Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/84

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74
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

We now come to the honey-bee—last in the list, and the smallest, but by no means the least. Insignificant in size as she is, the honey-bee can put any or all of these other big animals to flight in very short metre! In her marvelous powers of delicate mechanism she can also distance them all, and even cast us in the shade. Hers is one of the fine arts in animal mechanics. As diminutive as she is, she, too, has a brain and nervous system, with ganglions similar to those of the human brain, and with nervous tissue equal to ours in proportion to weight. We need not, therefore, so much wonder that this industrious little insect thinks and reasons, and lays out her work with mathematical accuracy, exercising that exquisitely fine little brain with such extraordinary results. After watching, admiring, handling, and studying the honey-bee for thirty years no one need tell me that this wonderful little creature is void of reason and intelligence and is guided solely by what is called instinct. She, of course, acts much from instinct, as that word is popularly understood, the same as the higher animal does. But new conditions and exigencies arise in which there has been no experience, and where there is, therefore, no instinct adequate to guide. It is then we see unmistakably the exercise of reason in the bee to adapt herself to the new environment.

But the honey-bee, like human beings with reason, makes mistakes; and, indeed, these very occasional mistakes furnish evidence of my contention, for, if the bee were solely guided by an "unerring instinct," she would make no mistakes. Allow me to note here one or two of her natural blunders. A colony of bees left to themselves will, for instance, swarm themselves to death—that is, they will cast so many swarms in the one season that the parent stock is left so weak that it dies in the winter; and the last two swarms cast (say of four altogether) are also so weak and late as to be unable to gather enough stores for winter, and they, too, perish. This, of course, is a great mistake; for, did they swarm but once or twice, all would be strong and in good condition to face the winter. This mistake they make in a state of nature, in a hollow tree in the woods, as well as in the model hive of modern bee-keeping.

I once had a colony which, in the latter part of winter, being dissatisfied with its queen, began to raise young queens to supersede the old one long before there was any prospect or possibility of having drones to mate with the young queen. This certainly was a mistake, as it meant the depopulation and extinction of the colony; whereas the old queen could have carried them safely through to the proper time to supersede her. I may say here, by way of explanation, that when a colony of bees finds its queen failing in fecundity, from age or other causes, the workers, fore-