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The Workers Or Common Bees

The number of workers in a hive varies very much. A good swarm ought to

contain 15,000 or 20,000; and in large hives, strong colonies which are

not reduced by swarming, frequently number two or three times as many,

during the height of the breeding season. We have well-authenticated

instances of stocks much more populous than this. The Polish hives will

hold several bushels, and yet we are informed by Mr. Dohiogost, that

> they swarm regularly, and that the swarms are so powerful that "they

resemble a little cloud in the air." I shall hereafter consider how the

size of the hive affects the number of bees that it may be expected to


The workers, (as has been already stated,) are all females whose ovaries

are too imperfectly developed to admit of their laying eggs. For a long

time, they were regarded as neither males nor females, and were called

Neuters; but more careful microscopic examinations have enabled us to

detect the rudiments of their ovaries, and thus to determine their sex.

The accuracy of these examinations has been verified by the well-known

facts respecting _fertile workers_.

Riem, a German Apiarian, first discovered that workers sometimes lay

eggs. Huber, in the course of his investigations on this subject,

ascertained that such workers were raised in hives that had lost their

queen, and in the vicinity of the royal cells in which young queens were

being reared. He conjectured that they received accidentally, a small

portion of the peculiar food of these infant queens, and in this way, he

accounted for their reproductive organs being more developed than those

of other workers. Workers reared in such hives, are in close proximity

to the young queens, and there is certainly much probability that some

of the royal jelly may be accidentally dropped into their cells; as, in

these hives, the queen cells when first commenced are parallel to the

horizon, instead of being perpendicular to it, as they are in other

hives. I do not feel confident, however, that they are not sometimes

bred in hives which have not lost their queen. The kind of eggs laid by

these fertile workers, has already been noticed. Such workers are seldom

tolerated in hives containing a fertile, healthy queen, though instances

of this kind have been known to occur. The worker is much smaller than

either the queen or the drone.[5] It is furnished with a tongue or

proboscis, of the most curious and complicated structure, which, when

not in use, is nicely folded under its abdomen; with this, it licks or

brushes up the honey, which is thence conveyed to its honey-bag. This

receptacle is not larger than a very small pea, and is so perfectly

transparent, as to appear when filled, of the same color with its

contents; it is properly the first stomach of the bee, and is surrounded

by muscles which enable the bee to compress it, and empty its contents

through her proboscis into the cells. (See Chapter on Honey.)

The hinder legs of the worker are furnished with a spoon-shaped hollow

or basket, to receive the pollen or bee bread which she gathers from the

flowers. (See Chapter on Pollen.)

Every worker is armed with a formidable sting, and when provoked, makes

instant and effectual use of her natural weapon. The sting, when

subjected to microscopic examination, exhibits a very curious and

complicated mechanism. "It is moved[6] by muscles which, though

invisible to the eye, are yet strong enough to force the sting, to the

depth of one twelfth of an inch, through the thick skin of a man's hand.

At its root are situated two glands by which the poison is secreted:

these glands uniting in one duct, eject the venemous liquid along the

groove, formed by the junction of the two piercers. There are four barbs

on the outside of each piercer: when the insect is prepared to sting,

one of these piercers, having its point a little longer than the other,

first darts into the flesh, and being fixed by its foremost beard, the

other strikes in also, and they alternately penetrate deeper and deeper,

till they acquire a firm hold of the flesh with their barbed hooks, and

then follows the sheath, conveying the poison into the wound. The action

of the sting, says Paley, affords an example of the union of _chemistry_

and mechanism; of chemistry in respect to the _venom_, which can produce

such powerful effects; of mechanism as the sting is a compound

instrument. The machinery would have been comparatively useless had it

not been for the chemical process, by which in the insect's body _honey_

is converted into _poison_; and on the other hand, the poison would have

been ineffectual, without an instrument to wound, and a syringe to

inject it."

"Upon examining the edge of a very keen razor by the microscope, it

appears as broad as the back of a pretty thick knife, rough, uneven, and

full of notches and furrows, and so far from anything like sharpness,

that an instrument, as blunt as this seemed to be, would not serve even

to cleave wood. An exceedingly small needle being also examined, it

resembled a rough iron bar out of a smith's forge. The sting of a bee

viewed through the same instrument, showed everywhere a polish amazingly

beautiful, without the least flaw, blemish, or inequality, and ended in

a point too fine to be discerned."

The extremity of the sting being barbed like an arrow, the bee can

seldom withdraw it, if the substance into which she darts it is at all

tenacious. In losing her sting she parts with a portion of her

intestines, and of necessity, soon perishes.

As the loss of the sting is always fatal to the bees, they pay a dear

penalty for the exercise of their patriotic instincts; but they always

seem ready, (except when they have taken "a drop too much," and are

gorged with honey,) to die in defence of their home and treasures; or as

the poet has expressed it, they

"Deem life itself to vengeance well resign'd,

Die on the wound, and leave their sting behind."

Hornets, wasps and other stinging insects are able to withdraw their

stings from the wound. I have never seen any attempt to account for the

exception in the case of the honey bee. But if the Creator intended the

bee for the use of man, as He most certainly did, has He not given it

this peculiarity, to make it less formidable, and therefore more

completely subject to human control? Without a sting, it would have

stood no chance of defending its tempting sweets against a host of

greedy depredators; but if it could sting a number of times, it would be

much more difficult to bring it into a state of thorough domestication.

A quiver full of arrows in the hand of a skilful marksman, is far more

to be dreaded than a single shaft.

The defence of the colony against enemies, the construction of the

cells, the storing of them with honey and bee-bread, the rearing of the

young, in short, the whole work of the hive, the laying of eggs

excepted, is carried on by the industrious little workers.

There may be _gentlemen_ of leisure in the commonwealth of bees, but

most assuredly there are no such _ladies_, whether of high or low

degree. The queen herself, has her full share of duties, for it must be

admitted that the royal office is no sinecure, when the mother who fills

it, must superintend daily the proper deposition of several thousand