You need Flash or Javascript installed to see this.

1. Preface | 2. Advertisement | 3. Introduction | 4. Tamed or Domesticated | 5. Queen Drones Workers | 6. Comb | 7. Propolis | 8. Pollen | 9. Advantages improved hive | 10. Protection Temperature | 11. Ventilation | 12. Swarming Natural | 13. Swarming Artificial | 14. Enemies and Diseases | 15. Loss of the Queen | 16. Union Transferring Starting up | 17. Robbing | 18. Feeding | 19. Pasturage | 20. Anger Sting Dress Instincts | 21. Pictures | Online Books Home | Admin

8. Pollen



This substance is gathered by the bees from the flowers, or blossoms,
and is used _for the nourishment of their young_. Repeated experiments
have proved that no brood can be raised in a hive, unless the bees are
supplied with it. It contains none of the elements of wax, but is rich
in what chemists call nitrogenous substances, which are not contained in
honey, and which furnish ample nourishment for the development of the
growing bee. Dr. Hunter dissected some immature bees, and found their
stomachs to contain farina, but not a particle of honey.

We are indebted to Huber for the discovery of the use made by the bees
of pollen. That it did not serve as food for the mature bees, was
evident from the fact that large supplies are often found in hives whose
inmates have starved to death. It was this fact which led the old
observers to conclude that it was gathered for the purpose of building
comb. After Huber had demonstrated that wax is secreted from an entirely
different substance, he was soon led to conjecture that the bee-bread
must be used for the nourishment of the embryo bees. By rigid
experiments he proved the truth of this supposition. Bees were confined
to their hive without any pollen, after being supplied with honey, eggs
and larvŠ. In a short time the young all perished. A fresh supply of
brood was given to them, with an ample allowance of pollen, and the
development of the larvŠ then proceeded in the natural way.

When a colony is actively engaged in carrying in this article, it may be
taken for granted that they have a fertile queen, and are busy in
breeding. On the contrary, if any colony is not gathering pollen when
others are, the queen is either dead, or diseased, and the hive should
at once be examined.

In the backward spring of 1852, I had an excellent opportunity of
testing the value of this substance. In one of my hives, was an
artificial swarm of the previous year. The hive was well protected,
being double, and the situation was warm. I opened it on the 5th of
February, and although the weather, until within a week of that time,
had been unusually cold, I found many of the cells filled with brood. On
the 23d, the combs were again examined, and found to contain, neither
eggs, brood, nor bee bread. The bees were then supplied with bee bread
taken from another hive: the next day, this was found to have been used
by them, and a large number of eggs had been deposited in the cells.
When this supply was exhausted, egg-laying ceased, and was again renewed
when more was furnished them.

During all the time of these experiments, the weather was unpromising,
and as the bees were unable to go out for water, they were supplied at
home with this important article.

Dzierzon is of opinion that the bees are able to furnish food for the
young, without the presence of pollen in the hive; although he admits
that they can do this only for a short time, and at a great expense of
vital energy; just as the strength of an animal nursing its young is
rapidly reduced, when for want of proper food, the very substance of
its own body as it were, is converted into milk. My experiments do not
corroborate this theory, but tend to confirm the views of Huber, and to
show the absolute necessity of pollen to the development of brood. The
same able contributor to Apiarian science, thinks that pollen is used by
the bees when they are engaged in comb-building; and that unless they
are well supplied with it, they cannot rapidly secrete wax, without very
severely taxing their strength. But as all the elements of wax are found
in honey, and none of them in pollen, this opinion does not seem to me,
to be entitled to much weight. That bees cannot live upon pollen without
any honey, is proved by the fact, that large stores of it are often
found, in hives whose occupants have died of starvation; that they can
live without it, is equally well known; but that the full grown bees
make some use of it in connection with honey, for their own nourishment,
I believe to be highly probable.

The bees prefer to gather _fresh_ bee-bread, even when there are large
accumulations of old stores in the cells. Hence, the great importance of
being able to make the _surplus_ of old colonies supply the _deficiency_
of young ones. (See No. 28, in the Chapter "On the advantages which
ought to be found in an Improved Hive.")

If both honey and pollen can be obtained from the same flower, then a
load of _each_ will be secured by the industrious insect. Of this, any
one may convince himself, who will dissect a few pollen gatherers at the
time when honey is plenty: he will generally find their honey-bags full.

