The Bee People  by Margaret Warner Morley


Miss Apis's Legs

T HE reason Miss Apis never forgets her baskets is, that they are fastened on to her. For, I must tell you, her legs are as remarkable as her twelve thousand six hundred and three eyes, her folding tongue, and her very peculiar honey-sac.

She has six legs fastened to her thorax, which you remember is the division of her body next back of her head.


Although she is so well supplied with legs, she has no arms; since she has no arms, she has no hands.

That seems rather unfortunate, and we are inclined to be sorry for her, but I doubt she would thank us for feeling so.

She probably feels sorry for us because we have not six legs, and wonders how we get along with only two to prop us up and help us to go about, with not even wings to help. For besides six legs, Miss Apis has four wings. They are wonderful wings; but we must return to legs.

Since Miss Apis has no hands, she uses all six legs, or rather the claws at the ends of them, for clinging fast to things.

She also uses all six legs to walk and run with, and once in a while, when under great excitement, to jump a little.

The claws at the ends of her legs are not ordinary claws such as cats or hens have; there is nothing ordinary about Miss Apis, I must remind you, not even her claws.

In this picture you can see Miss Apis's foot and the claw at the end very plainly.

The truth is, she has been sitting with her foot under the microscope, and if you will believe me, picture number II. is just what you see in the circle in picture number I., only number II. is very much magnified.


The claw at the end, as you see in the picture number II., is made of four sharp points, two long and two short ones.

There is a claw like this at the end of each of Miss Apis's six feet.

They are as good as a whole box of tools, being a great deal better than hands and fingers for doing some of the things she is in the habit of doing. Between the points on each foot is a small pad (+), that can stick fast to smooth surfaces like the pad on a fly's foot, and so enable Miss Apis to walk on slippery places if she wants to.

Her foot is made of four very movable joints besides the claw, and this enables her to curl it about objects so as to get a better grasp of them.

When she pleases she can turn up her claws and use them as hooks by which to suspend herself. You will see later that it is very important for her to be able to hang herself up when she wishes.


But what have her legs to do with pollen baskets? you are asking.

They have a great deal to do with them, for Miss Apis carries her baskets on her hind legs.

Oh, well, laugh if you want to. I have known people before who laughed too soon.

I wonder where you would fit pollen baskets to Miss Apis if you had it to do?

Probably you would put them on her head, where she could not see because of them, and where she could not reach them, and where the pollen would always be spilling out, if she ever succeeded in getting any in.

But I can tell you, you might look Miss Apis over from top to toe, and you would not find another place as good as her hind legs for disposing of pollen baskets.

Each of her legs has ten joints. There are two small ones (1, 2) close to the body, which are very much alike on all the legs. Then comes a long joint (3) which is quite similar in all six legs; then comes a second long joint (4) which is very curious.


The fifth joint is also interesting. 6, 7, 8, 9 are the small joints forming the foot, and 10 is the last joint of all, or the claw.

Miss Apis carries her pollen baskets on the outside of the fourth joint of each of her hind legs. As she walks about, they are not in her way. She does not spill the pollen, and she can easily reach the baskets with her other legs when she wants to fill them.

The outside of the joint is hollowed a little, and along the outer edge of this hollow space are stiff hairs that turn towards the middle and make a very complete little basket to hold the pollen that is put into it.

Miss Apis has been kind enough to sit with her left hind leg under the microscope and have its picture taken, so we can see the pollen basket very clearly.

The large leg at the left of Miss Apis is the magnified picture of the leg in the circle.

If you look at her with a little hand-magnifying glass, you can get quite a good view of her pollen baskets.

How do you suppose Miss Apis gets the pollen which she puts into her baskets?

If you look at her body and at the upper part of all her six legs, you will find them covered with long hairs. If you look at the hairs under a magnifying glass you will find them branched, as you see in the picture.

When Miss Apis wants pollen she scrapes it from the anther cells with her claws, and gathers it together with her leg. Very often her whole body becomes dusted with it, and wherever the pollen grains touch the branched hairs they cling fast to them. Miss Apis wriggles about in the flowers, scraping out the pollen with her feet, and collecting it on her branched hairs. Then she carefully brushes it together, and by means of her legs transfers it to her pollen baskets.


