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.

ON THE THRESHOLD OF THE HIVE Overstocking A District With Bees facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail