The Bee People  by Margaret Warner Morley


The Work in the Hive—The Manufacture of Wax

S INCE honey bees eat almost nothing but pollen and honey, a good store of these has to be laid up for winter use, as well as to feed all the young bees and the drones.

Gathering honey and pollen, however, is but a small part of our little worker's business.

If I tell you there is something very wonderful about Miss Apis that you have not yet heard, you will not be surprised.

Probably by this time you would be more surprised if you failed to hear something wonderful about her.

This that I am about to tell is quite as wonderful as her eyes, or her honey-sac, or her wings, or anything else.

She has pockets!

You do not think pockets are so very wonderful?

Well, neither do I, just ordinary commonplace, every-day pockets for carrying pencils and such things; but what about wax pockets? Not pockets made of wax, you understand, but pockets filled with wax.

Miss Apis has a head.

That is no news, I am aware, as most creatures have heads. But connected with her head by a short neck, as you know, she has a chest, which if you want to be scientific you must call a thorax. To this her legs and wings are fastened, and behind her thorax, and attached to it by a very slender waist, is the rest of her body, or as we must call it, her abdomen.

This abdomen is jointed; it is made of rings connected to each other by a skin-like membrane, and the rings fit close together under each other, or are drawn apart from each other to lengthen her abdomen.

There are six of these rings, and underneath four of them, on the under-side of her abdomen, are shallow hollows, two on each ring, and these eight hollows are the wax pockets.


Miss Apis's Wax Pockets with the white wax showing in them

The queen and the drones have no wax pockets; only the workers have them.

If you think Miss Apis gathers the wax somewhere and puts it into these pockets, you are as much mistaken as if you thought two and two were nine. She does not gather it; she makes it.

By this time you will understand she is rather peculiar.

When you undertake to store up honey, you must have something to put it in. You cannot put it on the floor or in a corner where everybody that went near it would stick fast, and where it would run out and be wasted.

You must have bottles, or cans, or jars, or something of that kind to put it in.

If you are a bee you cannot go to the store and buy these things; you have to make them. You have no glass to make them of, and would not know how if you had. So you gorge yourself with honey, eat all you possibly can, then go hang yourself up in the top of the hive and wait.

That is what the bees at the head of this chapter are doing.

And now you see how very important their hook-like toes are, for all they have to do is to turn up their toes and hook them fast to the hive or to the foot of another bee.

This time, you understand, the honey has actually been eaten, not stored away to be drawn back into the mouth again and deposited in the hive. It has been eaten, and the bee now keeps still while this heavy meal digests.

You and I, who have studied Physiology a little, know that when people are able to digest much sugar they become fat. The sugar is someway turned into fat.

Eating a great deal of sugar is not the same thing as digesting a great deal, please remember that. When people eat a great deal of sugar, as, for instance, candy and other sweetmeats, at all hours of the day, it generally does not digest; it does something very different, and ultimately makes them sick. But bees are so happily constituted that they can digest all they eat.

When a bee eats so much honey that she can do nothing but sleep, as it were, until she gets over the effects, we might be tempted to call her a glutton. But we must not judge bees by ourselves. In some respects they are wiser than we. When a bee gorges herself with honey, she knows what she is doing. She knows she will not suffer from indigestion, for one thing, and she knows she will not become fat and clumsy for another. Of course the sweet meal must be disposed of in some way; and, in fact, there is formed from it a substance something like fat, only different.

This substance is wax, and it finds its way in liquid form through pores in the bee's body into the eight depressions on the under-side of the abdomen, where it hardens. We might say she sweats out the wax into her pockets.

When Miss Apis wants wax, then, she eats a hearty meal of honey and suspends herself in the hive for a nap while it digests. When she wakes up, her eight pockets are full of wax. It was Huber who first told us that wax is made from honey eaten by the bees.