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Subject Not Understood

Category: BREEDING.

I am not anxious to establish a new theory, but to get at facts. If we
pretend to understand natural history, it is important that we have it
correct; and if we do not understand it, say so, and leave it open for
further investigation. It is my opinion that we _know_ but very little
about this point. I wish to induce closer observation, and would
recommend no _positive_ decision, until all the facts that will apply
have been examined. Whether these drone-egg theories have been too
hastily adopted, the reader can decide; I shall offer a few more facts,
somewhat difficult to reconcile with them.

First, in relation to the queen being "eleven months old" before laying
drone eggs. We _all_ agree, I believe, that the old queen goes with the
first swarm, and a young one remains in the old stock. Now suppose the
first swarm leaves in June, and the old stock yet contains a numerous
family. The flowers of buckwheat in August yield a bountiful harvest of
honey. This old stock rears a large brood of drones. Is it not proved
in this case that the queen was but two months old, instead of eleven?
We further agree that young queens accompany second or after-swarms.
When these happen to be large and prosperous, they never fail to rear a
brood of drones at this season. What is the age of these? I apprehend
that this eleven months theory originated in sections where there are
no crops of buckwheat raised, or in small quantities. Clover generally
fails in August, and May, or June, of another year comes round, before
there is a sufficient yield to produce the brood. With these
observations _only_, how very rational to conclude that it must be a
law of their nature, instead of being governed by the yield of honey,
and size of the family? If the periods of drone egg laying are limited
to only two or three, it would seem that all queens ought to be ready
with this kind of egg, about the same period of the season, but how are
the facts?

I would like to inquire what becomes of the first series of drone eggs,
the last of April, or the first of May, when the stocks are poorly
supplied with honey, or when a family is small and but little honey
through the summer? No drone brood is matured in these cases. It is not
pretended that the queen has any control over the germination of these
eggs, yet somehow she has them ready whenever the situation of the hive
will warrant it. Two stocks may have an equal number of bees the first
of May; one may have forty pounds of honey, the other four pounds; the
latter cannot afford to rear a drone, while the other will have
hundreds. Let two stocks have but four pounds each at any time in
summer when honey is scarce, now feed one of them plentifully, and a
brood of drones is sure to appear, while the other will not produce
one. Whenever stocks are well stored with honey, and full of bees, the
first of May will find drone-cells containing brood. If the flowers
continue to yield a full supply, these cells may be examined every week
from that period till the first swarm leaves, and I will engage that
drone brood may be found in all stages from the egg to maturity; and
the worker brood the same. In twenty-four days after the first swarm
leaves, the last drone eggs left by the old queen will be just about
matured. When transferring bees from old to new hives, I generally do
it about twenty-one or twenty-two days after the first swarm, (this is
the time to avoid destroying the worker-brood; the particulars will be
given in another place.) I have transferred a great many, and _never
failed_ to find a few drones about ready to leave the combs. Whether
the swarm had left the last of May, or middle of July, there was no
difference, they were on hand.

A very early swarm in good seasons, will often fill the hive, and send
out an issue in from four to six weeks: the usual amount of drone-brood
may be found in these cases. The following circumstance would appear to
indicate that all the eggs are alike, and if they are laid in
drone-cells, the bees give the proper food and make drones; if in
worker-cells, workers, just as they make a queen from a worker-egg,
when put in a royal cell.

In a glass hive, one sheet of comb next the glass, and parallel with
it, was full size; about three-quarters of this sheet was worker-cells,
the remainder drone-cells. The family had been rather small, but now
had increased to a full swarm; a few drones had matured in the middle
of the hive. It was about the middle of June, 1850, when I discovered
the bees on this outside sheet, preparing it, as I thought, for brood,
by cutting off the cells to the proper length. They had been used for
storing honey, and were much too long, being about an inch and a half
deep. In a day or two after I saw a few eggs in both worker and
drone-cells; four or five days afterwards, on opening the door, I found
her "majesty" engaged in depositing eggs in the drone cells. Nearly
every one already contained an egg; most of these she examined, but did
not use them; six or eight, it appeared, were all that were unoccupied;
in each of these she immediately deposited an egg. She continued to
search for more empty cells, and in doing so, she got on the part of
the comb containing worker-cells, where she found a dozen or more
empty, in each of which, she laid one. The whole time perhaps thirty
minutes. Query? Was her series of drone eggs exhausted just at this
time? If so, it would appear that she was not aware of it, because she
examined several drone-cells after laying the last one there, before
leaving that part of the comb, and acted exactly as if she would have
used them had they not been pre-occupied. Did the worker-cells receive
some eggs that would have produced drones, but for the circumstance of
being deposited in worker-cells? I know we are told that an egg may be
transferred from a worker-cell to one for drones, or an egg taken from
a drone-cell and deposited in a worker-cell; that the exchange will
make no difference, the bee will be just what the first deposit would
have made it. How the knowledge for this assertion was obtained, we are
not informed, at least of the practical part. That an egg was ever
detached from the bottom of one cell safely and successfully deposited
in another, without breaking or injuring it in some manner, to make the
bees refuse it, permit me at present to doubt.

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