the same individuals, not one
of whom might then be living.

"Like leaves on trees, the race of bees is found,
Now green in youth, now withering on the ground;
Another race the Spring or Fall supplies,
They droop successive, and successive rise."

The cocoons spun by the larvae, are never removed by the bees; they stick
so closely to the sides of the cells, that the knowing bee well
understands that the labor of removal would cost more than it would be
worth. In process of time, the breeding cells become too small for the
proper development of the young. In some cases, the bees must take down
and reconstruct the old combs, for if they did not, the young issuing
from them would always be dwarfs; whereas I once compared with other
bees, those of a colony more than fifteen years old, and found no
perceptible difference. That they do not always renew the old combs,
must be admitted, as the young from some old hives are often
considerably below the average size. On this account, it is very
desirable to be able to remove the old combs occasionally, that their
place may be supplied with new ones.

It is a great mistake to imagine that the brood combs ought to be
changed every year. In my hives, they might, if it were desirable, be
easily changed several times in a year: but once in five or six years is
often enough; oftener than this requires a needless consumption of honey
to replace them, besides being for other reasons undesirable, as the
bees are always in winter, colder in new comb than in old. Inventors of
hives have too often been, most emphatically "men of one idea:" and that
one, instead of being a well established and important fact in the
physiology of the bee, has frequently, (like the necessity for a yearly
change of the brood combs,) been merely a conceit, existing nowhere but
in the brain of a visionary projector. This is all harmless enough,
until an effort is made to impose such miserable crudities upon an
ignorant public, either in the shape of a patented hive, _or worse
still, of an UNPATENTED hive, the pretended RIGHT to use which, is
FRAUDULENTLY sold to the cheated purchaser_!!

For want of proper knowledge with regard to the age of bees, huge "bee
palaces," and large closets in garrets or attics, have been constructed,
and their proprietors have vainly imagined that the bees would fill
them, however roomy; for they can see no reason why a colony should not
continue to increase indefinitely, until at length it numbers its
inhabitants by millions or billions! As the bees can never at one time
equal, still less exceed the number which the queen is capable of
producing in one season, these spacious dwellings have always an
abundance of "spare rooms." It seems strange that men can be thus
deceived, when often in their own Apiary, they have healthy stocks which
have not swarmed for a year or more, and which yet in the spring are not
a whit more populous than those which have regularly parted with
vigorous swarms.

It is certain that the Creator, has for some wise reason, set a limit to
the increase of numbers in a single colony; and I shall venture to
assign what appears to me to have been one reason for His so doing.
Suppose that He had given to the bee, a length of life as great as that
of the horse or the cow, or had made each queen capable of laying
daily, some hundreds of thousands of eggs, or had given several hundred
queens to each hive, then from the Very nature of the case, a colony
must have gone on increasing, until it became a scourge rather than a
benefit to man. In the warm climates of which the bee is a native, they
would have established themselves in some cavern or capacious cleft in
the rocks, and would there have quickly become so powerful as to bid
defiance to all attempts to appropriate the avails of their labors.

It has already been stated, that none, except the mother wasps and
hornets, survive the winter. If these insects had been able, like the
bee, to commence the season with the accumulated strength of a large
colony, long before its close, they would have proved a most intolerable
nuisance. If, on the contrary, the queen bee had been compelled,
solitary and alone, to lay the foundations of a new commonwealth, the
honey-harvest would have disappeared before she could have become the
parent of a numerous family.

In the laws which regulate the increase of bees as well as in all other
parts of their economy, we have the plainest proofs that the insect was
formed for the special service of the human race.

Next: The Process Of Rearing The Queen More Particularly Described

Previous: The Workers Or Common Bees

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