Popular Science Monthly/Volume 6/February 1875/Sketch of the Life of Francis Huber
|←A Short Study of Birds'-Nests|| Popular Science Monthly Volume 6 February 1875 (1875)
Sketch of the Life of Francis Huber
By S. B. Herrick
FRANCIS HUBER was born in Geneva, July 2, 1750. His father, John Huber, was a man of many and varied gifts; he was considered one of the wits of the day, and was an accomplished musician, poet, painter, and sculptor. The art of cutting landscapes and silhouettes from paper may almost be called his creation. He attained such proficiency in executing likenesses in this way that, with his hands behind him, he tore from a card a correct profile of Voltaire. The curious combination of talent and caprice which characterized most of his work is well illustrated by one of his attempts: he executed a profile of Voltaire, upon one occasion, by allowing his cat to bite from a slice of cheese portions which he successively presented to her! Besides his lighter social and artistic gifts, he possessed keen powers of observation as a naturalist and considerable facility with the pen, as is shown in his "Observations sur le Vol des Oiseaux de Proie," Geneva, 1774.
John Huber transmitted to his son most of his tastes, without that discursiveness and caprice which so fatally marred his own career. The boy, from his early childhood, attended lectures at the Genevan College. The library, the cabinet, and the observations of his father, early roused in him an ardent love for natural science; he had begun intelligently to observe Nature at an age when other children seem hardly aware of her existence. Before he was fifteen years old, he had completed a course of physics under De Saussure, and familiarized himself with chemical manipulation in the laboratory of a relation, who was an obstinate alchemist.
Intense application, together with the habit of reading late at night, by dim lamp-light, or even by the light of the moon, seriously impaired his health. At the age of fifteen he found himself not only utterly-prostrated in strength, but threatened with blindness. His father, in alarm, took him to Paris, to consult the celebrated Tronchin, who ordered him to the country. At the village of Stani, near Paris, he led the life of an ordinary peasant-lad, following the plough, and occupying himself in other farm-work. This regimen proved efficacious, and he returned to the city in full and vigorous health.
The oculist Wenzel, after an examination of his eyes, pronounced the disease incurable. One eye was affected with the gutta serena, or amaurosis, the same disease which caused the blindness of the poet Milton, of which he says:
The blindness of the other was caused by cataract, a disease, in our day, often successfully treated. The science of the oculist was, then, far from the perfection which it has since reached, and the operation was considered too hazardous to be attempted.
Happily, before the darkness closed down upon him, he had seen and loved Marie-Aimée Lullin, daughter of one of the syndics of the Swiss Republic. The childish love which had sprung up, at a dancing-school, between the boy and girl, grew with years into a deep and life-long devotion. In spite of the bitter opposition of her father, which amounted to persecution, Mdlle. Lullin refused to give up her lover; but Huber was filled with fears lest his growing infirmity should alienate her. Under the influence of this dread he would hardly acknowledge to himself the advance of the disease. As long as he could at all perceive the light, he spoke and acted as if he saw. The habit of expression thus formed left its impress upon his future style. One cannot read the graphic descriptions of his experiments, as given by himself, and fail to notice the frequent recurrence of such expressions as "I have often seen"—"I had the satisfaction of seeing"—or even, at times—"I saw with my own eyes." There is a profound pathos in this apparent obliviousness to his affliction, when we thus trace it to its source.
These fears, however, proved groundless, for Mdlle. Lullin, as soon as she reached her majority, married him. During the forty years of their married life, her tenderness and devotion toward her husband were unfailing. She was his reader, his secretary, his observer; he said of her, in his old age: "As long as she lived I was not sensible of the misfortune of being blind."
Besides his wife, Huber was eminently fortunate in his assistant, Francis Burneus. This man, who had entered the family in the capacity of a servant, his master soon discovered to be "born with the talents of an observer.... It is impossible," Huber again says, "to form a just idea of the patience and skill with which Burneus has carried out the experiments which I am about to describe.... he counted pain and fatigue nothing compared with the great desire he felt to know the results. If, then, there be any merit in our discoveries, I must share the honor with him; and I have great satisfaction in rendering him this act of public justice."
