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Instincts Of Bees

This treatise has already grown to such a length, that I must be
exceedingly brief on a point peculiarly interesting to all who delight
in investigating the wonders of the insect world. In the preceding parts
of the work, numerous proofs have been given of the refined instincts of
the bee. It is impossible always to draw the line between instinct and
reason, and very often some of the actions of animals and insects appear
to be the result of a process of reasoning apparently almost the same
with the exercise of the reasoning faculty in man. "There is this
difference" says Mr. Spence, "between intellect in man, and the rest of
the animal creation. Their intellect teaches them to follow the lead of
their senses, and to make such use of the external world as their
appetites or instincts incline them to,--and _this is their wisdom_:
while the intellect of man, being associated with an immortal principle,
and connected with a world above that which his senses reveal to him,
can, by aid derived from Heaven, control those senses, and render them
obedient to the governing power of his nature; and _this is his

This subject has seldom been more happily expressed than by Mr. Spence.
The line of distinction between man and the lower orders of creation, is
not the mere fact that he reasons and they do not, but that he has a
moral and accountable nature, while they have nothing of the kind.

"It will be evident," says Bevan, "that though I make a distinction
between the instinct and the reason of bees, I do not confound their
reason with the reason of man. But to obviate all possibility of
misconception, I will at once define my meaning, when I use the terms
insect reason and instinct."

"By _reason_, I mean the power of making deductions from previous
experience or observation, and thereby of adapting means to ends.
_Instinct_ I regard as a disposition and power to perform certain
actions in the same uniform manner, depending upon nice mechanism and
having no reference either to observation or experience; operating on
the means, without anticipation of the end, incited by no hope,
controlled by no foreboding. Those who have attended to this subject,
will be aware that _insect reason_, as above defined, is more restricted
in its functions than _the reason of man_; to which is superadded the
power of distinguishing between the true and the false, and, according
to some metaphysicians, between right and wrong. Reason, in man, has a
regular growth and a slow progression; all the arts he practices evince
skill and dexterity, proportioned to the pains which have been taken in
acquiring them. In the lower links of creation, but little of this
gradual improvement is observable; their powers carry them almost
directly to their object. They are perfect, as Bacon says, in all their
members and organs from the very beginning."

"Far different Man, to higher fates assign'd,
Unfolds with tardier step his Proteus mind,
With numerous Instincts fraught, that lose their force
Like shallow streams, divided in their course;
Long weak, and helpless, on the fostering breast,
In fond dependence leans the infant guest,
Till reason ripens what young impulse taught,
And builds, on sense, the lofty pile of thought;
From earth, sea, air, the quick perceptions rise,
And swell the mental fabric to the skies."

I shall here narrate a very remarkable instance of sagacity which seems
to approach as near to human reason, as any thing in the bee which has
ever fallen under my notice. In the year 1851, I had a small model hive
constructed, into which I temporarily placed a swarm of bees. The
particular object which I had in view, was to test the feasibility of
some plans which I had recently devised, for facilitating the storing of
honey in small tumblers. The bees, in a short time, filled the hive and
stored about a dozen glasses with honey. I was called away from them,
for a few days, and was much surprised, on my return, to find that the
honey which had been stored up in the hive and sealed over for Winter
use, was all gone, and the cells filled with eggs and young worms! The
hive stood in a covered bee house, and the bees had built a large
quantity of comb on the _outside_ of the hive, into which they had
transferred the honey taken from the interior. The object of this
unusual procedure was, beyond all question, to give the poor queen a
place within the hive for laying her eggs: for this purpose they
uncapped and emptied all the cells so carefully sealed over, instead of
using the new comb on the outside for the brood.

Those who wish to study the Natural History of the honey-bee, to the
best advantage, will derive great aid in their investigations, from the
use of my _Observing Hives_. Each comb in these hives is attached to a
movable frame, and they all admit of easy removal. In this respect the
construction of the hive is entirely new, and while it greatly
facilitates the business of observation, it enables the Apiarian, on
the approach of cool weather, to transfer his bees from a hive in which
they cannot winter, to one of the common construction. As soon as the
weather in the Spring is sufficiently warm, they may again be placed in
the observing hive, in which, (as both sides of every comb admit of
inspection,) every bee can be seen, and all the wonders of the hive are
exposed to the full light of day; (see p. 24.) In the common observing
hives experiments are often conducted with great difficulty, by cutting
away parts of the comb, whereas in mine, they can all be performed by
the simple removal of one of the frames, and if the colony becomes
reduced in numbers, it may, in a few moments, be strengthened by helping
it to maturing brood from one of the other hives. A very intelligent
writer in a description of the different hives exhibited at the World's
Fair, in London, lamented that no method had yet been devised of
enabling bees to cluster, in cool weather, in an observing hive, and
that it was found next to impossible to preserve them in such hives over
Winter. By the use of the movable frames, this difficulty is entirely

I cannot allow this work to come to a close, without acknowledging my
great obligations to Mr. Samuel Wagner, of York, Pennsylvania. To him I
am indebted for a knowledge of Dzierzon's discoveries, and for many
valuable suggestions scattered throughout the Treatise.

Next: The Harmas

Previous: Bee-dress

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