The Bee People  by Margaret Warner Morley



W AX makes first-rate jars for storing honey. It is tight and firm, and prevents air and water from getting in. It is strong enough not to be injured by the weight of the bees walking over it.

You may be sure Miss Apis knows all this.

She is not surprised to find her pockets full of wax, and she knows just what to do with it.

Her hind legs are each provided with a pair of nippers for pulling the wax scales out of the pockets. You can best see them by looking at the inside of the leg. At the end of joint 4 at A are strong teeth that shut down on the hard plate at X on joint 5.


When she has pulled out the scales, she moistens them in her mouth with saliva, for they are too brittle at first to be useful. When they are thoroughly moistened and softened, she pulls them out into white bands.

Now she is all ready to make honey-cups.

First, in company with a number of her sisters, she sticks a little wax along one side of the hive near the top, then the six-sided cups or cells are begun.

This sounds easy enough, but suppose you try to make a six-sided cell of moist bees' wax and see how you succeed!

Of course you have not the best tools in the world for such work, for good as fingers may be for cutting with a scissors, or driving nails, or picking up pins, they would be poor tools for making cells of bees' wax.

Miss Apis is supplied with something better. You know about that. Those claws on her feet are admirable wax tools, and so are her jaws, and even her tongue, which she uses in the finer work of the cell.

The bees begin at the roof and build the comb downward.

It is wonderful to think of the fairy structure growing there in the dark hive under the efforts of the industrious little bees.

They make six-sided cells lying close together, so as not to waste either room or wax.

No other shape would so well fill the space.

They have found this out; and as they want to put as many cells into as small a space as possible, the wise workers pat, and pull, and press the wax into hexagonal cups or jars.


Although many bees work together, and in the dark too, they keep watch over each other's movements in some way, and build the cells in rows, one row below the other, until they have a wall or sheet of cells reaching nearly to the bottom of the hive.

This sheet of cells we call a comb.

If you expect to find all the cells in a comb of exactly the same size and shape, you will be disappointed.

Miss Apis fills the space at her disposal with wonderfully regular six-sided cells, far better ones than you or I could make; but the rows are not always perfectly straight, and the cells are not always perfectly uniform in size, as they would be if made by machinery.

Miss Apis is not a machine, and for my part I like her work better than if it were perfectly regular.

As the comb hangs in the hive, the cells of course do not stand up with their open mouths at the top as we set a cup on the table, but they lie on their sides, which seems rather odd when we come to think of it.

Suppose you were to lay your fruit jars on their sides on the table in a row, and then pile another row above them, and so on.

You would have them nicely packed away, but how could you fill them without having the contents run out as fast as put in?

Miss Apis is able to overcome even that difficulty. She builds a double row of cells placed back to back, and opening of course in opposite directions.


The cells are not quite parallel with the floor of the hive, but their mouths are tipped up just a little, and they are slightly curved, as if Miss Apis were afraid the honey might run out if she laid them down too flat.

If you look into an empty cell of honey-comb, you will see that the cells in a sheet of comb are not exactly opposite to each other, but that the bottom of a cell on the right side of the comb overlaps the edges of three or four cells on the left side. That is, the cells are placed so that the bottom of one rests where three others on the opposite side come together, and sometimes overlaps a fourth.


You can easily see the edges of the opposite cells through the wax that forms the bottom of a cell, and you can understand that placing the cells this way makes the comb much stronger.

Now the comb is made and ready to be filled with honey.

Probably young bees that have not yet gone out of the hive in search of nectar, build the cells.

The rovers bring in nectar, and standing over the cells press it up from their honey-sacs. A great many loads are necessary to fill one cell, as each bee carries less than a drop at a time.

All day long in and out fly the bees, each one leaving her little load of honey to help to fill the honey-comb cells.

But why does not the honey run out as fast as it is put in? That question has not yet been answered.

It is easier to ask than to answer, unless you know more about natural philosophy than I think you do.

To begin with, honey is sticky. You know that as well as I do. And it will stick to honey cups as well as to anything else. When the bee puts a little drop in the bottom of a cup it tends to stick fast. A cellful of honey, however, is not sticky enough to keep from running out, as we know when we take off the cover to a honey-comb cell. To help the honey to stay in, the cells, as we know, are tilted up a little. The cells are small, and the liquid honey tends to remain in a small cell, just on that account,—which is a matter for Physics to explain. Then, when Miss Apis has her cell nearly full, she begins to put a cover over it. She begins at the bottom of the cell to put on this "cap," as it is called, and by the time she has finished the cap, the cell is as full of honey as she can get it, but there is a little air left in, which acts as a cushion, and keeps the honey from running against the cap.

So there is her honey-cup, filled and sealed.

Miss Apis fills her honey cell rather slowly, and leaves it uncapped for a few days until the extra water evaporates and the honey is "ripened."

You know very well that if you have molasses in an open dish, it becomes thicker as time goes on; that is because it loses its water by evaporation, and that is exactly what happens when honey is left uncapped for a while. It gets thicker and keeps better.

Miss Apis does not fill all of her fine little wax preserve jars with honey. If she did, what would become of the bee-bread?

We do not often see bee-bread in these days, because we have given Miss Apis little wooden frames for her honey-comb, and when we take these from the hive, only those containing pure honey are sent to market. If there is bee-bread in any of the frames, they are returned to the hive.

When Miss Apis comes home with her pollen baskets full, she scrapes out her load into a wax jar, or cell, as I suppose we ought to call it.

You remember the little crowbar she has on her middle leg for prying the sticky mass out of her pollen basket.


When the pollen, or bee-bread, as it generally is called after Miss Apis has gathered it and mixed it with honey, has been pushed into the cell, it is patted down and perhaps a little more honey added to it. When the cell is full, it is capped over like the cells that contain honey.

Sometimes a whole comb will be filled with bee-bread, and sometimes a comb will contain part bee-bread and part honey.

Miss Apis is fond of bee-bread, but we are not. We gladly take away her honey, but we do not care to rob her of her bee-bread. It has a curious taste which I should like to describe to you, but I can only say it tastes like bee-bread, and like nothing else in the world that I know of.



Miss Apis has a habit of storing the honey in the top of the hive, and that is where, in our new-fashioned hives, we put the little wooden frames we want her to fill. When she has filled them, all we have to do is to open the top of the hive and lift them out; that is, unless she has glued them fast.

Miss Apis is very particular about having everything firm and tight in her hive. She does not want honey-combs tumbling about her ears, breaking and spilling what is in them, so whenever there is half an excuse to do so she glues them fast. She stops up all the holes in her hive, too, with glue; that is, if there are any holes.

No doubt this glue is very useful when she builds in hollow trees, or when her hive is old and rickety.

But people generally take care of the hives, and build them tight or else stop up the holes.

Miss Apis's glue is a perfect nuisance to the bee-keeper. She seems to think she must daub everything over with it, whether necessary or not, and she fastens the frames so tightly, if the bee-keeper is not on the watch, that it is hard work to get them out of the hive.

The only way is to watch and take out the frames before she has time to glue them fast.

You wonder where she gets her glue? Why, she just finds it. She sometimes scrapes it off from the sticky buds of the poplar or cherry tree, or from other plants. Huber watched his bees scrape bee-glue from wild poplar buds. Miss Apis brings the glue home in her pollen baskets. It is brown and shiny like resin, and spoils the looks of whatever it touches. But Miss Apis does not seem to care much for mere looks.