The Bee People  by Margaret Warner Morley


Honey and Honey-Dew

M ISS Apis is probably as proud of her hive when she gets it stored full of honey and bee-bread, as your mother is of her pantry when she gets the jelly and preserves done in the fall.

At least, I should think she would be.

It is a very cunning art to take nectar from the flowers, and in one's honey-sac change it into delicious honey.

It is not every creature that can do that. In fact, I know of but one or two besides Miss Apis and her near relatives that can.

Although the nectar is changed to honey, it still retains its own flavor, so that the bee-keepers can often tell by the taste what kind of flowers honey is made from.

Miss Apis is very particular about the quality of her honey, and does not like to mix up different kinds. If she starts out to gather white clover honey, she will visit the clover fields all day, and for many days, and pass by other flowers, rather than mix their nectar with the clover nectar.

White clover honey is delicate and delicious, and bees are very fond of visiting the white clover heads. Honey-bees do not gather much honey from the red clover, because the little flower tubes are too long for their tongues, and generally they cannot reach the nectar.

Bumble-bees love the red clover, but you shall hear a story about that later.

Sweet clover yields good honey, and where it grows the bees gather a great deal from it.

The fragrant flowers of the basswood are great favorites with the bees, and when a basswood tree is in bloom, it sometimes sounds like an enormous bee-hive, there are so many bees after its honey.

Most people who live in the north are familiar with the dark-colored buckwheat honey, and those who live far south know the clear delicate orange-blossom honey.

Sometimes bees gather honey from poisonous plants, but that does not happen very often in this country. When you read Xenophon's "Anabasis," you will learn how Xenophon's whole army were poisoned by eating some honey they found while marching through Asia. The Retreat of the Ten Thousand is a very interesting story, and I hope you will hurry and get old enough to read the "Anabasis."



Miss Apis sometimes gathers other sweets than flower-juice. I am sorry to say she will even steal the honey from other bees if she can get it.

Sometimes she takes cider, but that makes very poor honey indeed. When ripe fruits split open, or the wasps bite holes in them, Miss Apis may sometimes be seen taking her share of the fruit juice.

It is not often, however, that Miss Apis preserves fruit juice; she leaves that for us to do.

She does collect honey-dew, though, and sometimes will fill her hive full of honey made from it.

Probably you do not know what honey-dew is; it is not everybody that does know, but I do, and I am going to tell.

You all have heard of the aphides, the ants' cows?

You know they are tiny little insects with two horns on their backs. They give out a sweet liquid of which the ants are very fond. We are told that some ants take care of the aphides, protect them and treat them as if they were indeed little insect cows.

At certain seasons of the year the aphides are very abundant. We sometimes call them plant-lice, and I am sure you have all seen them on rose bushes, and lilies, and other garden plants. Sometimes they are green, sometimes brown, sometimes they have wings, sometimes not. They are very curious little creatures, and sometime you must learn more about them.


Aphides enlarged

An aphis puts her bill into the skin of a leaf, and there she stays and sucks out its juice, which you can imagine is not very good for the leaf.

Some of the juice which the aphides eat is changed into the sweet liquid the ants are so fond of; and if there are no ants to eat it, the aphides are obliged to get rid of it, and they squirt it out in the air.

I have stood under a tulip-tree and watched a perfect shower of this honey-dew come raining down from the countless aphides on the leaves. The aphides stay on the under-side of the leaves and the honey-dew falls on the upper side of the leaves below them. Sometimes the leaves of a tree or a bush will shine as if they had been varnished, because of the honey-dew that covers them. Such leaves are sticky to the touch, too, and, in fact, become very disagreeable, as dust settles on the sticky surface.

I once saw all the plants in the Carolina Mountains covered with this honey-dew. The season had been dry, which is what the aphides like, and they were over everything.

The little mountain children used to pick these sweet leaves and lick off the honey-dew. You see, they have no candy in the mountains, and the children took the honey-dew without waiting for the bees to make it into honey.

But bees and children are not the only lovers of honey-dew.

I have often watched the squirrels lick it from the leaves.

They take a leaf between their paws and hold it to their mouths, while their little tongues lick the leaf all over. It is great fun to watch the squirrels do this, and I hope you will see it yourself some day. I do not know whether squirrels like candy, but I am perfectly sure they like honey-dew.

Honey-dew used to be a great mystery to people, and very funny notions were held regarding it.

Pliny, an old Latin naturalist, supposed it was "the perspiration of the sky, the saliva of the stars, or the moisture deposited by the atmosphere while purging itself, corrupted by its admixture with the mists of earth."

We know that it is not the perspiration of the sky, nor the saliva of the stars, but just the work of the little aphides.

There are many people still living who think the honey-dew goes up as a sort of mist from the earth, and falls again as a sweet dew on the leaves.

Bees like the honey-dew very much, and I have eaten honey made from it, but I must confess I did not like it.

Some honey-dew is said to make very good honey, but I prefer to have the bees bring my honey from the flowers.