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Bevan's "The Honey Bee" (S187: 1871)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A book review printed on page 385 of the 16 March 1871 issue of Nature. To link directly to this page connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S187.htm

The Honey Bee; its Natural History, Physiology, and Management. By Edward Bevan, M.D. Revised, Enlarged, and Illustrated by William Augustus Munn, F.R.H.S., &c. (Van Voorst, 1870.)

     In this new edition of Dr. Bevan's well known work, Major Munn has given a full account of all the improved hives and methods of management, and of the most recent discoveries in the economy and physiology of bees. The old and the new matter are, however, so interwoven, that it is impossible for the reader to separate them; and as the original author and his editor both speak in the first person, we find ourselves continually at a loss to know whether we are reading "Bevan" or "Munn," except in those cases where some reference to dates enables us to decide.

     An interesting experiment is detailed, proving that the business of a hive may go on a long time with perfect regularity without the presence of a queen. On the 13th June a swarm was put into a mirror hive. On July 1st, whilst the queen was laying drone eggs, she was taken away, yet the bees showed no agitation, but continued their work as usual. They formed several royal cells, and examined them continually to see if eggs had been deposited in them. All through the summer work went on as usual, honey being plentifully stored; but no attempt was made to raise a queen by artificial food, nor were the drones massacred. By the middle of November all the drones had died, and the working bees then began to diminish, and by December 31st they had also died. As all the workers had been born before July 25th, this gives about six months, or not much less, for the duration of their lives.

     The fortifications and barricades of the bees against the incursions of the Death's Head Moth are said to be due to reason rather than to instinct, because it has been observed that they do not commence these fortifications on a first attack of the Sphinx, nor until they have been robbed of nearly their whole stock of honey. "This is a case in which the insect is taught by experience, and which admits, in all its particulars, of a direct comparison with human reason and contrivance. A colony that had been thus attacked one year, and was tardy in its defensive operations, having derived instruction from the past, constructed fresh ramparts speedily on the reappearance of the Sphinx three years afterwards, and thus guarded itself from an impending danger. Since the lives of the working bees do not extend beyond six or seven months, it is evident that the information of the colony above referred to must have been traditional, or else derived from a queen which had reigned over them three years previously." This "tradition" through some six or seven generations seems highly improbable, and that the knowledge of how to act was derived from a queen not less so. Do not the facts rather indicate that bees differ considerably in intellectual capacity, and that some hives contain directing bees more capable of acting promptly on the defensive than others?

     Much information is given on the different kinds of foreign bees, and their peculiar modes of building. The importance of bees in fertilising flowers, and the use of nectar and of the colours of flowers as attractions, are fully recognised; but the recent discoveries of Darwin on this subject are not alluded to. So, in the discussion on the hexagonal form of the cell, the "circular" theory is opposed, and Mr. F. Smith is quoted against it; but the beautiful experiments of Mr. Darwin, as described in the "Origin of Species," with the satisfactory theory founded upon them, appear to be unknown to the author. "Darwin," it is true, is very frequently quoted, but it is always Doctor, not Charles, Darwin.

     The book is illustrated by woodcuts of the various kinds of hives, and of the apparatus used by Apiarians. There are also some very scratchy but characteristic etchings of the different kinds of bees and of their anatomy, and several coarse coloured lithographs of varieties of comb, royal cells, &c., all executed by Major Munn himself. Though with some deficiencies of style and arrangement, the work abounds with information useful to the bee-keeper, and interesting to the naturalist.

Alfred R. Wallace

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