The Bee People  by Margaret Warner Morley



S OME of Miss Apis's wax cells serve the purpose of preserve-jars, as we have seen. Indeed, they all do, when we come to think of it.

They do not all preserve honey and bee-bread, however.

You have not forgotten that the queen-bee sometimes lays as many as three thousand eggs a day. Well, each little egg must have a cell of comb all to itself.

You can imagine that the wax-makers and cell-builders do not have a chance to grow lazy in the busy season of egg-laying; for if the queen does not lay three thousand eggs every day, she may upon some days, and she always lays at least enough to satisfy any reasonable lover of hard work.

The cradle-cells of the drones are the same as the honey-cells, but the worker cells are about one-fifth smaller.

You see, the workers are smaller than the drones, and so can lie in smaller cradles.

The cradle-cell of the queen is not shaped like the other cells, but somewhat like a thimble. It opens at the bottom, and is a great deal larger.


The queen goes about and lays an egg in each cell. She first puts in her head and examines the cell with her antennæ, as if to make sure it is all right.

This done, she deposits an egg in the bottom of the cell. She lays two kinds of eggs, one kind being what we call fertilized, the other kind unfertilized. The fertilized eggs always hatch into workers or queens, the unfertilized always hatch into drones. The queen is able to fertilize the eggs, or not, as she pleases.

As soon as an egg is laid, the queen pays no further attention to it. It is now the turn of the nurse-bees. The nurse-bees are the younger ones that have not yet gone out of the hive.

For about three days after the egg is laid, you could see no change in it.

Perhaps you think it needs no attention, but a hen would not think so. She  knows that eggs have to be kept warm in order to hatch, and so she sits on her own eggs with her feathers tucked down warm all about them. Miss Apis, too, understands that eggs need to be kept warm. She has no feathers, but she has a warm little fuzzy body, and when the eggs are laid, she and her sisters cluster over the comb to keep them warm.

The ancients held a good many wrong ideas, and a good many right ones, about bees, and our Latin friend Pliny was not altogether wrong when he said bees sat upon their eggs like hens.

In about three days the eggs hatch, but not into pretty downy bees with gauzy wings. No, indeed! If you were to see what hatches out of a bee's egg you would not imagine that queer thing could ever make a bee. It is a little white atom, with no legs and no wings, and looks like a maggot. Here is a picture of one very much enlarged. It may not look like a bee, but still it is a baby bee.


If you do not like to call it a bee, you may call it a larva. For larva  is the name we give to the first form of an insect after it leaves the egg.

This little larva is born hungry, and the kind nurse-bees, knowing that, feed it with plenty of—what shall I call it? Bee-milk, perhaps. This bee-milk is manufactured by the nurses in glands in their heads; it is very nutritious, and is the same as the royal jelly with which the queen is fed. They place the food in the cell with the larva, and watch to see that it always has enough. They feed it with honey and pollen as it grows older; and how it does eat!

In a few days it has grown so large that it almost fills its cradle-cell.

It would not do to let this ravenous infant grow entirely out of bounds, but I doubt if you could guess what the nurse-bees do to prevent it. They simply stop feeding it.


That is certainly a sure way to check its growth; only most babies, if treated so, would make up their minds that life without dinner was not worth living, and would die right off.

But bee-babies do not die; they wait to see what will happen next. It would take a long time for anybody but a bee to guess what happens next.

It is rather a peculiar performance, but Miss Apis's performances are usually peculiar.

She caps over the cell of the baby-bee.

It would be difficult to imagine an easier way of disposing of a baby,—bottle it up like a jar of pickles or a cell of honey.

It is not much trouble to take care of such  babies.

They only need to be kept warm. Meantime, the infant thus disposed of spins for itself a soft little silken night-cap.

You see, it has nothing else to do. It cannot get anything to eat, and they do not give it so much as a rubber ring to bite on, as far as I know; so it amuses itself spinning a night-cap, or a soft little cocoon, about the upper part of its fat little bottled-up body.

Some babies might cry under the circumstances; but I doubt if this baby could do that even if it wanted to, for how could  it cry with its mouth full of silk?

The silk for its cocoon comes out of its mouth, strange to say,—or rather out of a little hole in its lip,—and I have no doubt it is great fun for it to draw out the fine thread and spin.

Then it changes shape. You see, it is really an infant Miss Apis, so we cannot be surprised that it should perform in queer ways, even at that tender age.

It changes from a larva into a pupa.


If you do not know what a pupa is, it is time you did.

It is the same as a chrysalis. If you do not know what a chrysalis is, look at the picture and you will see one in the cell.

You see, it is not a larva, nor yet a perfect insect, but something halfway between the two.

When Baby Apis becomes a pupa, she does nothing more wonderful than butterflies and many other insects do,—for they too become pupæ on the way to being grown up, just as we become boys or girls on the way to being men or women.

You may like to know that larva is a Latin word, and means ghost, or mask, for the larva is, in one sense, the ghost or mask of the perfect insect.

But what do you think pupa means?

It, too, is a Latin word, and means doll.