Huber practised Burneus in the art of observation; comparing his results with those of other investigators. He directed him by a thousand questions, adroitly combined, till fully satisfied of his fidelity and accuracy. At the first issue of the book, which was the record of their joint labor, the naturalists of Europe looked askance at the marvelous revelations of bee-economy made by a blind man aided by a peasant; but, as knowledge upon the subject grew, prejudices melted away, and there is scarcely a fact recorded by Huber which subsequent investigation has not again and again confirmed.
The marvelous activity of mind, which to many men would have proved only a torment, was to Huber a source of the deepest delight. His love of music, and proficiency in the art, beguiled many hours, and added greatly to his social enjoyments. He had made himself master of counterpoint, and was able, from the dictation of the bass of a musical composition, to arrange the harmonies. The whole piece or song would be dictated to him, in this way, phrase by phrase, and a single repetition was all-sufficient.
He invented, for his own use, a printing-machine, by means of which he could correspond with his absent friends; and he was enabled to indulge his fondness for walking in the open air by means of another contrivance of his own. He caused knotted cords to be stretched along the borders of all the rural paths around his house; by means of the cord he could guide himself, and the knots informed him what point he had reached.
Soothed by every appliance which ingenuity and ample means could afford, surrounded by the tenderest affection and the keenest sympathy in his pursuits, his darkened life was full of sweet compensations. But it is in himself, rather than in the circumstances of his life, that we find the sources of his tranquil happiness. He retained to extreme age the tenderest affection for his friends; he showed to the last the untouched freshness of delight in Nature, the boyish candor and directness, the noble enthusiasm, the quick sympathy with youth and its interests, which so generally characterize men of science, and which offer one of the most unanswerable arguments in favor of the ennobling influence of such pursuits.
"When any one spoke to him on subjects which interested his head or heart," says De Candolle, "his noble figure became strikingly animated, and the vivacity of his countenance seemed, by a mysterious magic, to animate even his eyes, which had been so long condemned to darkness. The sound of his voice had always something of the solemn. 'I now understand,' said a man of wit to me one day, who had just seen him for the first time—'I understand how young people willingly grant to the blind the reputation of supernatural inspiration.'"
Huber retained his faculties to the last. He wrote to one of his friends on the 20th of December, 1832, and two days later he sank to rest, without a pang, in the arms of his daughter, Madame de Molin, in the eighty-second year of his age.
The work, in his own department, which he has left behind him, is marvelous in its accuracy and its fullness. Facts which had eluded observers from the days of Aristomachus of Soli down to those of Bonnet, yielded to the patience, tact, and ingenuity of Huber. It is hard to decide which is most admirable in him—his life-long devotion to one purpose; the patience and caution with which he questioned and cross-questioned Nature by experiment; or the lucidity and picturesqueness of his descriptions of his work. The latter quality, it is probable, was the direct result of his deprivation. It was necessary for him, out of the disjointed answers and remarks of his observers, to form a perfect, rounded mental conception of the facts in themselves and in their relations. This perfect comprehension in great measure insures a luminous style; obscurity of style being much more frequently a result of confusion of ideas than of a mere awkwardness in the use of words.
Huber's work was first recorded in the form of a series of letters addressed to M. Bonnet, and called "Nouvelles Observations sur les Abeilles," 1792. Afterward, in the later editions, several papers on the "Origin of Wax," the "Sphinx Atropos," "Bee Architecture," and other topics, were incorporated into the same volume. Many of his experiments and observations were made at the suggestion of Bonnet, and it was upon his recommendation that Huber constructed his "single-leaf" and "book"-observing hives. The first of these was made to contain a single comb, but, fearing that the bees, who are taught by Nature to build several parallel combs, might manifest change of habit or modification of instinct under new conditions, he also caused to be made another hive, by which he could correct the observations made upon the first. This second hive was so arranged that each frame could be turned back, like a door, upon hinges.
