The Bee People: Chapters 10 & 11

Chapter 10: Miss Apis and Her Sisters

Laden with pollen and nectar, Miss starts homeward. People used to think she flew in a straight line to the hive and so they called the shortest distance from one place to another in a “bee line”. But she does not fly in a straight line, – far from it.

Whoever has “made a bee line for home” – that is, a true bee line – must have followed a very indirect course indeed. When Miss Apis has filled her honeysac and is ready to go home, she first mounts up into the air, not straight up, but round and round in a spiral and when high enough she starts toward home – but not in a straight line. She makes a long curse to the right, and then to the left, to the right again, then to the left and so on. […]

When Miss Apis reaches home, she finds a large family. There are her sisters to begin with. She generally has many thousands of sisters just like herself and they are all named Apis Mellifica. That might be confusing if they called each other by name […] But, of course, they do not do that. […]

Having watched Miss Apis going from flower to flower in a sunshine, you may think that this pleasant duty is all there is in her life. But oh, how mistaken you are! Wait until you see her at home! There is as much work to be done in her house as in anybody’s and she does it too. She works very hard, and, in fact, with her sisters, does all the work. Nobody else in the family does any, and so she is called the worker bee. For you must know that she and her thousands of sisters, who are as like her as one pea is like another are not the only members of the family.

Chapter 11: The Brothers

There are the drones, their brothers. These fine gentlemen never gather honey or pollen, no do any work in the hive. In fact, they are scarcely able to feed themselves, and very much like to have their sisters feed them. They are handsome fellows, and somewhat larger than their little worker sisters. They have large round heads, with enormous compound eyes that meet on the top and crowd the other three eyes down in front, between them. They have more than twice as many facets in their eyes as the workers. Their antennae are long and very sensitive. They have large bodies covered with a coat of sot brown down, very pretty to look at, and their wings are large.

That they are so helpless, I am glad to say, is not their fault. Mr. Apis Mellifica has no honey-sac, so he could hardly be expected to go out and try to bring home honey. He could not get it even if he had a honey-sac in which to store it, because his tongue is so short and so weak. He can eat honey from the honey-comb in the hive, or from any easily obtained supply, but that is the best he can do.

So Mr. Drone Apis Mellifica leaves the sweet occupation of gathering nectar to his sister, Miss Worker Apis Mellifica. As for pollen, the drone has no baskets in which to carry it, so there is an end to that. And as for working in the hive, he is no better off for tools to work with than he is for a honey-sac, a serviceable tongue, and pollen baskets. In fact, there is nothing for him to do but to stay at home and be taken care of like a gentleman of leisure. This he does to perfection. He stands about with his hands in his pockets, so to speak, and lets his little brown sisters feed him, which they do by allowing him to put his tongue into their mouths […]

Occasionally a drone meets the young queen of another hive, also out to see the world. When this happens they mate, but she stays with him only a short time and then goes back to her won hive and leaves him.

The poor fellow as no sting at all, so he cannot defend himself, or avenge an insult. We may pick him up, if we can catch him, with no fear of being stung, and may say anything to him or about him that we please.

[…] In fact, all the bees in the hive work very hard, excepting the drones, and they generally form a very small proportion of the whole number. The drone is an idler because he is so made that it is impossible for him to work. But he is happy, and flies about in the sun, taking whatever good comes to him without finding fault.

Key Points

  • The chapter doesn’t mention that most of the drones get kicked out at the end of the summer to meet a certain fate
  • Female bees will literally work themselves to death, their wings will be shredded by the end of a harvesting phase.
  • The phrase “bee line” still implies that you move straight away (as a crow flies), despite its obvious inaccuracies. However, it is actually true, when a forager bee returns, does the waggle dance to describe the location of the jackpot, the other bees then fly directly to the location.

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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