The Bee People  by Margaret Warner Morley


The Queen

O NE would expect to find a mother in so large and flourishing a family, and you will not be surprised to hear that there is one.

Queen Apis Mellifica is the mother of the hive, and is by far the most important member of the community, as I suppose a queen always is—or should be, if she is a true queen.

Queen Apis is a true queen, as she shows by working harder than any other bee in the hive. Of course her work is different from that of the workers, else why should she be a queen? She does not carry nectar and pollen, and make honey-comb, and care for the young bees, but she does something just as difficult and just as important.

Like the drone, she has no honey-sac and no pollen baskets, though both queen and drone have plenty of brushes on their legs to keep themselves clean. Her wings are small, and she has a very short tongue. Her head is small in proportion to her body, as are also her eyes, which have fewer facets than the workers' eyes, and she has short antennæ.

In this picture of the heads of the queen, the drone, and the worker, you can readily tell which is which.


You see the queen expects to be taken care of all her days, and so does not need to be as well provided with sense organs as the workers.

Like the workers, and unlike the drones, she has a sting, but she very seldom uses it. In fact, you can handle her with as little fear of being stung as you can handle a drone.

The queen's sting is very, very precious, and she will not run the risk of losing it by stinging you.

There is only one queen in a hive, and she very seldom flies abroad. There is too much to be done at home, for we must not forget that she is really the mother of the whole colony. The workers are her daughters, and the drones her sons. We call her a queen, but she is queen only in the sense that every true mother is a queen in her home.

If the people who named her long ago had known as much about bees as we know today, they doubtless would have called her the mother-bee instead of the queen-bee.

The chief occupation of the queen-bee is to lay eggs. She lays the eggs for the whole colony.

Sometimes she lays as many as three thousand in one day.

She does not keep this up day after day the year round; even a queen-bee could not be expected to do that. But to lay three thousand eggs a day for a short time will furnish plenty of work for those who have to take care of the eggs and the young bees, and will keep the queen busy. Sometimes a hundred thousand eggs are laid in one season, which means a great deal of work for both queen and workers.

The ancients believed that bees gathered their young off the leaves of trees, or from the flowers of honeywort, the reed, or the olive. There was another superstition, that bees came forth from the decayed bodies of animals, and Virgil, who wrote much better Latin than most people can write English, soberly gives us a recipe for producing bees from the dead bodies of cattle!

Virgil's power to write well was greater than his knowledge of Natural History, which is not surprising, since there were no microscopes in those days.

To-day we know that if there are to be young bees, eggs must first be laid.

Bees cannot be picked from trees or flowers, or any other object, and carried home.

The queen-bee has to lay an egg for every one of the many bees that fill a hive.

And now you can understand why Queen Apis is so exceedingly particular about using her sting; for her sting is her ovipositor as well.

Ovipositor means egg-placer, for ovi  comes from a Latin word, meaning egg, and positor  from another Latin word, meaning "to place." It is with this that she places the eggs just where she wants them to be.

The ovipositor is made very much like the sting of the worker; and as the eggs ripen they pass through the long tube of the ovipositor, which guides them to the right place in the comb.

If the queen were to lose her sting, she would no longer be able to lay the eggs, and so the colony would soon die out.

For worker-bees live only a few months at the best, and sometimes only a few weeks, so the queen, who lives four or five years, and sometimes even longer, has to keep on laying eggs in order to keep her large household supplied with new members as the old die off.

It is no wonder, therefore, that she will not sting.

The queen takes no care of the eggs, nor of the young bees. She leaves all that to her daughters, the workers. She does not even feed herself much of the time.

But the workers are glad to take care of her. They prepare a special food for her, better than the food the other grown-up bees get, which is quite proper, as such a bee could not be expected to eat ordinary food.

Queen Apis has tasters, as did the old kings of France and England. Only the king's taster ate a little of the king's dish in his Majesty's presence, that he might be sure nobody had poisoned it, for they were fond of poisoning kings in those days.

But Queen Apis is not afraid of poison. She knows her children love her too well for that, and that they taste her food out of love to her. In fact, they do more than taste it, they swallow and digest the bee-bread and honey, and in their bodies it is made into a very nutritious food with which they feed their queen.

When she is hungry she goes to a worker bee, inserts her short tongue into its mouth, and takes what she wants, though sometimes she eats honey from the combs as well.

Occasionally bees feed one another on honey in this way, and they also feed the drones.

If you put a bee just caught and with her sac full of honey on a window-pane with a bee from the same hive that has had nothing to eat for an hour or two, you will see a pretty sight. The hungry bee will go to her newly arrived companion, and as soon as they have crossed antennæ and discovered they are friends, the hungry sister will present her tongue. Then the other will open her jaws and doubtless proceed to force up the honey from the honey-sac to her mouth for the benefit of her hungry sister.


The one that takes the sweets usually raises her wings slightly as though expressing her pleasure and satisfaction at thus unexpectedly obtaining a meal.

There is good reason for feeding the queen with "royal jelly," as her food is called.

The formation of eggs uses up a good deal of food material as well as a good deal of strength.

If Queen Apis's strength were used up in digesting food, for it takes a good deal of strength to digest food properly, how do you suppose she could lay all those eggs?

She could not possibly do it. The workers seem to know this, and so they save her strength in every possible way.

They give her an abundance of the best of food, and they do all the work, not even asking her to take any care of the little bee-babies when they are hatched.