The pupa of insects is generally inactive, and does not seem to be alive, though, of course, it is alive, and so it is called a doll, or image of the insect.

Baby Apis remains a pupa for several days, then she makes up her mind that if they want to keep other babies in bottles, they may, but as for her, she has had enough of it, so she puts up her mouth and gnaws a hole the shape of a crescent in the cap they put over her, and probably peeps out to see the world,—rather a dark world in the hive, one would think.

Then she puts out her head.

Then out she comes, a lovely young bee, light-colored and downy, and with beautiful gauzy wings.


The cap that is put over the young bee is very porous, so the air can get in. Baby Apis may be bottled up with safety, but she must not be deprived of air, for if she is she will die.

The queen-bee is hatched from an egg exactly like that of the worker-bees. But this egg, as we know, lies in a large cell, and when it hatches, the nurse-bees fairly stuff the queen larva with food.

The worker infants get very little bee-milk; they have to eat honey and bee-bread, but the queen infant is fed almost entirely upon this precious food, this "royal jelly."

It is because she eats so much of this that she develops into a queen. Sometimes the queen in a hive dies or gets lost. Then what do you suppose the workers do? Why, go to work and make a new queen, of course.

It is a terrible thing for a hive to be without a queen, and the bees are very unhappy when it happens. But if they have eggs or very young larvæ they need not despair.

They enlarge a worker cell in which lies an egg or a very young larva, by tearing down the cells next to it. Then they feed the infant thus promoted to royalty upon queen's food, and, lo! the little creature becomes a queen.

Drones get much more royal jelly than workers, but no amount of feeding or starving will make them anything but drones.

It takes all the eggs three days to hatch, but the queen larva attains its growth in five and a half days, while it takes the worker six, and the drone, six and a half.

The queen spins her cocoon, changes into a pupa, and comes forth a perfect bee all in seven and a half days, while it takes the worker twelve days and the drone fourteen and a half to complete these changes.

If you do a little sum in addition, you will find that it takes sixteen days for an egg to become a queen-bee, twenty-one days for it to become a worker, and twenty-four days for a drone egg to become a drone.

As soon as the worker-bees hatch out, they go to work.

You already know what they do. They take care of the queen, following her about and feeding her with royal jelly whenever she is hungry, which is very often.

They seem to be very fond of their hive-mother; and you will always see a little cluster of bees about her, caressing her with their antennæ, and paying her the greatest respect.

The workers also take care of the eggs and the young bees, but do not generally lay any eggs themselves; only the queen does that.

They make wax, build comb, and keep the hive clean, carrying out dead bees, or anything that does not belong in it.

No doubt they watch at the door, too. For bees keep sentinels always on guard to see that thieves and robbers do not come in and steal their honey.

If you knock on a hive, the sentinels will fly out to see what is the matter.

In a few days the young bees leave the home work to the newly hatched, and go forth to gather honey, and pollen, and bee-glue.

You ought to know that bee-glue is called propolis,—a word that means "before the city,"—and it is so named, because the bees use it to build fortifications in time of war.



Certain moths attack bee-hives by crawling in and laying their eggs in the corners. When the eggs hatch, the little caterpillar-like larvæ that come out of them eat the comb and spoil the honey. To keep them out, the bees sometimes build walls of propolis just inside the hive door, making the entrance so narrow that only one bee can pass at a time. In this way the sentinels are better able to keep out the intruders.

Bees have been known to use propolis in strange ways. You know they chink up all the holes with it and glue the frames fast. Once, so the story goes, they glued a snail to the bottom of the hive. His snailship had crawled into the hive and the bees fastened his shell tightly to the floor. So, for going where he was not wanted, he found his house converted into a sepulchre.

Another story is of a mouse that went into a bee-hive. The bees stung him to death, but he was so large they could not remove him, so what did they do but cover him all over with propolis. Safe under the resinous bee-glue, his body could do no harm.

Bees breathe as well as other creatures; they take in pure air and give out impure. They do not do this by means of lungs, as we do, but through little holes in their sides. They cannot live without fresh air, and you can well imagine that a house as crowded as theirs needs careful ventilation.

They cannot lower the windows, because they have none, and they would not dare open any if they had them, for all sorts of creatures would come flying, and creeping, and running, and stealing in to get their precious honey.

The only openings to the hives, as we know, are the little holes at the bottom where the bees go in and out. How, then, do they get fresh air?

You will not be surprised to learn that Miss Apis has solved this problem in a very ingenious manner.

The only possible way of ventilating a hive through the little holes at the bottom is by fanning or pumping the air in and out.

The bees fan a current of air through the hive, by standing near the entrance holes and buzzing with their wings.

The buzzing sound is made by the rapid motion of the wings, and even one bee can cause quite a little breeze. When a number of them stand together just inside, and sometimes also just outside the hive, and fan, they produce currents of air strong enough to keep the crowded hive perfectly ventilated.

Bees are more careful to have plenty of fresh air than are people. Huber discovered that the air in the hive is nearly as pure as the air out of doors, and we should have reason to feel proud if our public buildings were as well ventilated as are the bee-hives.