The Bee People: Chapters 15 & 16

Chapter 15: Honey and Honey Dew

Miss Apis is probably as proud of her hive she gets stored full of honey and bee-bread, as your mother is of her pantry when she gets the jelly and preserves done in the fall […]

It is a very cunning art to take nectar from the flowers and in one’s honey-sac change it into delicious honey. It is not every creature that can do that. In fact, I know of but one or two besides Miss Apis and her near relatives that can. Although the nectar is changed to honey, it still retains its own flavor, so that the bee-keepers can often tell by the taste what kind of flowers honey is made from.

Miss Apis is very particular about the quality of her honey […] White clover honey is delicate and delicious, and bees are very fond of visiting white clover heads. Honey bees do not gather much from the red clover because the flower tubes are too long for their tongues […] Sweet clover yields good honey […] The fragrant flowers of the basswood are great favorites with the bees […] Most people who live in the north are familiar with the dark-colored buckwheat honey and those who live far south know the clear delicate orange-blossom honey […]

Miss Apis sometimes gathers other sweets than flower-juice. I am sorry to say she will even steal the honey from other bees if she can get it […] She does collect honey-dew, though, and sometimes will fill her hive full of honey made from it. Probably you do not know what honey-dew is […] You have all heard of the aphides, the ants’ cows? You know they are tiny little insects with two horns on their backs. They give out a sweet liquid of which the ants are very fond. We are told that some ants take care of the aphides, protect them and treat them as if they were indeed little insect cows […] An aphis puts her bill into the skin of a leaf and there she stays and sucks out its juice which you can imagine is not very good for the leaf. Some of the juice […] is changed into sweet liquid the ants are so fond of; and if there are no ants to eat it, the aphids are obliged to get rid of it, and they squirt it out in the air […] Such leaves are sticky to the touch […] covered with this honey-dew […]

[…] Bees like the honey-dew very much, and I have eaten honey made from it, but I must confess I did not like it. Some honey-dew is said to make very good honey, but I prefer to have the bees bring my honey from flowers.

Chapter 16: Cradle-Cells

Some of Miss Apis’s wax cells serve the purpose of preserve-jars, as we have seen. Indeed, they all do, when we come to think of it. They do not all preserve honey and bee-bread, however […] The cradle-cells of the drones are the same as the honey-cells, but the worker cells are about one-fifth smaller […] The cradle-cell of the queen is not shaped like the other cells, but somewhat like a thimble. It opens at the bottom and a great deal larger. The queen goes about and lays an egg in each cell. She first puts in her head and examines the cell with her antennae, as if to make sure it is all right. This done, she deposits an egg in the bottom of the ell. She lays two kinds of eggs, one kind being what we call fertilized, the other kind unfertilized. The fertilized eggs always hatch into workers or queens, the unfertilized always hatch into drones […]

In about three days the eggs hatch, but not into pretty downy bees with gauzy wings […] this little larvae is born hungry and the kind nurse-bees, knowing that, feed with with plenty of […] bee milk […] This bee milk is manufactured by the nurses in glands in their heads; it is very nutritious, and is the same as the royal jelly with which the queen if fed […] In a few days it has grown so large that it almost fills its cradle-cell […] I doubt if you could guess what the nurse-bees do to prevent it [grow entirely out of bounds]. They simply stop feeding it […] But bee-babies do not die; they wait to see what will happen next […] She caps over the cell of the baby-bee […] they only need to be kept warm […] [until] it changes from a larva to a pupa […] something halfway between the two […]

You may like to know that larva is a Latin word, and means ghost, or mask […] Pupa means […] doll. […] Baby Apis remains a pupa for several days, then she makes up her mind […] and gnaws a hole […] in the cap […] then out comes, a lovely young bee, light-colored and downy with beautiful gauzy wings […]

The queen bee is hatched from an egg exactly like that of the worker-bees. But in this egg, as we know, lies in a large cell, and when it hatches, the nurse-bee fairly stuff the queen larva with food […] It is because she eats so much of this that she develops into a queen. Sometimes the queen in a hive dies or gets lost. Then what do you suppose the workers do? Why, go to work and make a new queen of course.

It is a terrible thing for a hive to be without a queen, and the bees are very unhappy when it happens. But if they have eggs or very young larvae they need not despair. They enlarge a worker cell […] Then they feed the infant thus promoted to royalty upon queen’s food and, lo!, the little creature becomes a queen […]

It takes all the eggs three days to hatch, but the queen larvae attains its growth in five and half days, while it takes the worker six and the drone six and a half […] If you do a little sum in addition, you will find that it takes sixteen days for an egg to become a queen-bee, twenty one days for it to become a worker and twenty-four days for a drone egg to become a drone […]

Key Points:

  • There are many flavors of honey, what is sold commercially is often clover honey
  • Honey color and flavor is influenced by nectar and hence, varies over the season
  • Funny stories exist about blue honey, as bees were near a candy factory

If you look closely you can see a pupa (purple pupa eyes – tongue twister) in this bit of comb I scraped off.

Not exactly what you want to find in your hive, but this picture shows the drone combs. They look like pencil erasers, versus worker bee cells that are flat or the larger queen cells that look like peanuts. I saw some this year but didn’t get a photo. Darn!

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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