[blocks in formation]

have to fly, the risk of finding food when they land, and the load they have to return with, if successful. Were they not wild bees of the island ?

In speaking of the food of bees, we must not omit the Honey-dew. This shining, gummy substance must have been often noticed in hot weather on the leaves of the lime and oak by the most incurious observer. The ancients considered it either as a deposition of the atmosphere or an exudation from the leaves of trees; for to these opinions the “ aërii mellis cælestia dona,” and “quercus sudabunt roscida mella,” of Virgil seem to refer. Gilbert White held the singular notion that it was the effluvia of flowers evaporated and drawn into the atmosphere by the heat of the weather, and then falling down again in the night with the dews that entangle them. Its origin is certainly one of those vexed questions, which, like that of “fairy rings,” yet require further light for a satisfactory explanation. At present it is impossible to reconcile the discrepancy in the observations of naturalists, some actually asserting that they have seen showers of it falling. To adjust the most common opinions, it is now generally admitted that there are two sources, if not two kinds; one being a secretion from the leaves of certain plants, the other a secretion from the body of an insect. Those little green insects, the aphides, which we commonly call blight, are almost always observed to accompany any large deposition of Honey-dew, and are said to have the power of jerking it to a great distance. The subject at the present moment is

attracting great attention among our naturalists, and it is probable that the clash of opinions will bring out something very near the truth. That the aphides do secrete a saccharine fluid has been long known, and the bees are not their only fellow-insects who are fond of it. Their presence produces a land of milk and honey to the ants, who follow them wherever they appear, and actually herd them like cows and milk them ! *


* What follows is from the delightful ‘Introduction to Entomology,' by Kirby and Spence. " The loves of the ants and the aphides have been long celebrated ; and that there is a connection between them you may at any time, in the proper season, convince yourself; for you will always find the former very busy on those trees and plants on which the latter abound; and, if you examine more closely, you will discover that their object in thus attending upon them is to obtain the saccharine Auid-which may well be denominated their milk—that they secrete. This, however, is the least of their talents, for they absolutely possess the art of making them yield it at their pleasure-or, in other words, of milking them. On this occasion their antennæ are their fingers; with these they pat the abdomen of the aphis on each side alternately, moving them very briskly: a little drop of fluid immediately appears, which the ant takes in its mouth. When it has milked one, it proceeds to another, and so on, till, being satiated, it returns to the nest. But you are not arrived at the most singular part of this history—that the ants make a property of these cows, for the possession of which they contend with great earnestness, and use every means to keep them to themselves. Sometimes they seem to claim a right to the aphides that inhabit the branches of a tree or the stalks of a plant; and if stranger-ants attempt to share their treasure with them, they endeavour to drive them away, and may be seen running about in a great bustle, and exhibiting every symptom of inquietude and anger. Sometimes, to rescue them from their rivals, they take their aphides in their mouth : they generally keep guard round them, and when the branch is conveniently situated they have recourse to an expedient still more effectual to keep off interlopers—they enclose it in a tube of earth or other materials, and thus confine them in a kind of paddock near their nest, and often communicating with it.” How much of this is fanciful we must leave our readers to determine by their own observations; but let no man think he knows how to enjoy the country who has not studied the volumes of Kirby and Spence.

[blocks in formation]

Much has been written upon the poisonous effects of certain plants, sometimes upon the honey, sometimes upon the bees themselves. Every schoolboy must remember the account given by Xenophon of the effect produced upon the Ten Thousand by the honey in the neighbourhood of Trebizond.* The soldiers suffered in proportion to the quantity they had eaten : some seemed drunken, some mad, and some all but died. (Anab. iv. 8.) This quality in the honey has been referred by Pliny and others to the poisonous nature of the rhododendron, which abounds in those parts; but from inquiries which we have made at Dropmore, and other spots abounding with this shrub, we cannot learn that any difference is perceived in the honey of those districts, or indeed that the common bee is ever seen to settle on its flowers. If the Kalmia latifolia be a native of Pontus, the danger is more likely to have arisen from that source, the honey derived from which has been known to prove fatal in several instances in America.

One remarkable circumstance about bees is the number of commodities of which they are either the collectors or confectioners. Besides honey and wax, there are two other distinct substances which they gather, bee-bread and propolis.

Before we knew better, we thought, probably with most of our readers, when we saw a bee“ tolling from every flower the virtuous sweets," with his legs

* The same effect is also mentioned by Diodorus, Dioscorides, Pliny, Strabo, Ælian, and Procopius.

full of the dust of the stamens, that he was hurrying home with the wax to build his cell, or at least with the material wherewith to make that wax. We thought of Titania and her fairies, who “for night tapers crop their waxen thighs,” and many other pretty things that poets have said and sung about them; or if in a more prosaic mood, we at least conceived that, if not furnishing fairy candles, they were laying the foundation for what Sir F. Trench calls “the gentleman's light.” No such thing. Their hollow legs were filled with the pollen or farina of flowers, which has nothing whatever to do with the composition of wax, but constitutes the ambrosia of the hive—as honey does its nectar—their bee-bread, or rather, we should say, bee-pap, for it is entirely reserved for the use of their little ones. Old Butler had so long ago remarked that “when they gather abundance of this stuff (pollen) they have never the more wax: when they make most wax, they gather none of this.”

In fact they store it up as food for the embryo bees, collecting from thirty to sixty pounds of it in a season; and in this matter alone they seem to be “ unthrift of their sweets,” and to want that shrewdness which never else fails them, for they often, like certain over-careful housewives with their preserves, store away more than they can use, which, in its decomposition, becomes to them a sore trouble and annoyance. They are said always to keep to one kind of flower in collecting it, and the light red colour of it will often detect them as the riflers of the mignionette-bed: but we have seen



them late in the season with layers of different colours, and sometimes their whole body sprinkled with it, for they will at times roll and revel in a flower like a donkey on a dusty road.

Whence, then, comes the wax? It is elaborated by the bee itself from the honey by a chemistry beyond the ken of either Faraday or Liebig, being exuded in small scales from between the armour-like folds of their body. This was noticed almost contemporaneously by John Hunter and Huber, and confirmed by the most conclusive experiments of the latter. A legal friend, to whom we are indebted for much of our bee-law, thus records his own observation:-“I have often watched these fellows, hanging apparently torpid, after, as I think, a plentiful meal. Suddenly they make their whole persons vibrate like the prong of a tuning-fork : you cannot see their outline. This is a signal for one of the wax-collectors to run up quickly and fumble the lately-agitated gentleman with the instruments with which they hold the wax; and after collecting the scales, they hasten to mould them into the comb." What would our bon-vivans give if they could thus, at their pleasure, shake off the effects of a Goldsmiths'-Hall dinner in the shape of a temporary fit of gout and chalk-stones ?

Many in their schoolboy days, though we aver ourselves to be guiltless, having too often followed Titania's advice, and

Honey-bags stolen from the humble-bee,” need not to have much told them of how they carry

« ElőzőTovább »