Popular Science Monthly/Volume 40/April 1892/Correspondence

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

DEAR SIR: I have read Prof. E. P. Evans's article, on Progress in Lower Animals, in your December number, and it seems to me that some of the statements found therein call for the attention of a practical apiarist.

If all of them have no more foundation in fact than have those relating to bees, they furnish a very flimsy support upon which to found any kind of an argument.

I am well aware that there is a good deal of nonsense written in the name of science; but I do not remember having seen 60 many misrepresentations of facts, in the same length of space, in any article I ever read.

The professor says: "Beehives which suffer from overproduction rear a queen and send forth with her a swarm of emigrants to colonize, and the relations of the mother-hive to her colonies are known" (by whom?) "to be much closer and more cordial than those which she sustains to apian communities with which she has no genetic connection. Here the ties of kinship are as strongly and clearly recognized as they are between consanguineous tribes of men."

It is true that bees rear queens and swarm, but they do not rear a queen to send forth with a "swarm of emigrants"; for the young queen is not out of her cell until the old queen, her mother, is out of the hive and gone with the new colony. The "ties of kinship" are such that, should the young queen issue from her cell before the old one leaves the hive, she would usually receive a fatal sting from her mother, notwithstanding her "genetic connection," whatever that may mean. And the first young queen that gains her liberty is apt to treat her younger sisters in the same way, even before they have issued from their cells.

That the swarm after it has become settled in its new home recognizes in any way the relationship it bears to the old colony is utterly absurd, and, as every practical apiarist knows, has no foundation in fact.

The "ties of kinship" are not as "clearly recognized as they are between consanguineous tribes of men." Nay, the very opposite is true. They are not recognized at all after the swarm has become distinct and separate from the colony remaining in the hive, which is composed of the young bees with the young queen.

We are again told, "Bees readily substitute oatmeal for pollen, if they can get it." Bees can be taught to take rye-meal as a substitute for pollen when they can not ge pollen, but neither Prof. Evans nor any one else ever saw a colony of bees that would take oatmeal in preference to pollen. In fact, they will not take rye-meal at all, if they can get pollen.

However, the above quotations are not so bad as they might be, for they are harmless — that is, it will do no more injury for the people to receive them as true than it would for them to receive any other innocent absurdity in the name of science. Had it not been for the statement which follows, I should not have felt called upon to point out these mistakes of the professor. But, in further support of his argument, he tells his readers that "apiarists now provide their hives with artificial combs for the storage of honey, and the bees seem glad to be relieved from making cells, as their predecessors had done." Apiarists do not "provide their hives with artificial combs," but they do sometimes fill the frames of their hives with comb foundation; but this is the real stuff — beeswax — in thin sheets with an imprint corresponding to the cells. This is not "artificial comb," and the bees are not "relieved from making cells." They have the cells to build, the same as they do when they secrete the wax in their own bodies, out of which the combs are formed. The modern apiarist furnishes the wax, and saves the time and labor of the bees that would be required to secrete it; but nothing but wax will do, and some colony of bees had to secrete that wax. It can not be made by any "artificial" process.

I hardly think that there is any evidence that the bees are "glad" to get this wax. We only know that they will use it.

Some years ago Prof. Wiley wrote what he afterward called a "scientific pleasantry" for The Popular Science Monthly, if I am correct, in which he described how "artificial comb" was made and filled with imitation honey, and declared that an expert could not distinguish it from the genuine stuff. He thus gave currency to what has become known among apiarists as the "Wiley lie," of which Prof. Evans's statement seems to be an echo.

You have no idea, Mr. Editor, how much injury this little "pleasantry" has done the bee-keepers of this land. For, notwithstanding the fact that Prof. Wiley has explained, over his own signature, that this was only a joke, and A. I. Root, of Medina, Ohio, has offered one thousand dollars for a single pound of the comb, which has not been forthcoming, yet the papers and the people go on repeating this slander on an honest and reputable industry. I have no idea that Prof. Evans thought that he was doing any industry an injury when he wrote the article referred to; but it does seem that it is high time that people who write in the name of science about bees should inform themselves as to the facts, which may be obtained from any practical and intelligent apiarist, one or more of whom may be found in almost every community.

Very truly, Emerson T. Abbott.