The mode of gathering is very interesting. The body of the bee appears,
to the naked eye, to be covered with fine hairs; to these, when the bee
alights on a flower, the farina adheres. With her legs, she brushes it
off from her body, and packs it in two hollows or _baskets_, one on each
of her thighs: these baskets are surrounded by stouter hairs which hold
the load in its place.

When the bee returns with pollen, she often makes a singular, dancing or
vibratory motion, which attracts the attention of the other bees, who at
once nibble away from her thighs what they want for immediate use; the
rest she deposits in a cell for future need, where it is carefully
packed down, and often sealed over with wax.

It has been observed that a bee, in gathering pollen, always confines
herself to the same kind of flower on which she begins, even when that
is not so abundant as some others. Thus if you examine a ball of this
substance taken from her thigh, it is found to be of one uniform color
throughout: the load of one will be yellow, another red, and a third
brown; the color varying according to that of the plant from which it
was obtained. It is probable that the pollen of different kinds of
flowers would not pack so well together. It is certain that if they flew
from one species to another, there would be a much greater mixture of
different varieties than there now is, for they carry on their bodies
the pollen or fertilizing principle, and thus aid most powerfully in the
impregnation of plants.

This is one reason why it is so difficult to preserve pure, the
different varieties of the same vegetables whose flowers are sought by
the bee.

He must be blind indeed, who will not see, at every step in the natural
history of this insect, the plainest proofs of the wisdom of its

I cannot resist the impression that the honey bee was made for the
especial service and instruction of man. At first the importance of its
products, when honey was the only natural sweet, served most powerfully
to attract his attention to its curious habits; and now since the
cultivation of the sugar cane has diminished the relative value of its
luscious sweets, the superior knowledge which has been obtained of its
instincts, is awakening an increasing enthusiasm in its cultivation.

Virgil in the fourth book of his Georgics, which is entirely devoted to
bees, speaks of them as having received a direct emanation from the
Divine Intelligence. And many modern Apiarians are almost disposed to
rank the bee for sagacity, as next in the scale of creation to man.

The importance of pollen to the nourishment of the brood, has long been
known, and of late, successful attempts have been made to furnish a
_substitute_. The bees in Dzierzon's Apiary were observed by him, early
in the spring before the time for procuring pollen, to bring rye meal to
their hives from a neighboring mill. It is now a common practice on the
continent of Europe, where bee keeping is extensively carried on, to
supply the bees, in early spring, with this article. Shallow troughs are
set in front of the Apiaries, which are filled, about two inches deep,
with _finely ground, dry, unbolted rye meal_. Thousands of bees resort
eagerly to them when the weather is favorable, roll themselves in the
meal, and return heavily laden to their hives. In fine, mild weather,
they labor at this work with astonishing industry; and seem decidedly to
prefer the meal to the _old_ pollen stored in their combs. By this
means, the bees are induced to commence breeding _early_, and rapidly
recruit their numbers. The feeding is continued till the bees cease to
carry away the meal; that is, until the natural supplies furnish them
with a preferable article. The average consumption of each colony is
about two pounds of meal!

At the last annual Apiarian Convention in Germany, a cultivator
recommended wheat flour as an excellent substitute for pollen. He says
that in February, 1852, he used it with the best results. The bees
_forsook the honey_ which had been set out for them, and engaged
actively in carrying in large quantities of the wheat flour, which was
placed about twenty paces in front of the hives.

The construction of my hives, permits the flour to be placed, at once,
where the bees can take it, without being compelled to waste their time
in going out for it, or to suffer for the want of it, when the weather
confines them at home.

The discovery of this substitute, removes a serious obstacle to the
successful culture of bees. In many districts, there is a great
abundance of honey for a few weeks in the season; and almost any number
of colonies, which are strong when the honey harvest commences, will, in
a good season, lay up sufficient stores for themselves, and a large
surplus for their owners. In many of these districts, however, the
supply of pollen is often so insufficient, that the new colonies of the
previous year are found destitute of this article in the spring; and
unless the season is early, and the weather unusually favorable, the
production of brood is most seriously interfered with; thus the colony
becomes strong too late to avail itself to the best advantage of the
superabundant harvest of honey. (See remarks on the importance of having
strong stocks early in the Spring.)

Does the flower make the honeybee or the honeybee the flower?