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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.