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Wax is a natural secretion of the bees; it may be called _their oil or

fat_. If they are gorged with honey, or any liquid sweet, and remain

quietly clustered together, it is formed in small wax pouches on their

abdomen, and comes out in the shape of very delicate scales. Soon after

a swarm is hived, the bottom board will be covered with these scales.

"Thus, filtered through yon flutterer's folded mail,

Clings the cooled wax, and hardens to a scale.

Swift, at the well known call, the ready train,

(For not a buz boon Nature breathes in vain,)

Spring to each falling flake, and bear along

Their glossy burdens to the builder throng.

These with sharp sickle or with sharper tooth,

Pare each excrescence, and each angle smooth,

Till now, in finish'd pride, two radiant rows

Of snow white cells one mutual base disclose.

Six shining panels gird each polish'd round,

The door's fine rim, with waxen fillet bound,

While walls so thin, with sister walls combined,

Weak in themselves, a sure dependence find."


Huber was the first to demonstrate that wax is a natural secretion of

the bee, when fed on honey or any saccharine substance. Most Apiarians

before his time, supposed that it was made from pollen or bee-bread,

either in a crude or digested state. He confined a new swarm of bees in

a hive placed in a dark and cool room, and on examining them, at the

end of five days, found several beautiful white combs in their

tenement: these were taken from them, and they were again confined and

supplied with honey and water, and a second time new combs were

constructed. Five times in succession their combs were removed, and were

in each instance replaced, the bees being all the time prevented from

ranging the fields, to supply themselves with bee-bread. By subsequent

experiments he proved that sugar answered the same end with honey.

He then confined a swarm, giving them no honey, but an abundance of

fruit and pollen. They subsisted on the fruit, but refused to touch the

pollen; and no combs were constructed, nor any wax scales formed in

their pouches. These experiments are conclusive; and are interesting,

not merely as proving that wax is secreted from honey or saccharine

substances, but because they show in what a thorough manner the

experiments of Huber were conducted. Confident assertions are easily

made, requiring only a little breath or a drop of ink; and the men who

deal most in them, have often a profound contempt for observation and

experiment. To establish even a simple truth, on the solid foundation of

demonstrated facts, often requires the most patient and protracted toil.

_A high temperature_ is necessary for comb-building, in order that the

wax may be soft enough to be moulded into shape. The very process of its

secretion helps to furnish the amount of heat which is required to work

it. This is a very interesting fact which seems never before to have

been noticed.

Honey or sugar is found to contain by weight, about eight pounds of

oxygen to one of carbon and hydrogen. When changed into wax, the

proportions are entirely reversed: the wax contains only one pound of

oxygen to more than sixteen pounds of hydrogen and carbon. Now as

oxygen is the grand supporter of animal heat, the consumption of so

large a quantity of it, aids in producing the extraordinary heat which

always accompanies comb-building, and which is necessary to keep the wax

in the soft and plastic state requisite to enable the bees to mould it

into such exquisitely delicate and beautiful shapes! Who can fail to

admire the wisdom of the Creator in this beautiful instance of


The most careful experiments have clearly established the fact, that at

least _twenty pounds_ of honey are consumed in making a single pound of

wax. If any think that this is incredible, let them bear in mind that

wax is an animal oil secreted from honey, and let them consider how many

pounds of corn or hay they must feed to their stock, in order to have

them gain a single pound of fat.

Many Apiarians are entirely ignorant of the great value of empty comb.

Suppose the honey to be worth only 15 cts. per lb., and the comb when

rendered into wax, to be worth 30 cts. per lb., the bee-master who melts

a pound of comb, loses nearly three dollars by the operation, and this,

without estimating the time which the bees have consumed in building the

comb. Unfortunately, in the ordinary hives, but little use can be made

of empty comb, unless it is new, and can be put into the surplus

honey-boxes: but by the use of my movable frames, every piece of good

worker-comb may be used to the best advantage, as it can be given to the

bees, to aid them in their labors.

It has been found very difficult to preserve comb from the bee-moth,

when it is taken from the bees. If it contains only a _few_ of the eggs

of this destroyer, these, in due time, will produce a progeny sufficient

to devour it. The comb, if it is attached to my frames, may be suspended

in a box or empty hive, and thoroughly smoked with sulphur; this will

kill any _worms_ which it may contain. When the weather is warm enough

to hatch the eggs of the moth, this process must be repeated a few

times, at intervals of about a week, so as to insure the destruction of

the worms as they hatch, for the sulphur does not seem always to destroy

the vitality of the eggs. The combs may now be kept in a tight box or

hive, with perfect safety.

