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On The Way In Which The Eggs Of The Queen Bee Are Fecundated

I come now to a subject of great practical importance, and one which,
until quite recently, has been _attended_ with apparently insuperable

It has been noticed that the queen bee commences laying in the latter
part of winter, or early in spring, and long before there are any
drones or males in the hive. (See remarks on Drones.) In what way are
these eggs impregnated? Huber, by a long course of the most
indefatigable observations, threw much light upon this subject. Before
stating his discoveries, I must pay my humble tribute of gratitude and
admiration, to this wonderful man. It is mortifying to every scientific
naturalist, and I might add, to every honest man acquainted with the
facts, to hear such a man as Huber abused by the veriest quacks and
imposters; while others who have appropriated from his labors, nearly
all that is of any value in their works, to use the words of Pope,

"Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
And without sneering, teach the rest to sneer."

Huber, in early manhood, lost the use of his eyes. His opponents imagine
that in stating this fact, they have thrown merited discredit on all his
pretended discoveries. But to make their case still stronger, they
delight to assert that he saw every thing through the medium of his
servant Francis Burnens, an ignorant peasant. Now this ignorant peasant
was a man of strong native intellect, possessing that indefatigable
energy and enthusiasm which are so indispensable to make a good
observer. He was a noble specimen of a self-made man, and afterwards
rose to be the chief magistrate in the village where he resided. Huber
has paid the most admirable tribute to his intelligence, fidelity and
indomitable patience, energy and skill.

It would be difficult to find, in any language, a better specimen of the
true Baconian or _inductive_ system of reasoning, than Huber's work upon
bees, and it might be studied as a model of the only true way of
investigating nature, so as to arrive at reliable results.

Huber was assisted in his investigations, not only by Burnens, but by
his own wife, to whom he was engaged before the loss of his sight, and
who nobly persisted in marrying him, notwithstanding his misfortune, and
the strenuous dissuasions of her friends. They lived for more than the
ordinary term of human life, in the enjoyment of uninterrupted domestic
happiness, and the amiable naturalist scarcely felt, in her assiduous
attentions, the loss of his sight.

Milton is believed by many, to have been a better poet, for his
blindness; and it is highly probable that Huber was a better Apiarian,
for the same cause. His active and yet reflective mind demanded constant
employment; and he found in the study of the habits of the honey bee,
full scope for all his powers. All the facts observed, and experiments
tried by his faithful assistants, were daily reported to him, and many
inquiries were stated and suggestions made by him, which would probably
have escaped his notice, if he had possessed the use of his eyes.

Few have such a command of both time and money as to enable them to
carry on, for a series of years, on a grand scale, the most costly
experiments. Apiarians owe more to Huber than to any other person. I
have repeatedly verified the most important of his observations, and I
take _the greatest delight_ in acknowledging my obligations to him, and
in holding him up to my countrymen, as the PRINCE OF APIARIANS.

My Readers will pardon this digression. It would have been morally
impossible for me to write a work on bees, without saying at least as
much as this, in vindication of Huber.

I return to his discoveries on the impregnation of the Queen Bee. By a
long course of experiments most carefully conducted, he ascertained that
like many other insects, she is fecundated in the open air, and on the
wing, and that the influence of this lasts for several years, and
probably for life. He could not form any satisfactory conjecture, as to
the way in which the eggs which were not yet developed in her ovaries,
could be fertilized. Years ago, the celebrated Dr. John Hunter, and
others, supposed that there must be a permanent receptacle for the male
sperm, opening into the passage for the eggs called the oviduct.
Dzierzon, who must be regarded as one of the ablest contributors of
modern times, to Apiarian science, maintains this opinion, and states
that he has found such a receptacle filled with a fluid, resembling the
semen of the drones. He nowhere, to my knowledge, states that he ever
made microscopic examinations, so as to put the matter on the footing of

In January and February of 1852, I submitted several Queen Bees to Dr.
Joseph Leidy of Philadelphia, for a scientific examination. I need
hardly say to any Naturalist in this country, that Dr. Leidy has
obtained the very highest reputation, both at home and abroad, as a
skillful naturalist and microscopic anatomist. No man in this country or
Europe, was more competent to make the investigations that I desired. He
found in making his dissections, a small globular sac, not larger than a
grain of mustard seed, (about 1/33 of an inch in diameter,)
communicating with the oviduct, and filled with a whitish fluid, which
when examined under the microscope, was found to abound in spermatozoa,
or the animalculae, which are the unmistakable characteristics of the
seminal fluid. Later in the season, the same substance was compared with
some taken from the drones, and found to be exactly similar to it.

These examinations have settled, on the impregnable basis of
demonstration, the mode in which the eggs of the Queen are vivified. In
descending the oviduct to be deposited in the cells, they pass by the
mouth of this seminal sac or spermatheca, and receive a portion of its
fertilizing contents. Small as it is, its contents are sufficient to
impregnate hundreds of thousands of eggs. In precisely the same way,
the mother wasps and hornets are fecundated. The females alone of these
insects survive the winter, and they begin, single-handed, the
construction of a nest, in which, at first, only a few eggs are
deposited. How could these eggs hatch, if the females which laid them,
had not been impregnated, the previous season? Dissection proves them to
have a spermatheca, similar to that of the Queen Bee.

Of all who have written against Huber, no one has treated him with more
unfairness, misrepresentation, and I might almost add, malignity, than
Huish. He maintains that the eggs of the Queen are impregnated by the
drones, after she has deposited them in the cells, and accounts for the
fact that brood is produced in the Spring, long before the existence of
any drones in the hive, by asserting that these eggs were deposited and
impregnated late in the previous season, and have remained dormant, all
winter, in the hive: and yet the same writer, while ridiculing the
discoveries of Huber, advises that all the mother wasps should be killed
in the Spring, to prevent them from founding families to commit
depredations upon the bees! It never seems to have occurred to him, that
the existence of a permanently impregnated mother wasp, was just as
difficult to be accounted for, as the existence of a similarly
impregnated Queen Bee.

Next: Effect Of Retarded Impregnation On The Queen Bee

Previous: The Queen Or Mother-bee The Drones And The Workers; With Various Highly Important Facts In Their Natural History

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