For you must know she has a number of brushes on her legs to help her to gather up the pollen.

These brushes are tufts or rows of stiff hairs that are not branched.

If we look on the under side of her hind leg, the same that bears the pollen basket on the fourth joint of its upper side, we shall see two kinds of brushes or combs for gathering the pollen together, the stiff hairs on the edge of the fourth joint, and the sharp teeth that cover the fifth joint. Each hind leg is supplied with these useful brushes, and one hind leg scrapes the pollen into the basket of the other.


The first chance you get you must watch Miss Apis gathering pollen. Sometimes she looks as if she were running about over a head of flowers to find something she had lost,—now this way and now that she goes in a great hurry, then turns around and around. But she has not lost anything, and she has not gone crazy; she is merely collecting pollen as fast as she can, and if you have sharp eyes you will see her rub, rub, rubbing it with her legs back into her baskets.

It is astonishing how much she can carry. When her baskets are full she goes about with a ball of pollen attached to each of her hind legs.


Full pollen basket

If she goes into morning-glory blossoms, this pollen ball is white; if she happens to be visiting wood-lilies, it is dark reddish brown; and if she has been going to see the sweet-peas, it is bright yellow. She carries it to the hive and stores it up there for the young bees and for winter use, and it soon assumes a uniform dark brown color.

There is nothing neater than a bee. It disturbs her terribly to have a dirty face or a dusty wing, and she is forever cleaning herself.

If you look along the outer edge of the fifth joint on her front leg, you will see her eye-comb. She has to keep the pollen and dust combed out of her eye-hairs —or else how could she see? And when she is combing her eyes she evidently thinks she may just as well, being a very neat person, comb her head also.


She cleans off her velvety thorax with the brushes on her middle legs, where she also carries a prong for preening her wings, and for prying the pollen out of her baskets. You can see this prong on the inside of her middle leg at the bottom of the fourth joint. You see the pollen is really the flour from which she makes her bee bread, or ambrosia, as it is sometimes called. As she collects it she moistens it with honey so that it can be kneaded into a sticky mass, like dough, and thus packed securely in her baskets.


All her legs have brushes, and when she is pollen-gathering you can see her dusting every part of her body with these brushes.

Over her head she passes the brushes on her fore legs, over her back and under her body she passes the brushes on her middle legs.

Then she rubs her legs together to collect the pollen on the combs of the hind legs.

Since she gathers the flour for her bread on the hair of her body, she is obliged to keep herself very, very clean, so all the leg brushes are also toilet brushes, and are used to keep her clean as well as to gather pollen.

The most remarkable of her toilet articles are her antenna cleaners, but their story comes later.

It is much easier to watch Miss Apis performing her toilet than it is to distinguish her various combs and brushes. If you wet her a little, then dust her lightly with flour and put her on the window, you can see the whole operation.

She generally cleans her antennæ, and combs her head and eyes first. She turns her head from side to side, and puts her front leg up over it and draws her convenient comb through the hairs. She turns her head about, using first one front leg and then the other, until she has it as clean as a bee's head ought to be. She generally puts out her tongue and gives that a good rubbing too, grasping it in both her fore feet.


When you watch a bee performing her toilet you will understand why her legs are so beautifully jointed. She must be able to move them in all directions, and put them over her back or under her body.


She generally cleans her back with her middle legs; and her abdomen, as the last division of the body is called, with her hind legs.


She also uses her hind legs to clean her wings, drawing down one wing at a time and holding it tightly against her side while she polishes it with her brushes.


She spends a great deal of time rubbing her hind legs together, and sometimes she performs the difficult acrobatic feat of standing on her two front legs and rubbing the other four together.


She looks very cunning as she rubs and scrubs every part of her fuzzy little body; and if you want to see her do it, all you need do is to look.


No matter how dirty she may have become, if she is allowed to stand still for a few minutes she will look as if she had on a new suit of clothes and had never known what it was to touch a speck of dirt; so effective are her numerous brushes and bombs.


A Bee's Brush and Comb