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Pollen Or Bee-bread

This substance is gathered by the bees from the flowers, or blossoms,

and is used _for the nourishment of their young_. Repeated experiments

have proved that no brood can be raised in a hive, unless the bees are

supplied with it. It contains none of the elements of wax, but is rich

in what chemists call nitrogenous substances, which are not contained in

honey, and which furnish ample nourishment for the development of the

/> growing bee. Dr. Hunter dissected some immature bees, and found their

stomachs to contain farina, but not a particle of honey.

We are indebted to Huber for the discovery of the use made by the bees

of pollen. That it did not serve as food for the mature bees, was

evident from the fact that large supplies are often found in hives whose

inmates have starved to death. It was this fact which led the old

observers to conclude that it was gathered for the purpose of building

comb. After Huber had demonstrated that wax is secreted from an entirely

different substance, he was soon led to conjecture that the bee-bread

must be used for the nourishment of the embryo bees. By rigid

experiments he proved the truth of this supposition. Bees were confined

to their hive without any pollen, after being supplied with honey, eggs

and larvae. In a short time the young all perished. A fresh supply of

brood was given to them, with an ample allowance of pollen, and the

development of the larvae then proceeded in the natural way.

When a colony is actively engaged in carrying in this article, it may be

taken for granted that they have a fertile queen, and are busy in

breeding. On the contrary, if any colony is not gathering pollen when

others are, the queen is either dead, or diseased, and the hive should

at once be examined.

In the backward spring of 1852, I had an excellent opportunity of

testing the value of this substance. In one of my hives, was an

artificial swarm of the previous year. The hive was well protected,

being double, and the situation was warm. I opened it on the 5th of

February, and although the weather, until within a week of that time,

had been unusually cold, I found many of the cells filled with brood. On

the 23d, the combs were again examined, and found to contain, neither

eggs, brood, nor bee bread. The bees were then supplied with bee bread

taken from another hive: the next day, this was found to have been used

by them, and a large number of eggs had been deposited in the cells.

When this supply was exhausted, egg-laying ceased, and was again renewed

when more was furnished them.

During all the time of these experiments, the weather was unpromising,

and as the bees were unable to go out for water, they were supplied at

home with this important article.

Dzierzon is of opinion that the bees are able to furnish food for the

young, without the presence of pollen in the hive; although he admits

that they can do this only for a short time, and at a great expense of

vital energy; just as the strength of an animal nursing its young is

rapidly reduced, when for want of proper food, the very substance of

its own body as it were, is converted into milk. My experiments do not

corroborate this theory, but tend to confirm the views of Huber, and to

show the absolute necessity of pollen to the development of brood. The

same able contributor to Apiarian science, thinks that pollen is used by

the bees when they are engaged in comb-building; and that unless they

are well supplied with it, they cannot rapidly secrete wax, without very

severely taxing their strength. But as all the elements of wax are found

in honey, and none of them in pollen, this opinion does not seem to me,

to be entitled to much weight. That bees cannot live upon pollen without

any honey, is proved by the fact, that large stores of it are often

found, in hives whose occupants have died of starvation; that they can

live without it, is equally well known; but that the full grown bees

make some use of it in connection with honey, for their own nourishment,

I believe to be highly probable.

The bees prefer to gather _fresh_ bee-bread, even when there are large

accumulations of old stores in the cells. Hence, the great importance of

being able to make the _surplus_ of old colonies supply the _deficiency_

of young ones. (See No. 28, in the Chapter "On the advantages which

ought to be found in an Improved Hive.")

If both honey and pollen can be obtained from the same flower, then a

load of _each_ will be secured by the industrious insect. Of this, any

one may convince himself, who will dissect a few pollen gatherers at the

time when honey is plenty: he will generally find their honey-bags full.

The mode of gathering is very interesting. The body of the bee appears,

to the naked eye, to be covered with fine hairs; to these, when the bee

alights on a flower, the farina adheres. With her legs, she brushes it

off from her body, and packs it in two hollows or _baskets_, one on each

of her thighs: these baskets are surrounded by stouter hairs which hold

the load in its place.

