CHAPTER V. [85]
PROPOLIS, OR "BEE-GLUE."

This substance is obtained by the bees from the resinous buds and limbs of trees; and when first gathered, it is usually of a bright golden color, and is exceedingly sticky. The different kinds of poplars furnish a rich supply. The bees bring it on their thighs just as they do bee bread; and I have caught them as they were entering with a load, and taken it from them. It adheres so firmly that it is difficult to remove it.

"Huber planted in Spring some branches of the wild poplar, before the leaves were developed, and placed them in pots near his Apiary; the bees alighting on them, separated the folds of the largest buds with their forceps, extracted the varnish in threads, and loaded with it, first one thigh and then the other; for they convey it like pollen, transferring it by the first pair of legs to the second, by which it is lodged in the hollow of the third." The smell of the propolis is often precisely similar to that of the resin from the poplar, and chemical analysis proves the identity of the two substances. It is frequently gathered from the alder, horse-chestnut, birch, and willow; and as some think, from pines and other trees of the fir kind. I have often known bees to enter the shops where varnishing was being carried on, attracted evidently by the smell: and Bevan mentions the fact of their carrying off a composition of wax and turpentine, [86] from trees to which it had been applied. Dr. Evans says that he has seen them collect the balsamic varnish which coats the young blossom buds of the hollyhock, and has known them to rest at least ten minutes on the same bud, moulding the balsam with their fore feet, and transferring it to the hinder legs, as described by Huber.

"With merry hum the Willow's copse they scale,
The Fir's dark pyramid, or Poplar pale,
Scoop from the Aider's leaf its oozy flood,
Or strip the Chestnut's resin-coated bud,
Skim the light tear that tips Narcissus' ray,
Or round the Hollyhock's hoar fragrance play.
Soon temper'd to their will through eve's low beam,
And link'd in airy bands the viscous stream,
They waft their nut-brown loads exulting home,
That form a fret-work for the future comb;
Caulk every chink where rushing winds may roar,
And seal their circling ramparts to the floor."
Evans.

A mixture of wax and propolis is used by the bees to strengthen the attachments of the combs to the top and sides of the hive, and serves most admirably for this purpose, as it is much more adhesive than wax alone. If the combs, as soon as they are built, are not filled with honey or brood, they are beautifully varnished with a most delicate coating of this material, which adds exceedingly to their strength: but as this natural varnish impairs their delicate whiteness, they ought not to be allowed to remain in the surplus honey receptacles, accessible to the bees, unless when they are actively engaged in storing them with honey.

The bees make a very liberal use of this substance to fill up all the crevices about their premises: and as the natural summer heat of the hive keeps it soft, the bee moth selects it as a proper place of deposit for her eggs. For this reason, the hive should be made of sound lumber, entirely free from cracks, and thoroughly painted on the inside [87]as well as outside. When glass is used, there is no risk that the bed moth will find a place in which she can insert her ovi-positor and lay her eggs. The corners of the hive, which the bees always fill with propolis, should have a melted mixture of three parts rosin, and one part bees-wax run into them, which remains hard during the hottest weather, and bids defiance to the moth. The inside of the hive may be coated with the same mixture, put on hot with a brush.

The bees find it difficult to gather the propolis, and equally so to remove from their thighs, and to work so sticky a material. For this reason, it is doubly important to save them all unnecessary labor in amassing it. To men, time is money; to bees, it is honey; and all the arrangements of the hive should be such as to economize it to the very utmost.

Propolis is sometimes put to a very curious use by the bees. "A snail[10] having crept into one of M. Reaumur's hives early in the morning, after crawling about for some time, adhered by means of its own slime to one of the glass panes. The bees having discovered the snail, surrounded it and formed a border of propolis round the verge of its shell, and fastened it so securely to the glass that it became immovable."

"Forever closed the impenetrable door,
It naught avails that in his torpid veins
Year after year, life's loitering spark remains."[11]
Evans.

"Maraldi, another eminent Apiarian, has related a somewhat similar instance. He states that a snail without a shell, or slug, as it is called, had entered one of his hives; and that the bees, as soon as they observed it, stung it to death: [88]after which being unable to dislodge it, they covered it all over with an impervious coat of propolis."

"For soon in fearless ire, their wonder lost,
Spring fiercely from the comb the indignant host,
Lay the pierced monster breathless on the ground,
And clap in joy their victor pinions round:
While all in vain concurrent numbers strive,
To heave the slime-girt giant from the hive—
Sure not alone by force Instinctive swayed,
But blest with reason's soul directing aid,
Alike in man or bee, they haste to pour,
Thick hard'ning as it falls, the flaky shower;
Embalmed in shroud of glue the mummy lies,
No worms invade, no foul miasmas rise."
Evans.

"In these cases who can withhold his admiration of the ingenuity and judgment of the bees? In the first case a troublesome creature gained admission to the hive, which, from its unwieldiness, they could not remove, and which, from the impenetrability of its shell, they could not destroy: here then their only resource was to deprive it of locomotion, and to obviate putrefaction; both which objects they accomplished most skilfully and securely - and as is usual with these sagacious creatures, at the least possible expense of labor and materials. They applied their cement where alone it was required, round the verge of the shell. In the latter case, to obviate the evil of decay, by the total exclusion of air, they were obliged to be more lavish in the use of their embalming material, and to case over the "slime girt giant" so as to guard themselves from his noisome smell. What means more effectual could human wisdom have devised under similar circumstances?"

"If in the insect, Season's twilight ray
Sheds on the darkling mind a doubtful day,
Plain is the steady light her Instincts yield,
To point the road o'er life's unvaried field;
If few these instincts, to the destined goal,
With surer coarse, their straiten'd currents roll."
Evans.

Bee Culture
Bee Culture
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