St. Joseph, Mo., December 13, 1891.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: In reply to Mr. Abbott's strictures I may state in general that all accounts of the habits of animals contained in my paper, so far as they are not the results of my own observations, are based upon the very best authorities. In my rejoinder I shall leave my critic in the undisturbed enjoyment of his consciousness of superior knowledge, and confine myself strictly to the points at issue. I was perfectly well aware, before Mr. Abbott informed me of the fact, that the old queen goes off with the swarm before her successor is permitted to come out of the cell, and regret that in expressing myself too concisely my words convey an impression which any one who has observed bees or read Huber knows to be incorrect. For the purpose I had in view and the point I wished to illustrate it makes no difference whether the old or young queen leaves the hive; and, as I had this point wholly in mind, I did not state the minor fact as accurately as I ought to have done. In my paper nothing is said of cordial relations between the two queens; I fear Mr. Abbott is indulging here in one of those "pleasantries," which facetious gentlemen in that part of the country seem to be addicted to, when they write about such funny creatures as bees. What I mentioned was the closer and more cordial relations observed to exist between bee communities which have a genetic connection, or (as this phrase appears to puzzle Mr. Abbott) we will say between the mother-hive and its colonies. By whom has this been observed? Among others by Lenz, "a practical apiarist," and, what is more, a careful scientific observer, who kept bees, not merely to supply the market with honey, but chiefly in order to study their habits. The existence of such a relationship is recognized and referred to as a fact by no less an authority than Prof Wilhelm Wundt, who even suggests that the mother-hive and its colonies may form a sort of federation. It is somewhat arrogant, even in a practical apiarist, to denounce any statement as "utterly absurd," and to declare that it "has no foundation in fact," simply because it has not come under his own observation. I did not assert that bees "take oatmeal in preference to pollen," but that they "readily substitute oatmeal for pollen;" and, in remarking that they are "glad" to be relieved of the extra labor imposed upon former generations of bees, I reasoned perhaps rather recklessly from human analogy, and imagined them feeling as men would do under the same circumstances. Mr. Abbott insists upon it that they are sorry; if so, I am sincerely sorry for them, and would fain think of them as glad; but the practical apiarist is inexorable, and I must console myself with the reflection that we really know nothing of the state of their minds. Mr. Abbott says it is rye-meal; a German Bienenzeitung says oatmeal {Hafermehl). So far as my argument is concerned, it may be rye or oats, or "it may chance of wheat or of some other grain."

We now come to the most serious offence, and indeed the only one that seems to have constrained Mr Abbott to wield his pen in defense of a maligned and maltreated industry. I have asserted that "apiarists now provide their hives with artificial comb." Whether Prof. Wiley is the author of this statement or not I do not know, but I read it in an American scientific journal, with a full description of the manner of using it, how by revolving movement the honey is thrown out of the comb, and that the bees adapt themselves easily to the new arrangement. The interesting information was quoted by European journals of high standing; although one German paper suggested, rather maliciously as I thought, that the Yankees are a cunning folk, wonderfully productive of strange inventions, including all sorts of canards. Mr. Abbott now states that Prof. Wiley has explained over his own signature that his communication was only a "scientific pleasantry," a euphemism for what persons endowed with a finer moral sense call by a shorter and harsher name. But how are scientists in a foreign land three thousand miles away to know that an American professor has written, to a local paper perhaps, confessing that he is a liar, and that henceforth no one is to believe what he says? As for myself, I must acknowledge that I never before heard the statement contradicted, and I fully share Mr. Abbott's indignation against Prof. Wiley for deliberately fabricating and disseminating such a falsehood. A man so jocularly disposed and ethically slack-twisted should stop writing on scientific subjects and devote his talents as a professional "funny man" to the comical column of a country newspaper.

How artificial comb, if it could be fabricated and the bees should store it, would do injury to the bee-industry, I am at a loss to understand. In Switzerland, where honey is found on the breakfast-table in every inn, at least three fourths of it is artificial honey; and one proprietor of a large hotel recently admitted that he did not have a jar of real honey in the house. Real honey in an artificial comb is certainly preferable to manufactured honey that has never been in any kind of comb, but is sold in pots. Under the circumstances it seems to be rather gratuitous indignation to resent such a statement as a "slander on an honest and reputable industry."

All specialists are exceedingly sensitive to whatever touches their hobby, and unwilling to admit that they do not know all that is known about it. A few weeks ago a young archæologist called on a distinguished professor of classical archæology in a German university and stated that he was about to publish a work on a certain kind of Grecian vase. "There are no such vases," retorted the old professor. "But I have quite a collection of them which I have myself excavated," urged the young man. "They are all falsifications," was the terse and decisive answer. The simple fact was, that the old professor had never seen any vases of this sort. Rearing bees is not only a useful business, but also a fascinating study. If carried on as a specialty it suffers from the vice of all hobbies; even the practical apiarist, who hangs around hives all his life, is apt to have "a bee in his bonnet."

Yours, etc., E. P. Evans.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: Several references to the fine deep glacial groovings in the rocks at Kelley's Island, Ohio, have appeared in The Popular Science Monthly, and there also appear mentions of the commendable efforts of scientifically inclined gentlemen to purchase the land and dedicate it to public uses and preservation.

There are other places where the same action should be had, among them the groovings at Watertown, N. Y., uncovered and seen where an ancient glacial stream crosses Black River. The writer has crossed the continent four times upon different routes, and observed many places where glaciation has done its work, but in no place has he observed more unique and characteristic groovings than at Watertown. Lying in one of these grooves, several feet deep, may be seen immense bowlders weighing fifty tons or more, just where a glacier stranded and dropped its burden, showing as plainly how the grooving has been done as a plow standing in the furrow where some plowman had left it would tell its story.

The field notes of the Geological Survey of New York suggest that the river at some time has deserted its channel and eroded a new one from Watertown to Black River Bay, but this is not the case; the present channel is undoubtedly the original. At the date of the survey, glaciation and its work had not been much studied; the geologist mistook glacial erosion for earlier river erosion.

Another interesting point is the fact that the present river has eroded its channel some three feet deeper since the glacial era in the hard, heavy-bedded, and sometimes flinty bird's-eye limestone.

The glacial groovings at Kelley's Island and at Watertown may both be referred to the Adirondack Glacial period, belonging to the same age and agencies. The St. Lawrence River was then blocked with ice, and turned back upon itself, emptying its floods into the Ohio River.

Visitors may find these groovings both above and below the railroad bridge of the Cape Vincent track. D. S. Martin.