Combs containing bee-bread, are of great value, and if given to young

colonies, which in spring are frequently destitute of this article, they

will materially assist them in early breeding.

Honey may be taken from my hives in the frames, and the covers of the

cells sliced off with a sharp knife; the honey can then be drained out,

and the empty combs returned to be filled again. A strong stock of bees,

in the height of the honey harvest, will fill empty combs with wonderful

rapidity. I lay it down, as one of my _first principles_ in bee culture,

that no good comb should ever be melted; it should all be carefully

preserved and given to the bees. If it is new, it may be easily attached

to the frames, or the honey-receptacles, by dipping the edge into melted

wax, pressing it gently until it stiffens, and then allowing it to cool.

If the comb is old, or the pieces large and full of bee-bread, it will

be best to dip them into melted rosin, which, besides costing much less

than wax, will secure a much firmer adhesion. When comb is put into

tumblers or other small vessels, the bees will begin to work upon it the

sooner, if it is simply crowded in, so as to be held in place by being

supported against the sides. It would seem as though they were disgusted

with such unworkmanlike proceedings, and that they cannot rest until

they have taken it into hand, and endeavored to "make a job of it."

If the bee-keeper in using his choicest honey will be satisfied to

dispense with looks, and will carefully drain it from the beautiful

comb, he may use all such comb again to great advantage; not only saving

its intrinsic value, but greatly encouraging his bees to occupy and fill

all receptacles in which a portion of it is put. Bees seem to fancy _a

good start in life_, about as well as their more intelligent owners. To

this use all suitable drone comb should be put, as soon as it is removed

from the main hive. (See remarks on Drones.)

Ingenious efforts have been made, of late years, to construct

_artificial_ honey combs of porcelain, to be used for _feeding_ bees. No

one, to my knowledge, has ever attempted to imitate the delicate

mechanism of the bee so closely, as to construct artificial combs for

the ordinary uses of the hive; although for a long time I have

entertained the idea as very desirable, and yet as barely possible. I am

at present engaged in a course of experiments on this subject, the

results of which, in due time, I shall communicate to the public.

While writing this treatise, it has occurred to me that bees might be

induced to use old wax for the construction of their combs. Very fine

parings may be shaved off with glass, and if given to the bees, under

favorable circumstances, it seems to me very probable that they would

use them, just as they do the scales which are formed in their wax

pouches. Let strong colonies be deprived of some of their combs, after

the honey harvest is over, and supplied abundantly with these parings of

wax. Whether "nature abhors a vacuum," or not, bees certainly do, when

it occurs among the combs of their main hive. They will not use the

honey stored up for winter use to replace the combs taken from them;

they can gather none from the flowers; and I have strong hopes that

necessity will with bees as well as men, prove the mother of invention,

and lead them to use the wax, as readily as they do the substitutes

offered them for pollen. (See Chapter on Pollen.)

If this conjecture should be verified by actual results, it would exert

a most powerful influence in the cheap and rapid multiplication of

colonies, and would enable the bees to store up most prodigious

quantities of honey. A pound of bees wax might then be made to store up

twenty pounds of honey, and the gain to the bee keeper would be the

difference in price between the pound of wax, and the twenty pounds of

honey, which the bees would have consumed in making the same amount of

comb. Strong stocks might thus during the dull season, when no honey can

be procured, be most profitably employed in building spare comb, to be

used in strengthening feeble stocks, and for a great variety of

purposes. Give me the means of cheaply obtaining large amounts of comb,

and I have almost found the philosopher's stone in bee keeping.

The building of comb is carried on with the greatest activity in the

night, while the honey is gathered by day. Thus no time is lost. If the

weather is too forbidding to allow the bees to go abroad, the combs are

very rapidly constructed, as the labor is carried on both by day and by

night. On the return of a fair day, the bees gather unusual quantities

of honey, as they have plenty of room for its storage. Thus it often

happens, that by their wise economy of time, they actually lose nothing,

even if confined, for several days, to their hive.

"How doth the little busy bee, improve each _shining_ hour!"

The poet might with equal truth have described her, as improving the

gloomy days, and the dark nights, in her useful labors.

