|The Story Book of Science|
|by Jean Henri Fabre|
|The wonders of plant and animal life told with rare literary charm by Uncle Paul in conversations with three children. Besides such stories as the ants' subterranean city, the spider's suspension bridge, and the caterpillars' processing, he unlocks the mystery behind thunder and lightning, clouds and rain, the year and its seasons, and volcanoes and earthquakes. Ages 9-12 |
HE eggs destined to give birth to queens are laid in
special cells, much more spacious and solid than those where
the working bees hatch. Their shape is, in a general way,
that of a thimble. They are fastened to the edge of the
combs and are called royal cells."
"When she lays in a large or small cell," asked Jules, "does
the queen know whether the egg is that of a queen or of a
"She does not know, she does not need to know. There is no
difference between the queen-eggs and working-bee-eggs. Its
treatment alone decides the issue for the egg. Treated in a
certain manner, the young larva becomes a queen, on whom
depends the future prosperity of the hive; treated in
another way, it becomes one of the working people and is
furnished with brushes and baskets. Bees make their queens
at will; the first egg laid would suffice to fill the royal
functions worthily, if treated with that end in view. And
what does not treatment, or education, accomplish with us in
our tender years? It does not make us kings or peasants, but
honest people, which is better; and scoundrels, which is
 "It need not be said that the bees' pedagogic methods are
not the same as ours. Man, as much mind as matter, if not
more, turns his attention above all to the generous impulses
of the heart, the noble aspirations of the soul. With bees
education is purely animal, and is governed by the dictates
of the belly. The kind of food makes either the queen or the
working bee. For the larvæ that are to discharge the
functions of royalty the nurses prepare a special pap, a
royal dish of which only they know the secret. Whoever eats
of it is consecrated queen.
"This strengthening nourishment brings about a greater
development than usual; for that reason, as I told you, the
larvæ destined for royalty are lodged in spacious
cells. For these noble cradles wax is used with prodigality.
No more hexagonal, parsimonious forms, no thin partitions; a
large and sumptuously thick thimble. Economy is silent where
queens are concerned."
"It is, then, without the actual queen's knowledge that bees
make other queens?"
"Yes, my friend. The queen is excessively jealous, she
cannot endure in the hive any bee whose presence may bring
the slightest diminution to her royal prerogatives. Woe to
the pretenders that should get in her way! 'Ah! you come to
supplant me, to steal from me the love of my subjects!' Ah,
this! Ah, that! It would be something horrible, my children.
Read the history of mankind, and you will see what disasters
crowned heads, brought to bay, can inflict upon nations. But
the working-bees are strong-minded, they know that nothing
 this world, not even queens. They treat the
reigning sovereign with the greatest respect, without losing
sight of the future, which demands other queens. They must
have them to perpetuate the race; they will have them,
whether or no. To this end the royal pap is served to the
larvæ in the large cells.
"Now, in the spring, when the working-bees and drones are
already hatched, a loud rustling is heard in the royal
cells. They are the young queens trying to get out of their
wax prisons. The nurses and wax-bees are there, standing
guard in a dense battalion. They keep the young queens in
their cells by force; to prevent their getting out, they
reinforce the wax inclosures, they mend the broken covers.
'It is not time for you to show yourselves,' they seem to
say; 'there is danger!' And very respectfully they resort to
violence. Impatient, the young queens renew their rustling.
"The queen-mother has heard them. She hastens up in a
passion. She stamps with rage on the royal cells, she sends
pieces of the wax covers flying and, dragging the pretenders
from their cells, she pitilessly tears them to pieces.
Several succumb under her blows; but the people surround
her, encircle her closely, and little by little draw her
away from the scene of carnage. The future is saved: there
are still some queens left.
"In the meantime wrath is excited and civil war breaks out.
Some lean to the old queen, others to the young ones. In
this conflict of opinions disorder and tumult succeed to
peaceful activity. The hive is filled with menacing
buzzings, the well-filled
store-  houses are given over to
pillage. There is an orgy of feasting with no thought of the
morrow. Dagger thrusts are exchanged. The queen decides on a
master-stroke: she abandons the ungrateful country, the
country that she founded and that now raises up rivals
against her. 'Let them that love me follow me!' And behold
her proudly rushing out of the hive, never to enter it
again. Her partizans fly away with her. The emigrating troop
forms a swarm, which goes forth to found a new colony
"To restore order, the working-bees that were away during
the tumult come and join the bees left in the hive. Two
young queens set up their rights. Which of them shall reign?
A duel to the death shall decide it. They come out of their
cells. Hardly have they caught sight of each other when they
join in shock of battle, rear upright, seize with their
mandibles each an antenna of the other, and hold themselves
head to head, breast to breast. In this position, each would
only have to bend the end of its stomach a little to plunge
its poisoned sting into its rival's body. But that would be
a double death, and their instinct forbids them a mode of
assault in which both would perish. They separate and
retire. But the people gathered around them prevent their
getting away: one of them must succumb. The two queens
return to the attack. The more skilful one, at a moment when
the other is off guard, jumps on its rival's back, seizes it
where the wing joins the body, and stings it in the side.
The victim stretches its legs and dies. All is over.
unity is restored, and the hive proceeds to resume its
accustomed order and work."
"The bees are very naughty to force the queens to kill one
another until there is only one left," commented Emile.
"It is necessary, my little friend; their instinct demands
it. Otherwise civil war would rage unceasingly in the hive.
But this hard necessity does not make them forget for one
moment the respect due to royal dignity. What is to prevent
their getting rid of the superfluous queens themselves, even
as they so unceremoniously get rid of the drones? But this
they are very careful not to do. What one of their number
would dare to draw the sword against their sovereigns, even
when they are a serious encumbrance? The saving of life not
being in their power, they save honor by letting the
pretenders fight it out among themselves.
"There is always the possibility that the queen, at a time
when she is reigning alone and supreme, may perish by
accident or die of old age. The bees press respectfully
around the deceased; they brush her tenderly, offer her
honey as if to revive her; turn her over, feel her lovingly,
and treat her with all the regard they gave to her when
alive. It takes several days for them to understand, at
last, that she is dead, quite dead, and that all their
attentions are useless. Then there is general mourning.
Every evening for two or three days a lugubrious humming, a
sort of funeral dirge, is heard in the hive.
"The mourning over, they think about replacing
 the queen. A young
larva is chosen from those in the common cells. It was born
to be a wax-bee, but circumstances are going to confer
royalty upon it. The working-bees begin by destroying the
cells adjacent to the one occupied by the sacred larva, the
queen that is to be by unanimous consent. The rearing of
royalty requires more space. This being secured, the
remaining cell is enlarged and shaped like a thimble, as
willed by the high destiny of the nursling it contains. For
several days the larva is fed with royal paste, that sugary
pap that makes queens, and the miracle is accomplished. The
queen is dead, long live the queen!"
"The story of the bees is the best you have told us,"
"I think so too," his uncle assented; "that is why I kept it
till the last."
"What—the last?" cried Jules.
"You are not going to tell us any more stories?" asked
"Never, never?" Emile put in.
"As many as you wish, my dear children, but later. The grain
is ripe, and the harvest will take up my time. Let us
embrace, and finish for the present."
Since Uncle Paul, occupied with his duties in the
harvest-field, no longer tells stories in the evening, Emile
has gone back to his Noah's Ark. He found the hind and the
elephant moldy! From the time of the story of the ants the
child had suspended his visits.
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