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The Workers Or Common Bees

The number of workers in a hive varies very much. A good swarm ought to
contain 15,000 or 20,000; and in large hives, strong colonies which are
not reduced by swarming, frequently number two or three times as many,
during the height of the breeding season. We have well-authenticated
instances of stocks much more populous than this. The Polish hives will
hold several bushels, and yet we are informed by Mr. Dohiogost, that
they swarm regularly, and that the swarms are so powerful that "they
resemble a little cloud in the air." I shall hereafter consider how the
size of the hive affects the number of bees that it may be expected to

The workers, (as has been already stated,) are all females whose ovaries
are too imperfectly developed to admit of their laying eggs. For a long
time, they were regarded as neither males nor females, and were called
Neuters; but more careful microscopic examinations have enabled us to
detect the rudiments of their ovaries, and thus to determine their sex.
The accuracy of these examinations has been verified by the well-known
facts respecting _fertile workers_.

Riem, a German Apiarian, first discovered that workers sometimes lay
eggs. Huber, in the course of his investigations on this subject,
ascertained that such workers were raised in hives that had lost their
queen, and in the vicinity of the royal cells in which young queens were
being reared. He conjectured that they received accidentally, a small
portion of the peculiar food of these infant queens, and in this way, he
accounted for their reproductive organs being more developed than those
of other workers. Workers reared in such hives, are in close proximity
to the young queens, and there is certainly much probability that some
of the royal jelly may be accidentally dropped into their cells; as, in
these hives, the queen cells when first commenced are parallel to the
horizon, instead of being perpendicular to it, as they are in other
hives. I do not feel confident, however, that they are not sometimes
bred in hives which have not lost their queen. The kind of eggs laid by
these fertile workers, has already been noticed. Such workers are seldom
tolerated in hives containing a fertile, healthy queen, though instances
of this kind have been known to occur. The worker is much smaller than
either the queen or the drone.[5] It is furnished with a tongue or
proboscis, of the most curious and complicated structure, which, when
not in use, is nicely folded under its abdomen; with this, it licks or
brushes up the honey, which is thence conveyed to its honey-bag. This
receptacle is not larger than a very small pea, and is so perfectly
transparent, as to appear when filled, of the same color with its
contents; it is properly the first stomach of the bee, and is surrounded

by muscles which enable the bee to compress it, and empty its contents
through her proboscis into the cells. (See Chapter on Honey.)

The hinder legs of the worker are furnished with a spoon-shaped hollow
or basket, to receive the pollen or bee bread which she gathers from the
flowers. (See Chapter on Pollen.)

Every worker is armed with a formidable sting, and when provoked, makes
instant and effectual use of her natural weapon. The sting, when
subjected to microscopic examination, exhibits a very curious and
complicated mechanism. "It is moved[6] by muscles which, though
invisible to the eye, are yet strong enough to force the sting, to the
depth of one twelfth of an inch, through the thick skin of a man's hand.
At its root are situated two glands by which the poison is secreted:
these glands uniting in one duct, eject the venemous liquid along the
groove, formed by the junction of the two piercers. There are four barbs
on the outside of each piercer: when the insect is prepared to sting,
one of these piercers, having its point a little longer than the other,
first darts into the flesh, and being fixed by its foremost beard, the
other strikes in also, and they alternately penetrate deeper and deeper,
till they acquire a firm hold of the flesh with their barbed hooks, and
then follows the sheath, conveying the poison into the wound. The action
of the sting, says Paley, affords an example of the union of _chemistry_
and mechanism; of chemistry in respect to the _venom_, which can produce
such powerful effects; of mechanism as the sting is a compound
instrument. The machinery would have been comparatively useless had it
not been for the chemical process, by which in the insect's body _honey_
is converted into _poison_; and on the other hand, the poison would have
been ineffectual, without an instrument to wound, and a syringe to
inject it."

"Upon examining the edge of a very keen razor by the microscope, it
appears as broad as the back of a pretty thick knife, rough, uneven, and
full of notches and furrows, and so far from anything like sharpness,
that an instrument, as blunt as this seemed to be, would not serve even
to cleave wood. An exceedingly small needle being also examined, it
resembled a rough iron bar out of a smith's forge. The sting of a bee
viewed through the same instrument, showed everywhere a polish amazingly
beautiful, without the least flaw, blemish, or inequality, and ended in
a point too fine to be discerned."

The extremity of the sting being barbed like an arrow, the bee can
seldom withdraw it, if the substance into which she darts it is at all
tenacious. In losing her sting she parts with a portion of her
intestines, and of necessity, soon perishes.

As the loss of the sting is always fatal to the bees, they pay a dear
penalty for the exercise of their patriotic instincts; but they always
seem ready, (except when they have taken "a drop too much," and are
gorged with honey,) to die in defence of their home and treasures; or as
the poet has expressed it, they

"Deem life itself to vengeance well resign'd,
Die on the wound, and leave their sting behind."

Hornets, wasps and other stinging insects are able to withdraw their
stings from the wound. I have never seen any attempt to account for the
exception in the case of the honey bee. But if the Creator intended the
bee for the use of man, as He most certainly did, has He not given it
this peculiarity, to make it less formidable, and therefore more
completely subject to human control? Without a sting, it would have
stood no chance of defending its tempting sweets against a host of
greedy depredators; but if it could sting a number of times, it would be
much more difficult to bring it into a state of thorough domestication.
A quiver full of arrows in the hand of a skilful marksman, is far more
to be dreaded than a single shaft.

The defence of the colony against enemies, the construction of the
cells, the storing of them with honey and bee-bread, the rearing of the
young, in short, the whole work of the hive, the laying of eggs
excepted, is carried on by the industrious little workers.

There may be _gentlemen_ of leisure in the commonwealth of bees, but
most assuredly there are no such _ladies_, whether of high or low
degree. The queen herself, has her full share of duties, for it must be
admitted that the royal office is no sinecure, when the mother who fills
it, must superintend daily the proper deposition of several thousand

Next: Age Of Bees

Previous: The Production Of So Many Drones Necessary In A State Of Nature To Prevent Degeneracy From In And In Breeding

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