|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 |
T was not necessary to remind Uncle Paul of his promise. He
took advantage of the first leisure moment to tell the
children the story of the bees.
"A well-peopled hive contains from twenty to thirty thousand
bees. That is about the population of our secondary towns.
In a town all cannot follow the same trade. Bakers make
bread, masons houses, carpenters furniture, tailors clothes;
in short, there are artisans for every occupation. In like
manner, in the social economy of the beehive, there are
various divisions; namely, that of the mothers, that of the
fathers, and that of the workers.
"For the first, there is only one bee in each hive. This
bee, mother of the whole population, is called the queen.
She is distinguished from the workers by a large body and
the absence of working implements. Her business is to lay
eggs. She has as many as twelve hundred at a time in her
body, and others keep on forming as fast as the first are
laid. What a formidable business is the queen's! But then,
what respectful attentions, what tender care the other bees
show to their common mother! They feed the noble mother by
the mouthful; they give her of the best, for she has not
time to gather for herself, and, to tell the truth, would
not know how
 to do it if she had. To lay and lay is her one
and only function.
"The business of father falls to six or eight hundred idlers
They are larger than the workers and smaller
than the queen. Their large bulging eyes join together on
the top of the head. They have no sting. Only the queen and
the workers have the right to carry the poisoned stiletto.
The drones are deprived of this weapon. One asks, what use
are they? One day they form a retinue of honor to the queen,
who takes a fancy to fly through the air; then hardly
anything more is heard of them. They perish miserably in the
open, or, if they return to the hive, are coldly received by
the workers, who look at them unkindly for exhausting the
provisions without ever adding to them. At first they treat
them to some smart blows to show them that idlers are not
wanted in a working society; and if they fail to understand,
a resolution is taken. One fine morning they kill every one
of them. The bodies are swept out of the hive, and that's the end of it.
"Now come the workers, about twenty or thirty thousand bees
to one queen.
These are called working bees. They are the
ones you see in the garden flying from one flower to
another, gathering the harvest. Other workers, a little
older and consequently more experienced, remain in the hive
to look after the housekeeping and to distribute nourishment
to the nurslings hatched from the eggs
 laid by the queen.
There are, then, two bodies of workers to be distinguished:
the wax-bees, younger, which make wax and gather the
materials for honey; the nurses, older, which stay at home
to bring up the family. These two kinds of workers are not
mutually exclusive. When young, full of ardor, adventurous,
the bee follows the trade of wax-maker. It goes to the
fields, seeking viands, visits the flowers, or sometimes is
forced to assert itself and unsheath its sting, to put to
flight some evil-intentioned aggressor; it sweats wax to
make the storehouse and the little rooms where the brood of
young ones is kept. Growing older, it gains experience, but
loses its first ardor. Then it stays at home, turns nurse,
and occupies itself with the delicate task of rearing the
This preamble of Uncle Paul's, defining the three industrial
classes of the bees, appeared to interest the children
greatly, and they were surprised to find that insects have
such marvelously elaborate social laws. At the very first
opportunity Jules began questioning his uncle. The impatient
child wanted to know everything at once.
"You say the wax-bees make wax. I thought they found it
ready-made in flowers."
"They do not find it ready-made. They make it, sweat it,
that is the word, as the oyster sweats the stone of his
shell, as the meleagrina sweats the substance of its
mother-of-pearl and its pearls.
"If you look closely at a bee's stomach, you will see it is
composed of several pieces or rings fitting into each other.
The stomach of all insects has,
 moreover, the same
formation. This arrangement of several parts fitted endwise
is found in the horns or antennæ, as well as in the
legs, of all insects without exception. It is precisely to
this division into separate pieces fitted endwise that the
word insect alludes, its meaning being cut in pieces. Is not
the body of an insect composed, in fact, of a series of
pieces placed end to end?
"Let us come back to the bee's stomach. In the fold
separating one ring from the next there is found,
underneath, in the middle of the stomach, the wax-producing
mechanism. There, little by little, the waxy matter oozes
out, just as with us sweat oozes through the skin. This
matter accumulates in a thin layer which the insect detaches
by rubbing the stomach with its legs. There are eight of
these wax-producers. When one is idle, another is working;
so that the bee always has some layer of wax at its
"And what does the bee do with its wax?"
"It builds cells, that is to say storehouses, where the
honey is preserved, and little rooms where the young bees in
the form of larvæ are raised."
"It builds its house, then," put in Emile, "with the layers
of wax taken from the folds of its stomach. And there, you
see, the bee shows a very original and inventive mind. It is
as if, in order to build a house, we should rub our sides so
as to get from them the blocks of cut stone we needed."
"The snail," concluded Uncle Paul, "has already accustomed
us to these original ideas of animals. It sweats the stone
for its shell."
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