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This substance is obtained by the bees from the resinous buds and limbs

of trees; and when first gathered, it is usually of a bright golden

color, and is exceedingly sticky. The different kinds of poplars furnish

a rich supply. The bees bring it on their thighs just as they do bee

bread; and I have caught them as they were entering with a load, and

taken it from them. It adheres so firmly that it is difficult to remove


"Huber planted in Spring some branches of the wild poplar, before the

leaves were developed, and placed them in pots near his Apiary; the bees

alighting on them, separated the folds of the largest buds with their

forceps, extracted the varnish in threads, and loaded with it, first one

thigh and then the other; for they convey it like pollen, transferring

it by the first pair of legs to the second, by which it is lodged in the

hollow of the third." The smell of the propolis is often precisely

similar to that of the resin from the poplar, and chemical analysis

proves the identity of the two substances. It is frequently gathered

from the alder, horse-chestnut, birch, and willow; and as some think,

from pines and other trees of the fir kind. I have often known bees to

enter the shops where varnishing was being carried on, attracted

evidently by the smell: and Bevan mentions the fact of their carrying

off a composition of wax and turpentine, from trees to which it had

been applied. Dr. Evans says that he has seen them collect the balsamic

varnish which coats the young blossom buds of the hollyhock, and has

known them to rest at least ten minutes on the same bud, moulding the

balsam with their fore feet, and transferring it to the hinder legs, as

described by Huber.

"With merry hum the Willow's copse they scale,

The Fir's dark pyramid, or Poplar pale,

Scoop from the Aider's leaf its oozy flood,

Or strip the Chestnut's resin-coated bud,

Skim the light tear that tips Narcissus' ray,

Or round the Hollyhock's hoar fragrance play.

Soon temper'd to their will through eve's low beam,

And link'd in airy bands the viscous stream,

They waft their nut-brown loads exulting home,

That form a fret-work for the future comb;

Caulk every chink where rushing winds may roar,

And seal their circling ramparts to the floor."


A mixture of wax and propolis is used by the bees to strengthen the

attachments of the combs to the top and sides of the hive, and serves

most admirably for this purpose, as it is much more adhesive than wax

alone. If the combs, as soon as they are built, are not filled with

honey or brood, they are beautifully varnished with a most delicate

coating of this material, which adds exceedingly to their strength: but

as this natural varnish impairs their delicate whiteness, they ought not

to be allowed to remain in the surplus honey receptacles, accessible to

the bees, unless when they are actively engaged in storing them with


The bees make a very liberal use of this substance to fill up all the

crevices about their premises: and as the natural summer heat of the

hive keeps it soft, the bee moth selects it as a proper place of deposit

for her eggs. For this reason, the hive should be made of sound lumber,

entirely free from cracks, and thoroughly painted on the inside as well

as outside. When glass is used, there is no risk that the bed moth will

find a place in which she can insert her ovi-positor and lay her eggs.

The corners of the hive, which the bees always fill with propolis,

should have a melted mixture of three parts rosin, and one part bees-wax

run into them, which remains hard during the hottest weather, and bids

defiance to the moth. The inside of the hive may be coated with the same

mixture, put on hot with a brush.

The bees find it difficult to gather the propolis, and equally so to

remove from their thighs, and to work so sticky a material. For this

reason, it is doubly important to save them all unnecessary labor in

amassing it. To men, time is _money_; to bees, it is _honey_; and all

the arrangements of the hive should be such as to economize it to the

very utmost.

Propolis is sometimes put to a very curious use by the bees. "A

snail[10] having crept into one of M. Reaumur's hives early in the

morning, after crawling about for some time, adhered by means of its own

slime to one of the glass panes. The bees having discovered the snail,

surrounded it and formed a border of propolis round the verge of its

shell, and fastened it so securely to the glass that it became


"Forever closed the impenetrable door,

It naught avails that in his torpid veins

Year after year, life's loitering spark remains."[11]


"Maraldi, another eminent Apiarian, has related a somewhat similar

instance. He states that a snail without a shell, or slug, as it is

called, had entered one of his hives; and that the bees, as soon as they

observed it, stung it to death: after which being unable to dislodge

it, they covered it all over with an impervious coat of propolis."

"For soon in fearless ire, their wonder lost,

Spring fiercely from the comb the indignant host,

Lay the pierced monster breathless on the ground,

And clap in joy their victor pinions round:

While all in vain concurrent numbers strive,

To heave the slime-girt giant from the hive--

Sure not alone by force Instinctive swayed,

But blest with reason's soul directing aid,

Alike in man or bee, they haste to pour,

Thick hard'ning as it falls, the flaky shower;

Embalmed in shroud of glue the mummy lies,

No worms invade, no foul miasmas rise."


"In these cases who can withhold his admiration of the ingenuity and

judgment of the bees? _In the first case_ a troublesome creature gained

admission to the hive, which, from its unwieldiness, they could not

remove, and which, from the impenetrability of its shell, they could not

destroy: here then their only resource was to deprive it of locomotion,

and to obviate putrefaction; both which objects they accomplished most

skilfully and securely--and as is usual with these sagacious creatures,

at the least possible expense of labor and materials. They applied their

cement where alone it was required, round the verge of the shell. _In

the latter case_, to obviate the evil of decay, by the total exclusion

of air, they were obliged to be more lavish in the use of their

embalming material, and to case over the "slime girt giant" so as to

guard themselves from his noisome smell. What means more effectual could

human wisdom have devised under similar circumstances?"

"If in the insect, Season's twilight ray

Sheds on the darkling mind a doubtful day,

Plain is the steady light her _Instincts_ yield,

To point the road o'er life's unvaried field;

If few these instincts, to the destined goal,

With surer coarse, their straiten'd currents roll."