Skip to main content

Full text of "The bee colony / by Edward J. Zeigler."

See other formats


One of the most complex and highly developed civiliza- 
tions in existence today is not the work of mankind, but rather is 
the creation of the common honeybee. Groups of bees do not peri- 
odically set forth on expeditions to exterminate their fellow crea- 
tures, neither do they have any unemployment or labor troubles. 
Perhaps if we knew more about -trem- them and their behavior, nations 
would profit in their efforts to live amicably with each other. 

Like most animals, bees live in groups called colonies, 
or, if the bees are moving about outside the hive, these groups 
are called swarms. To the three kinds of bees present in every hive, 
th. e queen, several hundred drones and 30,000 to 80,000 workers, 
is assigned a particular and useful function in maintaining the co- 
lony. Let us examine the colony in detail and see what the pur- 
poses of the queen, the worker bees and the drones are. 

The sole purpose of the queen bee is to perpetuate the 
colony, and mighty effecient in this function she is, for normally 
she lays from 1500 to 2000 eggs per day. All of the eggs that have 
been fertilized are the same, and until the third day after hatching 
the resulting larvae may develop either into queens or worker bees. 
Here the natural instinct of the bee comes into play, for if con- 
ditions are crowded in the hive, the worker bees will pick out one 
larva and feed it a special diet in contrast to the honey and pol- 
len given larvae destined to become worker bees. This is given as 
the only reason why one larva develops into a queen fitted only 
for mss^ egg laying, and another will grow into a worker fitted 

only for work in the hive and field. The queen never leaves the 
hive except on two occasi ons . The first is on her mating flight 
and the second is when she goes with the swarra in search of a new 
home. Her two contacts with the outside world are always in that 
order, too, for when a swarm issues forth from a hive, it is the 
old queen who often has been alive for two years that goes, leaving 
the young queen in the old hive. 



Her diet is not honey and pollen, but "royal jelly." a secretion [rum head glaiuk of Iter daughters. 
Workers (lower right) are cleaning cells. Two baby bees are gnawing their way out. 

The fertilized eggs that have been fed the regular diet 
of honey and pollen when they were in the larva stage wil" develop 
into worker bees. The worker bees are all females without the power 
of reproduction, yet they retain all the other maternal instincts, 


for they feed their queen and the drones, keep the hive clean, and 
toil ceeselessly in the field in search of pollen and nectar. A 
certain percentage of the worker bees in each hive form a suicide 
squad about the entrance to the hive, preti protecting it from all 
dangers. It is a wise provision to have only a certain number of 
workers assigned this duty, for If in attack, all the bees in a hive 
rushed out and succeeded in stinging the victim, the colony itself 
would perish. This is because upon stinging, the bee implants its 
stinger so firmly that in trying to free itself it loses its life. 
Thus it is safe to say that there is not a bee alive today that has 
ever stung anyone. Those worker bees that gather the nectar and 
pollen from the flowers are incredibly industrious, and the harder 
they work the shorter time they live. During the active season their 
life span is only about six wfteks, While during the winter they live 
for several months. 


Wings faltered and torn, golden hair gone from its body, this aged black, but once yellow bee is 
about to expire. The gray bee (right) is an immigrant from the Caucasus Mountains, the yellow ones 
being from Italy. Both kinds are thoroughly at home in the United States. 


The third group of which the colony is comprised is the 
drones. Because of mistaken conceptions the word drone has become, 
in English, a synonym for laziness and worthlessness. However the 
truth of the matter is that the drone has his purpose. 

The drone arises from an unfertilized egg, of which a num- 
ber are laid just "before swarming so that the new queen may be suc- 
cessful in finding a mate on her mating flight high in the air. 
This, then, is the reason why more than one drone is permitted to 
live: since the que^n bee makes only one mating flight, obviously 
there must be a relatively large chance that she will meet a drone 
to insure perpetuation of the colony. These male honeybees are 
entirely dependent on the worker bees,belng unable to gather their 
own food and, having no sting, being unable to defend their homes. 

Altogether the drone has a very unsatisfactory life, for 
im nediately after mating he dies and the rest that were unsuccess- 
ful in finding a queen are driven from the hive to perish. 

Honey bees are often referred to as domesticated bees in 
a manner similar to the way that we refer to farm animals. This 
is entirely incorrect, for the bee that is alive today is just as 
wild as his ancestor was a thousand years ago. If we go back and 
look at the organization of the colony we can see why this is so. 
The queen and the drones, who are the only bees that have any part 
in reproduction scarcely ever come in contact with the outside world 
add so have no need to adopt themselves to new situations . On the 
other hand, the worker bees who do have new exoerlences, have no 



The mother of all bees in a hive is the queen (center), whose lonf? body is more graceful than that of 
her children, worker (left) and drone, or male (right). All figures three times life-size. 

offspring and so have no opportunity to pass on to future generations 
any adjustments that they might have made. 

The apiarist recognizes the fact that his bees cannot be 
domesticated and in his work he makes use of his knowledge of their 
habits. He knows that bees will not kill each other and that his 
hives are protected by a few guards that can be easily disarmed 
with a little smoke. He also knows that bees in general do not sting 
in self defense, but only in defense of the hive and that a worker 
bee can be plucked from a f lever and safely held in the hand if it 
is not excited or crushed. 




Iii such struggles for supremacy, the battle is interrupted by the onlookers only when it appears 
both may die. Here a golden Italian queen is about to sting to death her darker adversary below, a 
gray Caucasian. Should their own mother be killed, bees will readily accept the new queen. 

Thus, the busy bee which is commonly considered to be a 
pugnacious insect and which is to be left alone with his evil desires 
for stinging people has many gentle characteristics and really knows 
how to live not onlv with his fellow kind but also with the other 
creatures of his environment. 


The common honeybee has one of the test organized civili- 
zations in the world today. Like most animals, bees live in grouos 
or colonies and in each colony the three types of bees, queens, wor- 
kers and drones each have a specific duty in maintaining the hive. 

The queen may be said to be the mother of the entire colo- 
ny "because it is she who lays all the eggs which eventually grow 
into bees. Worker bees do all the work around the colony, even to 
feeding the drones or male bees. 

Because it is impossible to domesticate bees those alive 
tod ay are just as wild as their ancestors were thousands of years 
ago, and yet the honeybee has certain traits which could easily 
serve as ideals for mankind. 


Hambleton, Jas. I. "Bee Behavior" 

Bureau of Entomology and Plant Quarantine, 
U. S. Department of Agriculture 

"Life History of the Honeybee". Division of Bee Culture, 
Bureay of Entomology and Plant Quarantine, 
U. S. Department of Agriculture, (September 22, 1936) 

"Man's Winged Ally, the Busy Bee" 

National Geographic (April 1935) 401-428 

Pellet, P. C. Productive Beekeeping, 

Philadelphia : J. B. Lippincott, 1916.