The first observations which Huber records are those upon the fertilization of the queen. Many theories had been advanced upon this subject, by Swammerdam, Debraw, Hattorf, and others, supported by experiments which, to most minds, would have seemed conclusive; but Huber was not satisfied till he again and again repeated, with every precaution and under every condition, the experiments made by his predecessors. These experiments, made by himself and others, he describes with his usual clearness, and from them he deduces the following singular facts, which have been a thousand times confirmed:
The queen-bee, which is the only perfect female in the hive, is fecundated on the wing, and this one fecundation suffices to fertilize the hundreds of thousands of worker-eggs which she lays during: her life, of from three to five years. If the impregnation of the queen be deferred until the twenty-first day of her life, she not only lays nothing but drone-eggs, but her instincts are also impaired. Perfect, fertile queens always discriminate when laying; they deposit the drone and worker-eggs in their own peculiar cells, but the queens whose impregnation is retarded are indifferent, and lay their eggs anywhere. Previous to Huber's time, it was believed that the worker-bees, like worker-ants, carry away eggs thus misplaced, and deposit them in the proper cells; but he ascertained the fact that they carry away such eggs only to devour them. By some unknown means the bees can distinguish a worker from a drone egg; and, if, by an oversight, a worker-egg is allowed to develop into a larva in a drone-cell, or vice versa, the bees cap over the cell with the fiat or convex cover peculiar to its inmate, without reference to the size of the cell upon which they are working.
Réaumur, and most other naturalists, had believed that the queens deposit, in royal cells, a peculiar egg, which develops into a queen; but Schirach, a German clergyman, announced, toward the close of the last century, a discovery which created not a little interest. Some doubt still hung over this discovery, which was entirely dispelled by Huber's observations. Schirach stated that the bees can, by peculiar treatment, rear a queen from a worker-brood.
If a swarm of bees find itself suddenly queenless, the workers immediately select the larva of a common bee, not over three days old; they enlarge this cell by cutting down the partition-walls between it and two adjoining cells, destroying their inmates, and then they supply the remaining worm with food, differing in quality and quantity from that of the workers. The nursery of the royal heir is elongated, and finally capped over with a peculiar covering. In sixteen days after its exclusion from the egg this larva becomes a queen. From increase of space, accession of heat, and the different quality and quantity of food given to the worm, that which would have become a worker becomes a queen. By this change of treatment, its anatomy and physiology, its instincts and functions, the time necessary for its development, and the length of its life, are all utterly changed. The queen performs but one office in the hive, that of supplying her realm with subjects, while the workers perform all the multitudinous offices which the economy of the hive demands. The whole structure of the queen and workers is coördinated to their functions; she possesses the ovaries, which in the worker lie folded away in a germinal form, while they possess all the organs needed for their peculiar work—strong mandibles, powerful wings, pollen-basket, pincers, brush, wax-pockets, and honey-receptacle. Though queens are often made from worker-larvæ, Huber observed the old queen laying in royal cells, when the hive is about to throw off new swarms, and more than one queen will be required.
He also determined that some few workers, which have partaken of the royal jelly, have their reproductive organs partially developed, and lay drone-eggs. This fact was reached by an experiment which required great courage and an almost incredible patience. Burneus, of his own free will, caught, held, and carefully examined every bee of two swarms in which fertile workers were suspected. This required eleven days of steady labor. "During all that time," says Huber, "he scarcely allowed himself any relaxation except what the relief of his eyes required." Each bee, after examination, was transferred to a glass hive, which was watched; finally, a bee was caught in the act of laying, and was dissected: small ovaries were detected containing a few eggs, but in all other respects it was a perfect worker.
Huber also discovered the bitter animosity of the queens toward each other. He observed the first-hatched queen, as she emerges from her cell, traverse the comb till she finds a royal cell, which she tears open, in apparent fury, and then stings the helpless pupae to death. This she repeats again and again till she has destroyed every possible rival. If, however, two queens emerge simultaneously, the bees clear a space, and stand back and watch the conflict, which must end fatally to one or the other. The two queens attack each other, but, if, during the fight, they happen to find themselves in such a position that, by closing, each would kill the other, they withdraw, and begin the combat afresh. As soon as either secures such an advantage of position that she can sting without being stung, the fatal thrust is given.
Réaumur made the suggestion that it is the queens themselves who rid themselves of their rivals; but he had been strongly opposed by the German naturalists, who contended that the worker-bees disposed of the interlopers. What Réaumur advanced as a conjecture Huber founded upon the impregnable basis of fact.
