The Bee People: Chapter 12

Chapter 12: The Queen

One would expect to find a mother in so large and flourishing a family, and you will not be surprised to hear that there is one. Queen Apis Mellifica is the mother of the hive, and is by far the most important member of the community, as I suppose a queen always is – or should be […] Queen Apis is a true queen, as she shows by working harder than any other bee in the hive. Of course her work is different from that of the workers, else why should she be a queen? She does not carry nectar and pollen, make honey-comb and care for the young bees, but she does something just as difficult and just as important […]

There is only one queen in a hive and she very seldom flies abroad […] She is really the mother of the whole colony […] We call her a queen, but she is queen only in the sense that every true mother is a queen in her home […] The chief occupation of the queen-bee is to lay eggs. She lays the eggs for the whole colony. Sometimes she lays as many as three thousand in one day […] Sometimes a hundred thousand eggs are laid in one season, which means a great deal of work for both queen and workers.

The ancients believe that bees gathered their young off the leaves of the trees, or from the flowers of honeywort, the reed or the olive. There was another superstition, that bees came forth from the decayed bodies of animals and Virgil, who wrote much better Latin than most people can write English, soberly gives us a recipe for producing bees from the dead bodies of cattle. Virgil’s power to write well was greater than his knowledge of Natural History, which is not surprising, since there were no microscopes in those days […]

The queen-bee has to lay an egg for every one of the many bees that fill a hive. And now you can understand why Queen Apis is so exceedingly particular about using her sting; for her sting is her ovipositor as well. Ovipositor means egg placer […] The queen takes no care of the eggs, nor the young bees. She leaves all that to her daughters, the workers. She does not even feed herself much of the time […] Queen Apis has tasters, as did the old kings of France and England. Only the king’s taster ate a little of the king’s dinner in his Majesty’s presence, that he might be sure nobody had poisoned it, for they were fond of poisoning kings in those days.

But Queen Apis is not afraid of poison. She knows her children love her too well for that, and that they taste her food out of love to here. In fact they do more than taste it, they swallow and digest the bee-bread and honey, and in their bodies it is made into a very nutritious food […] royal jelly.

Key Points

  • Worker bees are all female (this is a fact I have proclaimed at many a meeting)
  • Bees will actually kill the queen if she is failing (not sure about the “love” part)
  • Royal Jelly is a miracle cure-all sold for big dollars, it is only collected for forming queen cells and in one season one hive might make 500 g of jelly [$$$]
  • Virgil wrote about bee colonies as a model for human society in 29 BC
  • O’Malley wrote about The Wisdom of Bees: What the Hive Can Teach Business about Leadership, Efficiency, and Growth in 2010.
  • Ovipositor sounds like a cool car mod, as in dude check out my ovipositor kit
  • Some people like to mark the queen to make her easier to spot during hive inspection. Practice on a drone bee, taking extra caution to not touch the abdomen

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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