No better show than a beehive

This column was first published Sept. 16, 1997.

Once, when our children were getting ready for Sunday school, I called, "Hey, kids, come see what's going on in the glass beehive." Nancy and Walt stood on stools to see two "feelers" coming out of a tiny hole in the center of one cell. The rest of the bees went on with their work, unconcerned. We craned our necks to see a bee trying to get out of a six-sided wax cell.

The queen had backed into the cell and deposited an egg there, the egg had hatched and a larva emerged.

Worker bees fed it just the right amount of royal jelly to arrest its development before maturity. Then they changed its diet to a mixture of "bee bread" and honey.

The larva spun a cocoon around itself and, with its head turned toward the cell cap, rested till hatching time. This was happening hundreds of times in our kitchen.

Having a glass-sided hive in the kitchen cabinet was another one of my wild ideas. This hive has only one frame; production hives have 10 each.

I bored a hole in the window frame and made a viewing runway by using a large glass tube to join the hive to the hole leading outdoors. Annealed copper secured by duct tape gave the bees access to the outdoors and prevented them from getting loose in the house. A wooden block tacked to the outside of the window frame provided a landing board for their comings and goings. There was no danger that these bees would sting us.

We kept the hive closed for the first day and opened the exit hole the second morning. Soon a few bees were walking in a spiral around in the tube, seeking a way out. Some took their places as guards, flying around to protect the colony's entrance.

The sink was full of dishes to be washed, but I watched until I saw bees going straight out of the tube and bees retuning, laden with pollen in their leg baskets. My crazy idea was working.

The "feelers" that were in sight that morning would extend out and then disappear again and again. Progress was slow, but the bee inside was chewing to make the hole larger.

"Let's close their exit and set this where we can see it without standing on a stool," Walt said. Good idea.

We put it on the dining table, and about an hour later the little head was coming through the hole but the shoulders were much too big.

We wiped out plans for Sunday school. Chub joined the vigil, and the bee kept chewing. Finally the bee forced its way through the hole, stretched and walked on other workers making a "bee line" to a particular cell. There it began housekeeping chores as hundreds of its fellow bees had done on their first days after hatching. We soon lost it in the mob.

Our show was over.

The bee will go about its later duties the same way. It will receive supplies in its mouth parts from the field bees, store them, fan the excess water from nectar, and feed the queen and groom her. It will take its turn at guarding; gathering; and carrying in nectar, pollen and water. And the bee and a helper will carry out old workers with worn-out wings. The old bees will be too far away to make it back to the hive. We saw a lot in that glass hive.

Murray Hoyt, the author of "The World of Bees," wrote: "There is no head to the organization for order-giving. There are no subordinates or foremen. Bees out-Communist the Communists.' "

Enjoy more honey!

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