If a strange queen be introduced into a swarm possessing one of their own, the workers generally surround her, and quietly detain her prisoner till she perishes of hunger, but do her no direct injury. The only instance where workers were ever known to sting a queen was once, during a general mêlée, and then it seemed pure accident. If, however, the stranger queen, by accident, passes the sentinels at the door, without being challenged, or is introduced by the experimenter into the hive, for the purpose of observation upon the point, and brought into close quarters with their own queen, they insist upon a battle, and restrain the motions of either if they seem inclined to fly.
After the loss of a queen, by a swarm, if a strange queen be introduced, her reception will depend entirely upon the time which has elapsed since their bereavement. At first, they refuse to be comforted, and reject contumeliously any attempt to replace their loss. After eighteen hours, they begin to consider the matter, and, in twenty-four, receive, with royal honors, any queen offered to them.
The yearly massacre of the drones, though a well-known fact, Huber was the first to observe in its details. It was seen through a glass table, upon which a hive, deprived of its bottom-board, was placed. He also ascertained that the massacre never takes place unless the swarm possesses a fertile queen, and the swarming-season is over.
By aid of the microscope, Huber proved that the queen-bee is truly oviparous—that her eggs are true eggs. He saw the worm grow to maturity within the transparent walls of the egg, rend the pellicle, and emerge. The idea that workers brood the eggs he also dispelled, by repeated observation of the fact that the eggs hatch equally well when removed from the care of the bees, and that the workers frequently enter empty cells and remain quietly there, evidently taking repose.
His observations upon the spinning of the cocoon were made through the walls of blown-glass cells, into which the egg was removed. The drones and common bees spin complete cocoons; the royal larva, on the contrary, spins an imperfect one, enveloping the head and thorax, but reaching only to the second ring of the abdomen. This is evidently the result, not of any peculiar instinct, but of the conformation of the cell, for the royal cocoon is complete if it be spun in a common cell. In ordinary cases, if the royal cocoon were complete, it would be impossible for a queen to destroy her rivals in the state of pupæ.
By repeated experiment, he showed that the size of a cell has no modifying effect upon the development of a bee, except by retarding its growth, if it be too small: a common bee is the same size, whether reared in drone or worker cells. In determining this point, many interesting facts in regard to the instinct of queens and workers were ascertained. A fertile queen refused to lay worker-eggs in drone-cells, though evidently oppressed with them: when, however, he introduced worker-cells, artificially supplied with a drone-brood, the bees emptied the cells, and the queen laid in them, five or six eggs in each. With his usual judicial fairness, Huber remarks upon this inconsistency in the instinct of queens. They refuse to lay drone-eggs in worker-cells, and yet here is a queen which deposits five or six eggs in a single cell; the drone-egg in the worker-cell would produce a small though perfect drone; the five or six worker-eggs in the same cell, if they all remained there, would produce nothing.
Huber concludes, from a number of experiments made in this direction, that, though the queen knows what kind of egg she is about to lay, and so deposits it always in the proper cell, yet she does not determine the sex of the egg, as is believed by many of the most distinguished modern apiarians. He also found that it is impossible to compel bees to rear a worker in a common cell, if it has been supplied with royal jelly. If the colony be queenless, they enlarge the cell into a royal cell; and, if they already possess a sovereign, they destroy the worm and devour the royal jelly.
When the first great drone-laying begins, the bees construct a number of royal cells, sometimes as many as twenty-seven. In these the queen deposits eggs on successive days, so that, when she leads off the new swarm, another queen may be ready to take her place; and also, that if the swarm be vigorous enough to throw off several colonies, each may be provided with a leader. During this season the ordinary instincts of the workers seem reversed; they hinder the queen, if she seems so disposed, from destroying the royal pupæ contained in the cells.
A common bee, when it reaches maturity, makes its way, without help, out of the cell, and it is for some time too weak to fly. A queen, however, is guarded by the bees; she is closely watched, and constantly fed through a small aperture in the covering of her cell, till she has attained sufficient strength to fly. The presence of a developed and imprisoned queen is generally made patent by a peculiar note which she utters, called piping. Above the busy hum of the hive this sound may be distinguished; it seems to be the expression of her impatience at her imprisonment, and is the usual precursor of swarming.