It is an interesting fact, which I do not remember ever to have seen

particularly noticed by any writer, that honey gathering, and comb

building, go on simultaneously; so that when one stops, the other ceases

also. I have repeatedly observed, that as soon as the honey harvest

fails, the bees intermit their labors in building new comb, even when

large portions of their hive are unfilled. They might enlarge their

combs by using some of their stores; but then they would incur the risk

of perishing in the winter, by starvation. When honey no longer abounds

in the fields, it is wisely ordered, that they should not consume their

hoarded treasures, in expectation of further supplies, which may never

come. I do not believe, that any other safe rule could have been given

them; and if honey gathering was our business, with all our boasted

reason, we should be obliged to adopt the very same course.

Wax is one of the best non-conductors of heat, so that when it is warmed

by the animal heat of the bees, it can more easily be worked, than if it

parted with its heat too readily. By this property, the combs serve also

to keep the bees warm, and there is not so much risk of the honey

candying in the cells, or the combs cracking with frost. If wax was a

good conductor of heat, the combs would often be icy cold, moisture

would condense and freeze upon them, and they would fail to answer the

ends for which they are intended.

The size of the cells, in which workers are reared, never varies: the

same may substantially be said of the drone cells which are very

considerably larger; the cells in which honey is stored, often vary

exceedingly in depth, while in diameter, they are of all sizes from that

of the worker cells to that of the drones.

The cells of the bees are found perfectly to answer all the most refined

conditions of a very intricate mathematical problem! Let it be required

to find what shape a given quantity of matter must take, in order to

have _the greatest capacity, and the greatest strength_, requiring at

the same time, _the least space, and the least labor_ in its

construction. This problem has been solved by the most refined processes

of the higher mathematics, and the result is the hexagonal or six-sided

cell of the honey bee, with its three four-sided figures at the base!

The shape of these figures cannot be altered, _ever so little, except

for the worse_. Besides possessing the desirable qualities already

described, they answer as _nurseries_ for the rearing of the young, and

as _small air-tight vessels_ in which the honey is preserved from

souring or candying. Every prudent housewife who puts up her preserves

in tumblers, or small glass jars, and carefully pastes them over, to

keep out the air, will understand the value of such an arrangement.

"There are only three possible figures of the cells," says Dr. Reid,

"which can make them all equal and similar, without any useless spaces

between them. These are the equilateral triangle, the square and the

regular hexagon. It is well known to mathematicians that there is not a

fourth way possible, in which a plane may be cut into little spaces that

shall be equal, similar and regular, without leaving any interstices."

An equilateral triangle would have made an uncomfortable tenement for an

insect with a round body; and a square would not have been much better.

At first sight a circle would seem to be the best shape for the

development of the larvae: but such a figure would have caused a needless

sacrifice of space, materials and strength; while the honey which now

adheres so admirably to the many angles or corners of the six-sided

cell, would have been much more liable to run out! I will venture to

assign a new reason for the hexagonal form. The body of the immature

insect as it undergoes its changes, is charged with a super-abundance of

moisture which passes off through the reticulated cover which the bees

build over its cell: a hexagon while it approaches so nearly the shape

of a circle as not to incommode the young bee, furnishes in its six

corners the necessary vacancies for its more thorough ventilation!

So invariably uniform in size, as well as perfect in other respects, are

the cells in which the workers are bred, that some mathematicians have

proposed their adoption, as the best unit for measures of capacity to

serve for universal use.

Can we believe that these little insects unite so many requisites in the

construction of their cells, either by chance, or because they are

profoundly versed in the most intricate mathematics? Are we not

compelled to acknowledge that the mathematics must be referred to the

Creator, and not to His puny creature? To an intelligent, candid mind, a

piece of honey comb is a complete demonstration that there is a "GREAT

FIRST CAUSE:" for on no other supposition can we account for so

complicated a shape, and yet the only one which can possibly unite so

many desirable requisites.

"On books deep poring, ye pale sons of toil,

Who waste in studious trance the midnight oil,

Say, can ye emulate with all your rules,

Drawn or from Grecian or from Gothic schools,

This artless frame? Instinct her simple guide,

A heaven-taught Insect baffles all your pride.

Not all yon marshall'd orbs, that ride so high,

Proclaim more loud a present Deity,

Than the nice symmetry of these small cells,

Where on each angle genuine science dwells."