The Life of the Bee HTML version

The Life Of The Bee
LET us now, in order to form a clearer conception of the bees' intellectual power, proceed
to consider their methods of inter-communication. There can be no doubting that they
understand each other; and indeed it were surely impossible for a republic so
considerable, wherein the labours are so varied and so marvellously combined, to subsist
amid the silence and spiritual isolation of so many thousand creatures. They must be able,
therefore, to give expression to thoughts and feelings, by means either of a phonetic
vocabulary or more probably of some kind of tactile language or magnetic intuition,
corresponding perhaps to senses and properties of matter wholly unknown to ourselves.
And such intuition well might lodge in the mysterious antennae--containing, in the case
of the workers, according to Cheshire's calculation, twelve thousand tactile hairs and five
thousand "smell-hollows," wherewith they probe and fathom the darkness. For the mutual
understanding of the bees is not confined to their habitual labours; the extraordinary also
has a name and place in their language; as is proved by the manner in which news, good
or bad, normal or supernatural, will at once spread in the hive; the loss or return of the
mother, for instance, the entrance of an enemy, the intrusion of a strange queen, the
approach of a band of marauders, the discovery of treasure, etc. And so characteristic is
their attitude, so essentially different their murmur at each of these special events, that the
experienced apiarist can without difficulty tell what is troubling the crowd that moves
distractedly to and fro in the shadow.
If you desire a more definite proof, you have but to watch a bee that shall just have
discovered a few drops of honey on your window-sill or the corner of your table. She will
immediately gorge herself with it; and so eagerly, that you will have time, without fear of
disturbing her, to mark her tiny belt with a touch of paint. But this gluttony of hers is all
on the surface; the honey will not pass into the stomach proper, into what we might call
her personal stomach, but remains in the sac, the first stomach,--that of the community, if
one may so express it. This reservoir full, the bee will depart, but not with the free and
thoughtless motion of the fly or butterfly; she, on the contrary, will for some moments fly
backwards, hovering eagerly about the table or window, with her head turned toward the
She is reconnoitring, fixing in her memory the exact position of the treasure. Thereupon
she will go to the hive, disgorge her plunder into one of the provision-cells, and in three
or four minutes return, and resume operations at the providential window. And thus,
while the honey lasts, will she come and go, at intervals of every five minutes, till
evening, if need be; without interruption or rest; pursuing her regular journeys from the
hive to the window, from the window back to the hive.