Another note, peculiar to the queen, Huber mentions. This he calls the vox regalis, and he states that its utterance invariably struck the bees motionless. It has not been observed by modern apiarians, and yet the best among them do not deny the fact, because of his usual exactness and caution.
Huber describes the process of swarming in minute detail. Toward the close of the drone-laying season, when numbers of the drones, and some of the queens, have nearly attained maturity, he observed the old queen rapidly passing over the combs. She created an agitation wherever she went, which did not subside after her departure, but communicated itself to all the bees in the vicinity. Finally, the whole swarm appeared to be in a violent state of excitement, and large numbers issued from the hive with the queen at their head. During the agitation, which precedes swarming, the thermometer rises from between 90° and 97° to 104°. "This heat is intolerable to bees," says Huber; "when exposed to it, they rush impetuously to the outlets of the hive, and depart." Swarming is occasioned by excessive heat, quite as much as by an overstocked hive. The initial cause of the queen's agitation is not known, but it always communicates itself to the whole swarm, whatever its cause may be.
Queens raised from the larvæ of workers had been called mute, because the piping had not been observed in them; but Huber discovered that it was only because they are not detained in captivity. He held one in confinement, and found her piping quite as vehement as that of her sisters, reared from the beginning in royal quarters.
The instinct of worker-bees, which is usually so unerring, sometimes fails them in the most unaccountable way. Though they detect drone-eggs in worker-cells, and worker-eggs in drone-cells, they seem to be ignorant of the mistake made when a drone-laying queen deposits her egg in a royal cell, and dose the poor fellow to death, trying to make a queen of him. In his investigation upon workers, Huber discovered that they were of two kinds, wax-workers and nurse-bees: the former are larger and stronger, and possess more perfect organs for the secretion of wax than the latter, though no other difference can be detected, and this seems merely the result of being reared in smaller cells.
Swammerdam states that a blind or mutilated queen ceases to lay, and that the workers of her hive no longer continue their labors, or make any collections, as if aware that it is useless to do so; but Huber shows that this is not wholly true. One queen deprived of her four wings, and another of one antenna, continued to lay and to receive the homage of her subjects as before: but the amputation of both antennæ produced very different results. Queens, drones, and workers, when deprived of both antennæ lose their instincts, and seem to be subject to a kind of delirium. They wander aimlessly about, are unable to direct the proboscis for the reception of food, seek the door of the hive, and soon perish. A fertile queen, besides these symptoms, which are common to all under the deprivation, drops her eggs about the comb, and manifests no recognition of, or hostility to, another mutilated queen.
The first part of Huber's work here concludes with some valuable suggestions in practical apiculture. The observations in the second part were made by the aid, first, of his wife, and afterward by his son, Pierre Huber, so well known through his investigations upon ants.
In the year 1809, a bee made its appearance before one of Huber's hives, which seemed to differ from its rightful inhabitants only by a darker and less downy coat. Violent contests took place every day between the native and the alien bees. Aristotle mentions "a black bee which is called a thief," but Huber seems never to have heard this suggestion, and supposed them to differ from his own bees in some physical particulars. He, therefore, submitted them to Mdlle. Jurine for dissection, and she discovered not only in them, but in all workers, ovaries—a fact which entirely overturned the theory of neuters which had held its ground for so many centuries. The worker is not sexless, but is an imperfectly-developed female. This discovery throws some light upon the wonderful change made by physical conditions in the development of the worker-larvæ. With ordinary cell and food, the worm develops into an insect possessed of feminine instincts, in the provision which she makes for the young, and for the future needs of the swarm; while, with the larger cell and different food, the same larva would develop into a physically perfect female, which, at the same time, is wanting in all maternal instincts—a divergence which is undoubtedly one of the most marvelous in Nature, but a divergence only, not a contradiction!
The senses of bees were the next subject of investigation, and we will give, in brief, the results which Huber readied. The lenses of the bee's eyes are not adjustable; and, though they can see accurately to great distances, they seem blind to objects close by. Bees dart down to the door of their hives with a precision which is generally unerring, but, if, from any cause, they miss the opening, they are obliged to rise in the air, in order to take another observation.