When the bee returns with pollen, she often makes a singular, dancing or

vibratory motion, which attracts the attention of the other bees, who at

once nibble away from her thighs what they want for immediate use; the

rest she deposits in a cell for future need, where it is carefully

packed down, and often sealed over with wax.

It has been observed that a bee, in gathering pollen, always confines

herself to the same kind of flower on which she begins, even when that

is not so abundant as some others. Thus if you examine a ball of this

substance taken from her thigh, it is found to be of one uniform color

throughout: the load of one will be yellow, another red, and a third

brown; the color varying according to that of the plant from which it

was obtained. It is probable that the pollen of different kinds of

flowers would not pack so well together. It is certain that if they flew

from one species to another, there would be a much greater mixture of

different varieties than there now is, for they carry on their bodies

the pollen or fertilizing principle, and thus aid most powerfully in the

impregnation of plants.

This is one reason why it is so difficult to preserve pure, the

different varieties of the same vegetables whose flowers are sought by

the bee.

He must be blind indeed, who will not see, at every step in the natural

history of this insect, the plainest proofs of the wisdom of its


I cannot resist the impression that the honey bee was made for the

especial service and instruction of man. At first the importance of its

products, when honey was the only natural sweet, served most powerfully

to attract his attention to its curious habits; and now since the

cultivation of the sugar cane has diminished the relative value of its

luscious sweets, the superior knowledge which has been obtained of its

instincts, is awakening an increasing enthusiasm in its cultivation.

Virgil in the fourth book of his Georgics, which is entirely devoted to

bees, speaks of them as having received a direct emanation from the

Divine Intelligence. And many modern Apiarians are almost disposed to

rank the bee for sagacity, as next in the scale of creation to man.

The importance of pollen to the nourishment of the brood, has long been

known, and of late, successful attempts have been made to furnish a

_substitute_. The bees in Dzierzon's Apiary were observed by him, early

in the spring before the time for procuring pollen, to bring rye meal to

their hives from a neighboring mill. It is now a common practice on the

continent of Europe, where bee keeping is extensively carried on, to

supply the bees, in early spring, with this article. Shallow troughs are

set in front of the Apiaries, which are filled, about two inches deep,

with _finely ground, dry, unbolted rye meal_. Thousands of bees resort

eagerly to them when the weather is favorable, roll themselves in the

meal, and return heavily laden to their hives. In fine, mild weather,

they labor at this work with astonishing industry; and seem decidedly to

prefer the meal to the _old_ pollen stored in their combs. By this

means, the bees are induced to commence breeding _early_, and rapidly

recruit their numbers. The feeding is continued till the bees cease to

carry away the meal; that is, until the natural supplies furnish them

with a preferable article. The average consumption of each colony is

about two pounds of meal!

At the last annual Apiarian Convention in Germany, a cultivator

recommended wheat flour as an excellent substitute for pollen. He says

that in February, 1852, he used it with the best results. The bees

_forsook the honey_ which had been set out for them, and engaged

actively in carrying in large quantities of the wheat flour, which was

placed about twenty paces in front of the hives.

The construction of my hives, permits the flour to be placed, at once,

where the bees can take it, without being compelled to waste their time

in going out for it, or to suffer for the want of it, when the weather

confines them at home.

The discovery of this substitute, removes a serious obstacle to the

successful culture of bees. In many districts, there is a great

abundance of honey for a few weeks in the season; and almost any number

of colonies, which are strong when the honey harvest commences, will, in

a good season, lay up sufficient stores for themselves, and a large

surplus for their owners. In many of these districts, however, the

supply of pollen is often so insufficient, that the new colonies of the

previous year are found destitute of this article in the spring; and

unless the season is early, and the weather unusually favorable, the

production of brood is most seriously interfered with; thus the colony

becomes strong too late to avail itself to the best advantage of the

superabundant harvest of honey. (See remarks on the importance of having

strong stocks early in the Spring.)