The Bee People: Chapters 6 & 7

Chapter 6: Her Legs

The reason Miss Apis never forgets her basket is, that they are fastened on to her. For, I must tell you, her legs are as remarkable as her 12,603 eyes, her folding tongue and her very peculiar honey-sac. She has six legs fastened to her thorax, which … is the division of her body next to the 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 if she would thank us for feeling so. She probably feels sorry for us because we have no six legs and wonders how we get along with only two to prop us up … 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. […]

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

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 […] 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 close to the body […] a long joint and then comes a second long joint which is very curious. […] Miss Apis carries her pollen baskets on the outside of the fourth joint of each of her hind legs. […] she does not spill the pollen, and she can easily reach the bases with her other legs when she fills them. […] How do you suppose Miss Apis gets the pollen with she puts in 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 […] When Miss Apis wants pollen she scrapes it from the anther cells with her claws and gathers it together with her legs. […] 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 has 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. […]

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 the 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. […] 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 of her toilet articles are her antenna cleaners, but their story comes later.

[…]

Chapter 7: Her Wings

[…] She does not walk home, nor yet run; she flies. For as you know, she has wings. Dainty wings they are too. They are transparent and colorless like glass, and are very thin and delicate. They shine in the light or you would scarcely notice them. Miss Apis seems to have only two wings, though really there are four of them […] She hooks the upper large wing and the lower small one together when she raises them for flight, so that the two are as firm as though they were but one […]

Key Points:

  • This chapter does miss the importance of bee’s knees, a phase originating in the 18th century meaning ‘something very small and insignificant’. Today it means almost the opposite at an ‘outstanding person or thing’ or the ‘height of excellence’.
  • Modern day proclamation of bees knees started in the 1920s and “stuck” better than similar phrases [cat’s pajamas, eel’s ankle, elephant’s instep and snake’s hips]. Possibly deriving from the b’s and e’s (be-all, end-alls) and if you really stretch it from saying all the good stuff is stored there (pollen baskets)
  • Beezneess (read like a 1920s rapper ….. business….)
  • Personal hygiene is a great way to win friends and influence people.
  • Sadly, I don’t have pictures of comb cells packed with pollen… it is really brilliant colors. I will update when I do.
  • “She’s got Legs” by ZZ Top could have been written for Miss Apis

I share with you words and illustrations from the public domain M. Morely book – The Bee People. Published 1899; designed for third to fifth grade readers with goal to learn “how to observe” but plenty for adults to learn as well. Life lesson, bee truths and a gauge to see if we have made progress over the last century. If you find something interesting take 5 minutes and do some extra research. Bees are amazing creatures!

Excerpts –

Resources:

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