Bees and Ants by
Dull must be the blockhead, who could reproach La Fontaine with ignorance
of Natural History, and pronounce the fable of the “Ant and the
Grasshopper” bad, because the fabulist has not shown himself a rigid
naturalist. The great fault charged against La Fontaine, by the critics,
is having made the grasshopper sing. Its cry is considered by most people
far from melodious.
The bee possesses a thousand poetical associations derived from our early
conversancy with the Georgics. From the remotest periods of antiquity,
bees have been recognised as attached to monarchical government, though
not to the Salique law. A hive has been compared to the palace of a
Czarina of Muscovy.
The queen bee reigns over hundreds of male subjects with the despotism of
a Sultan; with the additional privilege of peopling her own dominions.
When the queen is on the point of increasing her numerous subjects, the
females invade the seraglio of their sovereign, and with their stings
exterminate all the male admirers of her majesty. The fecundity of a queen
is such, that she can produce sixty thousand of her species annually. The
males are easily recognized, being the sleekest and best formed of the
hive; and all its labours are carried on by them. To gather honey, and
bring back every day to the common exchequer the fruits of the plunder,
separate the honey from the wax, and with the latter construct their cell,
distil the honey, and die, constitute the duties of the bee.
It has been asserted that the queen bee has no sting, which is an error.
Another error prevails, that after a bee has stung, it dies, leaving its
sting in the wound. Some one probably crushed a bee, and found the sting
in his finger, from which isolated fact a general conclusion has been
Réaumur applied himself to the study of bees; not, however, so devoutly as
the philosopher, Aristomachus, who consecrated fifty-eight years to it; or
the philosopher, Hytiscus, who conceived so great a passion for bees, that
he retired into the Desart, the better to observe them. He simply cleared
the way of errors, and discountenanced old traditions; but all was
conjecture with regard to bees, till the invention of glass hives; when
the government of those interesting insects became no longer a secret.
The devotion of the working bees to their queen is now well-known. When in
danger, or the hive is attacked, they rush to her aid; and even form a
mass to conceal her, and die in her defence.
Réaumur relates the following anecdote of which he was a witness. A queen
bee, and some of her attendants were apparently drowned in a brook. He
took them out of the water, and found that neither the queen bee, nor her
attendants were quite dead. Réaumur exposed them to a gentle heat, by
which they were revived. The plebeian bees recovered first. The moment
they saw signs of animation in their queen, they approached her, and
bestowed upon her all the care in their power, licking and rubbing her;
and when the queen had acquired sufficient force to move, they hummed
aloud, as if in triumph!
It has been thought that bees were prejudicial to the fructification of
plants, by robbing them of their pollen. This is not only an error, but
naturalists worthy of faith, are of opinion that their movement in a
blossom tends to sprinkle the pollen, and promote fecundity.
Bees are of twofold service to the human race, by furnishing us with the
most refined means of lighting our houses, and of brightening our
furniture; to say nothing of their aromatic honey, surpassing the
sweetness of sugar.
Little is known of the republics or monarchies of ants; or indeed of their
precise form of government. From the most remote period, however, it has
been the custom to represent the ant as the symbol of industry.
The industrious habits of the ant cannot be questioned; but their much
vaunted foresight, as described by Boileau, and Addison’s Spectator, is
now recognized as fabulous.
According to naturalists, the ant is not without a certain analogy with
the bee; seeing that they have not one queen to each swarm, but a certain
number of queens for the reproduction of the species; there being
productive and unproductive ants. The working class is of a neutral sex.
The female ant deposits an egg, whence proceeds a worm, which becomes the
ant. As architects, also, to ants must be assigned the precedence over
bees; their cellular formations resulting from instinct, and not from
calculation. In the stupendous ant-hills so frequently seen in forests,
what a series of galleries, dormitories, corridors, and magazines is
contained; so that the numerous occupants find ample means of circulation.
But the ant cannot pretend to the gratitude of man in the same degree as
The following is a curious and well-attested fact. After the death of the
illustrious Lagrange, Parseval Deschênes, his coadjutor in his scientific
pursuits, who announced the coming of Pallas ten years previous to the
discovery of that planet—renounced his mathematical researches; and from
long habits of study acquired fresh occupation for his mind.
While spending the summer with his friend, M. d’Aubusson de la Feuillade,
in the course of one of his rambles in the woods, he found an immense
ant-hill, and immediately resolved to make ants his study. He went every
day early enough to the ant-hill to see the first ant issue forth; and
followed it from the moment of its departure to that of its return.
“About four o’clock in the afternoon,” says he, “I saw my own particular
ant arrive heavily laden at the foot of the diminutive mountain; and,
finding it impossible to carry its burthen up the hill, deposit it and
look around for a confederate. None being at hand, it set forth again; and
about fifteen steps on its progress I saw my ant meet another equally
loaded. Both halted, and seemed to hold council; after which, they
proceeded together to the foot of the ant-hill. Then began the most
interesting scene I ever witnessed. The second ant disembarrassed itself
of its burthen; and, having provided themselves with a blade of grass,
they slipped it under the overweighted load, and, by their united efforts,
conveyed it over the hillock, and entered their respective cells!
“After abandoning the study of mathematics as too abstruse,” observes
Parseval, “I found the lever of Archimedes in use in an ant-hill.”