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- CHAPTER X.
I ORIGINALLY intended to make my experiment principally with bees, but soon found that ants were on the whole more suitable for my purpose.
In the first place, ants are much less excitable, they are less liable to accidents, and from the absence of wings are more easy to keep under continuous observation.
Still, I have made a certain number of observations with bees, some of which may be worth here recording.
As already mentioned, the current statements with reference to the language of social insects depend much on the fact that when one of them, either by accident or in the course of its rambles, has discovered a stock of food, in a very short time many others arrive to profit by the discovery. This, however, does not necessarily imply any power of describing localities. If the bees or ants merely follow their more fortunate comrade, the matter is comparatively simple; if, on the contrary, others are sent, the case becomes very different.
In order to test this I proposed to keep honey in a given place for some time, in order to satisfy myself that it would not readily be found by the bees; and then, after bringing a bee to the honey, to watch whether it brought others, or sent them—the latter of course implying a much higher order of intelligence and power of communication.
I therefore placed some honey in a glass, close to an open window in my sitting-room, and watched it for sixty hours of sunshine, during which no bees came to it.
I then, at 10 A.M. on a beautiful morning in June, went to my hives, and took a bee which was just starting out, brought it in my hand up to my room (a distance of somewhat less than 200 yards), and gave it some honey, which it sucked with evident enjoyment. After a few minutes it flew quietly away, but did not return; nor did any other bee make its appearance.
The following morning I repeated the same experiment. At 7.15 I brought up a bee, which sipped the honey with readiness, and after doing so for about four minutes flew away with no appearance of alarm or annoyance. It did not, however, return ; nor did any other bee come to my honey.
On several other occasions I repeated the same experiments with a like result. Altogether I tried it more than twenty times. Indeed, I rarely found bees to return to honey if brought any considerable distance at once. By taking them, however, some twenty yards each time they came to the honey, I at length trained them to come to my room. On the whole, however, I found it more con
venient to procure one of Marriott's observatory hives, both on account of its construction, and also because I could have it in my room,
and thus keep the bees more immediately under my own eye. My room is square, with three windows, two on the south-west side, where the hive was placed, and one on the south-east. Besides the ordinary entrance from the outside, the hive had a small postern door opening into the room; this door was provided with an alighting-board, and closed by a plug : as a general rule the bees did not notice it much unless the passage was very full of them.
I then placed some honey on a table close to the hive, and from time to time fed certain bees on it. Those which had been fed soon got accustomed to come for the honey ; but partly on account of my frequent absence from home, and partly from their difficulty in finding their way about, and their tendency to lose themselves, I could never keep any marked bee under observation for more than a few days.
Out of a number of similar observations I will here mention a few and give them in detail in the Appendix, as throwing some light on the power of communicating facts possessed by the bees; they will also illustrate the daily occupations of a working bee.
Experiment 1.—Thus, on August 24, 1874, I opened the postern door leading into my room at 6.45 A.M., and watched till 1 P.M. three bees, which had been trained to come to honey at a particular spot. They did not, however, know their way very well, and consequently lost a good deal of time. One made 23 journeys backwards and forwards between the hive and the honey, the second 13, and the third only 7.
The following day I watched the first of these bees from 7.23 to 12.54, during which time she made 19 journeys. Scarcely any other bees came, but I did not record the exact number.
Experiment 2. I watched another bee from 6.55 A.M. till 7.15 P.M., during which time she made 59 visits to the honey, and only one other bee came to it.
Experiment 3.- Another from 7 A.M. till 3 P.M. ; she made 40 journeys, and only two other bees came. She returned the two following mornings, and was watched for three hours each day, during which time no other bee came.
Experiment 4.-Another morning I watched a different bee from 9.19 A.M. to 2 P.M.: she made 21 journeys, and no other bee came.
Then, thinking that perhaps this result might be due to the quantity of honey being too small, I used a wide-mouthed jar, containing more than one pound of honey.
Esperiment 5.— I watched two bees from 1.44 till 4.30, during which time they made 24 journeys, but only one other bee came.
Experiment 6.- Besides the honey in the jar I spread some out over two plates, so as to increase the surface. I watched a bee from 12.15 till 6.15 P.M. She
made 28 journeys, but did not bring a single friend with her.
Experiment 7.-On July 19 I put a bee to a honeycomb which contained twelve and a half pounds of honey at 12.30, and which was placed in a corner of my room as far as possible from the window. That afternoon she made 22 visits to it, and no other bee came. The following morning she returned at 6.5 A.M., and I watched her till 2. She made 22 journeys, but did not bring a single friend with her.
Experiment 8.—Another bee was also brought to the same honeycomb, watched from 2.30 till 7.14. She made 14 journeys, but did not bring a single friend. I might give other similar cases, but these are,
I think, sufficient to show that bees do not bring their friends to share any treasure they have discovered, so invariably as might be assumed from the statements of previous observers. Possibly the result is partly due to the fact that my room is on the first floor, so that the bees coming to it few at a higher level than that generally used by their companions, and hence were less likely to be followed.
Indeed, I have been a good deal surprised at the difficulty which bees experience in finding their way.
. For instance, I put a bee into a bell-glass 18 inches
I long, and with a mouth 6 inches wide, turning the closed end to the window; she buzzed about for an hour, when, as there seemed no chance of her getting out, I put her back into the hive. Two flies, on the