The Bee People  by Margaret Warner Morley


The New Queen

M EANTIME all is not fair weather in the old hive.

The new queen, although just out of her cell, understands her business perfectly, and is quite capable of going about it, but there are complications. Hers was not the only queen cell in that hive.

There were others. And now, just as she has ascended the throne with the old queen peaceably out of the way, the succession being accomplished without opposition, lo and behold! she hears a sound,—a sound that probably sends the blood to her heart, and causes her very toes to tingle.

The sound she hears is not that of cannon afar, nor of drum-beats in the distance, but it might as well be, for it is the piping of another young queen just about to come forth from its cell.

The throne is not secure, after all, for there is another queen to dispute it.

Of course there are ways of disposing of rivals to the throne, or there used to be, as any one who has read the early history of England knows.

You may smother them in a tower, or poison them, or do something of that sort.

Bees know how to smother bees that they hate, and they know how to poison them, but queen bees prefer to fight like queens for their thrones, and not get them by stealth or by striking in the dark: that is, if the rival is already out of her cradle.

If a second queen hatches out of her cell before the first young queen finds her, there is a fight.

The workers stand around and watch the conflict, but they never interfere, nor have I ever heard that they take sides and cheer their own candidate.


What do I see? I must go over and fight her!

The combatants seize each other with their jaws, and clasp each other with their feet, trying in every way to thrust the fatal poisoned dagger into a vital part,—that is, into the soft parts between the rings of the abdomen, or where the neck joins the thorax, or the thorax the abdomen,—all these places being soft and allowing a dagger that is thrust into them to reach the inner vital parts.


Come on, I am ready for you!

At length the fatal thrust is given: one of the queens is victor; the other lies dead upon the field of battle. The workers carry out the dead body, but whether they mourn I cannot say. Certainly they do not have a grand funeral. I suppose it would not be exactly polite to the victorious queen to show too much sorrow for the vanquished one.

Evidently our queen considers one such display of courage quite enough to establish her royal character, for she does not waste time fighting any more queens, but goes to the remaining queen cells, pulls off the caps where the bottled-up queen babies lie, and sticks her dagger right into their poor, soft, helpless little bodies.

After she has stung all the baby queens she puts up her dagger, very likely determined never to put anything so valuable to such a use again, for you remember her sting is also her ovipositor.

She does not lose it when she stings a bee, because the parts where the sting enters are so soft that she can pull it out again; but you can imagine what a sad wound the barbs make when pulled out.

Workers never sting a queen. If a strange queen is put into the hive, or flies in by mistake, and they do not want her, they gather about her so closely as to smother her to death, but they will not sting her.

Only queens sting queens.

If there should happen to be a good many bees still in the hive after a swarm leaves, the workers will not allow the queens to fight, but surround them and keep them apart until the older queen can be sent off with another swarm.

If the hive is very much crowded, the bees may swarm out of it several times in one season.

When all is serene within the hive, if the day is fair, the young queen takes an airing.

She does not have an escort, but goes alone to view the beautiful world outside the hive.

Huber was the first to discover that she flies up into the blue sky, where she meets a drone, who is her mate. He fills her pocket, which she carries on purpose, with pollen, not flower-pollen, but bee-pollen. This pollen lasts as long as she lives, and she uses it to fertilize the queen and worker eggs.

So you see the drone is not so useless as he seems. Indeed, if it were not for him, there could be no workers and no queens.

When she has taken her airing, Queen Apis goes home, and she never leaves the hive alone again. In fact, she never leaves it at all, except at the end, when she goes off with a swarm.

As the season wears on, the workers take counsel together. Winter is coming, and what will  become of them all if the supplies give out?

There must be no more mouths to feed than necessary. The queen, of course, must be taken care of, and so must the workers; but there are the drones, perhaps hundreds or even thousands of them. They are no longer of any use: they bring in no honey; they do no work; they only endanger the lives of the whole family by eating up the winter food, so these little brown workers, on the plea of necessity, send the drones to the happy hunting grounds.

Whether they are sorry about it or not I do not know; but, in any event, they fall upon their poor brothers and sting them to death, or else drive them from the hive, where they soon die from cold, exposure, and hunger.

In late summer you sill sometimes see a disconsolate drone sitting on a flower, very likely grieving at the bitterness of his lot.


A disconsolate drone

Miss Apis, it seems to us very cruel of you to treat your brothers so.

But we must remember that bees are not people, and that what would be very wicked in us may be perfectly right in them.

The worker-bees labor very hard through the summer, so that sometimes they wear themselves out in a few weeks, and die.

Those hatched later in the season live through the winter, and are all ready to begin work as soon as the flowers come in the spring.

Bees spend the winter clustered together in the hive, and are then so inactive that they seem to be scarcely alive.

When bees go out from the hive for the first time to gather nectar, they are very smooth and fine-looking.

But they, too, grow old. Their pretty velvety down wears off, and their wings become broken and ragged. I do not think they turn grey or get wrinkles in their faces, but they certainly do get to wear very shabby looking wings.


A Veteran