The Bee People: Chapters 8 & 9

Miss Apis can hear and she can smell, though just how she hears, since she has no ears and just how she smells since she has no nose, puzzled people for a long time. The truth is she is able to do these things because of her antennae, which, you remember, are the two feelers that stand out from her face. These antennae or feelers are jointed, having one long joint next the face and a number of short joints forming a very movable tip. The long joint serves especially as an arm to move the many jointed end about.

If Miss Apis’s eyes seem to us wonderful, what shall we think of her antennae. For though she has no ears, she has thousands of what we might call “hearing spots” on the short joints of her antennae. She also has thousands of “smell hollows” on these remarkable antennae joints […] The antennae are also covered with short, sensitive hairs which make them very good feelers, able to tell Miss Apis what kind of substance she is touching […]

So you see these antennae are very important and valuable. But you have not yet heard all. When bees have anything to say to each other they say it by means of their antennae. Just how this is done I cannot say, as I do not know. But they manage it somehow.

When two bees meet they cross antennae in a friendly way, instead of shaking hands and asking after each other’s health; that is, if they are friends, they do. If they are not members of the same family, I am sorry to say they fight. Two sisters, however, never fight.

Miss Apis’s very life depends upon her antennae. By means of them she hears, smells, discovers the nature of the objects about her and communicates with her fellow bees […] If anything happens to them, if they get broken off or badly injured, poor little Miss Apis behaves very much like a rudderless boat at sea. She does not seem to know how to get anywhere, but moves about in an aimless sort of way. She does not eat or do her work and in a short time she dies […]

As you can imagine, it was a long time before people understood the uses of Miss Apis’s antennae, but about two hundred years ago Mr. Francis Huber, a Swiss gentlemen who loved bees, found out part of the secret. He discovered that a honey-bee smells and feels with her antennae. All who love bees ought to know and love Huber, for he spent many, many years studying the bees and finding out wonderful things about them. I think you will like hear his story.

When only a boy he was very fond of nature and very fond of study. He read so constantly that he ruined his eyes and when still a young man became blind. This did not stop his work, however, for he had two friends who were eyes for him. One was a young lady who he was engaged to be married. When he became blind, her friends tried to persuade her to leave him, but she would not.

She insisted upon marrying him and taking care of him. Huber and his wife lived in happiness for a great many years and Huber said that he did not realize he was blind until his wife died. Huber’s other friend was a man named Francis Burnens. Huber would tell Burnens just how to perform an experiment […] and then tell Huber all about it. In this way, Burnens did the seeing and Huber the thinking. […] I believe he drenched the bees with water so they would not sting, and then examined them one by one. It was owing to the careful work of Burnens that Huber was able to make a number of important discoveries. A good many of the interesting facts we know today about bees we owe to blind Huber. He invented a hive which opened like the leaves of a book, so that he could at any time see what was going on inside […] people today sometimes use narrow hives with glass sides, so that everything the bees do can be watched […] Bees do not willingly work in a light place and they do not seem to enjoy being watched, so often they smear the sides of the glass hive with bee glue, which prevents curious eyes from looking in. […]

[…] If you really want to know whether Miss Apis is willing to sting if she gets the chance, pick her up some day when she is getting nectar from a flower. You will learn several things. First, that the best thing you can do under the circumstances is to let her go as soon as possible and pursue some other path to knowledge. But if you are a philosopher, you will not fail to observe what a very convenient position her sting occupies, as convenient for its purpose as the pollen baskets are for theirs. She twists her jointed abdomen about so that you will have hard work to take hold of her where she cannot plunge her sting into you.

The entrance of this little sting gives rise to sensations out of all proportion to its size. A sting so small that you can hardly see it produces a pain so large that you do not seem to have room for any other feeling. Presently, the spot […] begins to swell until it may become several times as large as Miss Apis herself. That, you know, is because she takes good care to pump poison into the wound. This poison of hers is a reliable, warranted-never-to-fail irritant.

[…] if she ever does use it on you, do not get angry, but pull it out, then put some mud on the place […] Mud is a very good remedy, and like Miss Apis, is generally at hand. […] For poor little Miss Apis […] pays a terrible penalty for losing her temper and stinging people […] When Miss Apis recklessly plungers ten pairs of barbs into the touch skin on your finger, she cannot pull them out again; and in her efforts to do so, out comes sting, poison-bag and all, and off she goes, hurt much worse than you are, for she will surely die as a result of her loss […] In her fright and anger, Miss Apis does not stop to consider what will happen if she stings you, but stings first and things afterwards.

Key Points:

  • Think before you act
  • To remove a stinger, scrape it out with a credit card. Goal is to not squeeze the venom sac and inject more….
  • Other great remedies: meat tenderizer, backing soda, ice
  • Remember that the bees don’t want to sting you but will if they feel threatened
  • May you all find a love like Mr. and Mrs. Huber
  • You cannot go blind by reading too much

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 –

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