If bees hear—which is a doubtful question, the old-fashioned "tanging" to the contrary—they certainly hear only what affects their welfare. Their sense of taste is also far from perfect, foul ditch-water being often preferred by them to limpid streams, or even dew, and ill-smelling plants having quite as much attraction as sweet ones; it is the quantity, rather than the quality of their food, for which they care. They are also fond of the secretion of the aphides, the milch-cattle of the ants.
Their sense of smell is very keen; the presence of honey they detect, even in the most carefully-concealed places. Honey-bees often, in scarce seasons, attack the bumble-bees on their return from the fields laden with honey, and force them to disgorge all they have collected. Its presence in the honey-bag must have been detected by the sense of smell. The seat of this sense is in the mouth; this Huber determined by presenting successively to all parts of the body, on camel's-hair pencils, odors especially repugnant to them. When held near the mouth, the bee started back as if annoyed. On one occasion he mixed honey with camphor, which they especially dislike; by some means they managed to separate and remove all the honey, leaving the camphor untouched.
The sense which seems to be most perfect in these little creatures is that of touch, and that seems to reside wholly in the antennæ. Greetings, caresses, and the communication of intentions, are always effected, by one bee toward another, by crossing their antennæ. It must be remembered that no light enters a hive under ordinary circumstances. "The bee," says Huber, "constructs its comb in darkness; it pours its honey into the magazines, feeds its young, judges of their age and necessities, recognizes its queen, all by aid of its antennæ, which are much less adapted for becoming acquainted with objects than our hands. Therefore, shall we not grant to this sense modifications and perfections unknown to the touch of man?"
In order to determine the means of communicating ideas which exist among the bees, Huber divided a hive into two parts by a fine wire grating; the bees on both sides of the grating continued their work tranquilly, collecting honey, storing pollen, and building no royal cells. It was again divided by two parallel wire gratings, which admitted communication by means of every other sense except touch. The queenless half of the swarm fell into their usual distress and agitation, and soon set about constructing royal cells. By other experiments he determined the fact that these insects recognize their queen, and communicate the fact of her presence, by the crossing of their antennae with those of other bees. The effect produced by the amputation of the antenna; has been already described, and shows of what vital importance this organ is to them.
Huber made many experiments upon the respiration of bees, proving them to absorb oxygen, and emit carbonic acid. A number of live bees expired instantly inair; but others, when exposed to it in a torpid condition, were unaffected, showing that it was respiration, not contact, which caused their death. Two stigmata, the respiratory organs of insects, were discovered by Huber in addition to the two already known. Eggs and larvae, he showed, also absorb oxygen and evolve carbonic acid. The air of the hives was repeatedly examined by Huber, and found to be very nearly as pure as the outside air. This fact directed his observations more closely to the economy of the hive, and he discovered that the bees maintained a systematic ventilation. Files arrange themselves in lines radiating from the door, and, by keeping their wings in rhythmical motion, generate currents of air. If the hive be sealed up, the bees at first fan violently, but in forty-five minutes the whole swarm lies apparently dead from suffocation.
It is necessary to pass over the curious provisions made by them against their enemy the Sphinx atropos, and Huber's discovery of the origin of propolis, to the last point which he has made luminous by his observations, the origin of wax, and its use in bee-architecture. Réaumur discovered that pollen-dust, when submerged in water, swells and finally bursts, and from the grains exudes an oily liquor, which he took to be the substance converted, in the body of the bee, into wax. This had been so long an accepted fact, that Huber did not doubt its correctness till an observation of Burneus's induced him to make a series of experiments upon the subject. He confined one swarm of bees, giving them only honey, and another, supplying them with nothing but pollen. Seven times new comb was found in the first hive and removed, while none at all was made in the second. Wax is secreted like fat in other animals, from saccharine matter, and it accumulates, in layers of delicate white spicules, in the wax-pockets of the bees. There are six depressions, lined with a reticulated membrane, in the lower side of the worker's body, between the abdominal rings.
The reason for gathering pollen was, then, a matter of interest. It was manufactured not for food, as bees lived perfectly well without it. By close scrutiny Huber discovered that the workers swallow the pollen, and after a time regurgitate it as food for the larvae. Marked bees were seen to partake of the pollen, to ascend to the nurseries and plunge their bodies head-foremost into the cells, containing worms. After their withdrawal the cells were examined, and found to contain a supply of the jelly which constitutes the food of the larvæ.
