Apis Mellifica, or the Honey-Bee
T HE honey-bees are buzzy, fuzzy little pepper-pots.
They have pretty, shining wings, but if you so much as touch one of them you will see what happens!
You cannot wonder that they do not like to have you come too near, for they are such little creatures that even a small child must seem to them a tremendous giant.
How would you like to see a great warm creature as large as a hill come lumbering up and try to put a finger the size of a church steeple upon you?
I am sure you would do anything to keep it away, and if you had a good sharp sting you would use it. So we must not blame the Bee People for stinging us.
It is the only way they have of telling us to keep away and let them alone.
They are friendly enough to their own relations, as you will agree when you learn that there are sometimes as many as sixty thousand of them living happily together in one family.
Sometimes we build houses, which we call hives, for them, and sometimes they live in a hollow tree in the woods.
The hives we usually make in these days are square-cornered boxes that can be opened to take out the honey or to attend to the bees. In some parts of the country an old-fashioned hive called a "bee gum" is still used. If you go to the mountains of North Carolina, you will see a great many bee gums. Nearly every cabin has a row of them in its yard, and they are made by chopping down hollow sweet-gum trees and cutting off lengths of about three feet.
Sometimes other hollow trees are used, but they are all called "gums." The mountaineers stand the "gum" on a board or a stone, and put anther board or stone on top for a roof. All the holes are plastered up with mud except those near the bottom, where the bees go in and out. The mud is used to keep out moths, which otherwise might get in and spoil the honey-combs.
A row of bee gums standing beside a log cabin on a mountain-side is very pretty.
A skep is a hive made of twisted straw, and in old times was used more than any other, particularly in England. It had a peculiar shape, and to this day when we say a thing is hive-shaped, we mean it is shaped like the skep.
Once in a while honey-bees make their home in the hollow walls of a building, and there is a house in a New England city where bees have lived for a number of years. They are under the roof somewhere, and there they stay safe, and year after year store up honey which nobody can reach. Stories are told of old houses whose hollow walls, when they were pulled down, were found to be filled with honey-combs. It is not easy to get honey that is stored in the walls of houses, as the bees fight bravely for their property.
Honey-bees are small people, being only about twice as large as common house-flies.
Some are brown all over, and some that were brought here from Italy have tan-colored abdomens, but all of them, the brown bees, the Italian bees, and the other kinds of hive bees in this country, are called by the same name, Apis Mellifica. Apis is the Latin word for bee, and mellifica is the Latin word for honey-making; and they have this pretty name because they make and store up quantities of good honey, which we like to eat.
The Bee People are sun-lovers, and all summer long on bright days you may see them hurrying about But in the winter- time you would look in vain for them, no matter how brightly the sun might shine, for they are Friends of the Flowers and seldom leave home except when there are blossoms for them to visit.
Many flowers keep a dainty table spread for the bees. Cups of nectar and dishes of ambrosia are ready for them to eat and drink and carry home.
If it were not for these gifts from the flowers, the honey-bees could not live, as they get all their food from their flower friends.