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The Life of the Bee

The Nuptial Flight
WE will now consider the manner in which the impregnation of the queen-bee comes to
pass. Here again nature has taken extraordinary measures to favour the union of males
with females of a different stock; a strange law, whereto nothing would seem to compel
her; a caprice, or initial inadvertence, perhaps, whose reparation calls for the most
marvellous forces her activity knows.
If she had devoted half the genius she lavishes on crossed fertilisation and other arbitrary
desires to making life more certain, to alleviating pain, to softening death and warding off
horrible accidents, the universe would probably have presented an enigma less
incomprehensible, less pitiable, than the one we are striving to solve. But our
consciousness, and the interest we take in existence, must grapple, not with what might
have been, but with what is.
Around the virgin queen, and dwelling with her in the hive, are hundreds of exuberant
males, forever drunk on honey; the sole reason for their existence being one act of love.
But, notwithstanding the incessant contact of two desires that elsewhere invariably
triumph over every obstacle, the union never takes place in the hive, nor has it been
possible to bring about the impregnation of a captive queen.*
*Professor McLain has recently succeeded in causing a few queens to be artificially
impregnated; but this has been the result of a veritable surgical operation, of the most
delicate and complicated nature. Moreover, the fertility of the queens was restricted and
ephemeral.
While she lives in their midst the lovers about her know not what she is. They seek her in
space, in the remote depths of the horizon, never suspecting that they have but this
moment quitted her, have shared the same comb with her, have brushed against her,
perhaps, in the eagerness of their departure. One might almost believe that those
wonderful eyes of theirs, that cover their head as though with a glittering helmet, do not
recognise or desire her save when she soars in the blue. Each day, from noon till three,
when the sun shines resplendent, this plumed horde sallies forth in search of the bride,
who is indeed more royal, more difficult of conquest, than the most inaccessible princess
of fairy legend; for twenty or thirty tribes will hasten from all the neighbouring cities, her
court thus consisting of more than ten thousand suitors; and from these ten thousand one
alone will be chosen for the unique kiss of an instant that shall wed him to death no less
than to happiness; while the others will fly helplessly round the intertwined pair, and
soon will perish without ever again beholding this prodigious and fatal apparition.
[83]
I am not exaggerating this wild and amazing prodigality of nature. The best-conducted
hives will, as a rule, contain four to five hundred males. Weaker or degenerate ones will
often have as many as four or five thousand; for the more a hive inclines to its ruin, the
 
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