Huber sums up the conclusions of all His experiments upon wax:
"1. That the wax comes from honey.
"2. That the honey is also a food of the first necessity for bees.
"3. That flowers do not always contain honey, as has been imagined; that this secretion is subject to the variations of the atmosphere, and that the days when it is abundant are very rare in our climate.
"4. That it is the saccharine part of the honey which enables the bees to produce wax.
"5. That raw sugar yields more wax than honey, or refined sugar.
"6. That the dust of the stamina does not contain the principles of wax.
"7. That this dust is not the food of the adult bees, and that they do not collect it for themselves.
"8. That the pollen affords the only aliment which is proper for the young, but that this substance must undergo a peculiar elaboration in the stomachs of the bees, to be converted into an aliment which is always appropriated to their sex, their age, and their wants; since the best microscopes do not show the particles of pollen or their coverings in the liquor prepared by the working-bees."
The bees, when wax is needed, gorge themselves with honey, and hang suspended in festoons or curtains for about twenty-four hours. During this repose, which Réaumur supposed was for rest and recuperation, the honey is digested and the wax makes its appearance partially under the overlapping rings of the abdomen. No other organ for the secretion of wax was found by the exquisite dissections of Mdlle. Jurine, or any of her successors, except the cellular lining of the pockets.
These scales a worker disengages by means of the pincers on its legs, and seizing the scale in its mouth. "We remarked," says Huber, "that with its claws it turned the wax in every necessary direction; that the edge of the scale was immediately broken down, and the fragments, having been accumulated in the hollow of the mandibles, issued forth like a very narrow ribbon, impregnated with a frothy liquid by the tongue. The tongue assumed the most varied shapes and performed the most complicated operations; being sometimes flattened like a trowel, and at others pointed like a pencil; and, after imbuing the whole substance of the ribbon, pushed it forward into the mandibles, where it was drawn out a second time but in an opposite direction."
These particles of wax thus rendered adhesive, ductile, and opaque, by working in the mouth, were applied to the vault of the hive. A wall of wax was begun in an inverted position, depending from the top of the hive, by this bee, which is called the founder-bee. When its store of wax is exhausted, another bee follows and proceeds in the same way, guided by the work of its predecessor. When the wall was nearly an inch in length, and about two-thirds as high as the depth of an ordinary cell, the bees began excavating a cell on one side, and two on the other; these cells were so arranged that the partition-wall between the two cells was exactly opposite the middle of the one.
Bees, Huber tells us, do no truly coöperative work; the only thing which looks like cooperation is the unanimity with which the whole swarm waits till one bee has laid the foundation. Each bee follows the suggestion of the one which has preceded it. As the work progresses, it becomes possible for a larger and larger number to join in, and it is only the foundation-cells which are excavated; the others are built in their permanent form.
The much-praised exactness of the bee is shown to have been over-estimated; but the variations which we find in the hive are much more extraordinary than the uniformity. These are always due to something wonderfully like the intelligence of man, in its power of conforming to circumstances.
Only once in his life was Huber turned aside from his peculiar work. In his investigation upon the ventilation of the hive, he had occasion to introduce some seeds, and watch their germination. At the suggestion of Senebier, whom he had associated with himself in these particular experiments, he turned his attention to the phenomenon of germination, and, in connection with him, prepared a paper entitled "Mémoire sur l'Influence de l'Air dans le Germination des Grains," Geneva, 1801, but he soon returned to the work of his life.
No more striking commentary can be made upon the extent of Huber's labors than that afforded by a consideration of the work of his successors. The German apiarian Dzierzon has cleared up the mystery of the drone-laying queens—a mystery fully recognized and clearly stated by Huber. Many facts have been added to those discovered by Huber, and some few corrections of his statements have been made; but it has fallen to the lot of few naturalists to leave behind them a work so full and accurate as his. All that has been done in this department since his time—and, altogether, it falls short of the work performed by him—is merely a building upon his foundation.
The discoveries which he made are recorded, in full, and are supported by experiments, described with such lucidity, that to read them is almost like witnessing the facts. His clear, unerring intellect, penetrating through all side-issues, seized the gist of every difficulty; and those which he did not finally solve, he stated with such accuracy as to direct the observation of his successors.