site logo

Instincts Of Bees

This treatise has already grown to such a length, that I must be

exceedingly brief on a point peculiarly interesting to all who delight

in investigating the wonders of the insect world. In the preceding parts

of the work, numerous proofs have been given of the refined instincts of

the bee. It is impossible always to draw the line between instinct and

reason, and very often some of the actions of animals and insects appear

/> to be the result of a process of reasoning apparently almost the same

with the exercise of the reasoning faculty in man. "There is this

difference" says Mr. Spence, "between intellect in man, and the rest of

the animal creation. Their intellect teaches them to follow the lead of

their senses, and to make such use of the external world as their

appetites or instincts incline them to,--and _this is their wisdom_:

while the intellect of man, being associated with an immortal principle,

and connected with a world above that which his senses reveal to him,

can, by aid derived from Heaven, control those senses, and render them

obedient to the governing power of his nature; and _this is his


This subject has seldom been more happily expressed than by Mr. Spence.

The line of distinction between man and the lower orders of creation, is

not the mere fact that he reasons and they do not, but that he has a

moral and accountable nature, while they have nothing of the kind.

"It will be evident," says Bevan, "that though I make a distinction

between the instinct and the reason of bees, I do not confound their

reason with the reason of man. But to obviate all possibility of

misconception, I will at once define my meaning, when I use the terms

insect reason and instinct."

"By _reason_, I mean the power of making deductions from previous

experience or observation, and thereby of adapting means to ends.

_Instinct_ I regard as a disposition and power to perform certain

actions in the same uniform manner, depending upon nice mechanism and

having no reference either to observation or experience; operating on

the means, without anticipation of the end, incited by no hope,

controlled by no foreboding. Those who have attended to this subject,

will be aware that _insect reason_, as above defined, is more restricted

in its functions than _the reason of man_; to which is superadded the

power of distinguishing between the true and the false, and, according

to some metaphysicians, between right and wrong. Reason, in man, has a

regular growth and a slow progression; all the arts he practices evince

skill and dexterity, proportioned to the pains which have been taken in

acquiring them. In the lower links of creation, but little of this

gradual improvement is observable; their powers carry them almost

directly to their object. They are perfect, as Bacon says, in all their

members and organs from the very beginning."

"Far different Man, to higher fates assign'd,

Unfolds with tardier step his Proteus mind,

With numerous Instincts fraught, that lose their force

Like shallow streams, divided in their course;

Long weak, and helpless, on the fostering breast,

In fond dependence leans the infant guest,

Till reason ripens what young impulse taught,

And builds, on sense, the lofty pile of thought;

From earth, sea, air, the quick perceptions rise,

And swell the mental fabric to the skies."


I shall here narrate a very remarkable instance of sagacity which seems

to approach as near to human reason, as any thing in the bee which has

ever fallen under my notice. In the year 1851, I had a small model hive

constructed, into which I temporarily placed a swarm of bees. The

particular object which I had in view, was to test the feasibility of

some plans which I had recently devised, for facilitating the storing of

honey in small tumblers. The bees, in a short time, filled the hive and

stored about a dozen glasses with honey. I was called away from them,

for a few days, and was much surprised, on my return, to find that the

honey which had been stored up in the hive and sealed over for Winter

use, was all gone, and the cells filled with eggs and young worms! The

hive stood in a covered bee house, and the bees had built a large

quantity of comb on the _outside_ of the hive, into which they had

transferred the honey taken from the interior. The object of this

unusual procedure was, beyond all question, to give the poor queen a

place within the hive for laying her eggs: for this purpose they

uncapped and emptied all the cells so carefully sealed over, instead of

using the new comb on the outside for the brood.

Those who wish to study the Natural History of the honey-bee, to the

best advantage, will derive great aid in their investigations, from the

use of my _Observing Hives_. Each comb in these hives is attached to a

movable frame, and they all admit of easy removal. In this respect the

construction of the hive is entirely new, and while it greatly

facilitates the business of observation, it enables the Apiarian, on

the approach of cool weather, to transfer his bees from a hive in which

they cannot winter, to one of the common construction. As soon as the

weather in the Spring is sufficiently warm, they may again be placed in

the observing hive, in which, (as both sides of every comb admit of

inspection,) every bee can be seen, and all the wonders of the hive are

exposed to the full light of day; (see p. 24.) In the common observing

hives experiments are often conducted with great difficulty, by cutting

away parts of the comb, whereas in mine, they can all be performed by

the simple removal of one of the frames, and if the colony becomes

reduced in numbers, it may, in a few moments, be strengthened by helping

it to maturing brood from one of the other hives. A very intelligent

writer in a description of the different hives exhibited at the World's

Fair, in London, lamented that no method had yet been devised of

enabling bees to cluster, in cool weather, in an observing hive, and

that it was found next to impossible to preserve them in such hives over

Winter. By the use of the movable frames, this difficulty is entirely


I cannot allow this work to come to a close, without acknowledging my

great obligations to Mr. Samuel Wagner, of York, Pennsylvania. To him I

am indebted for a knowledge of Dzierzon's discoveries, and for many

valuable suggestions scattered throughout the Treatise.