I recently discovered Moses Quinby’s book, Mysteries of Bee-Keeping Explained. The text was originally published in 1853 by C.M. Saxton, Agricultural Book Publishers, 152 Fulton Street, New York, and it is really n historical beekeeping gem.

Quinby was one of the first American beekeepers, eventually maintaining 1,200 hives in New York’s Mohawk Valley. Quinby is also the inventory of the modern, bellowed bee smoker, similar to the ones we sell at D&B. Without a doubt, modern beekeeping has changed some since Quinby wrote his book, but nonetheless, I thought you might enjoy the first chapter, which describes the three kinds of bees just as Quinby described them more than 160 years ago.

You can get a free copy of Quinby’s book from the Gutenberg Project, from Amazon, or from Google.



Every prosperous swarm, or family of bees, must contain one queen, several thousand workers, and, part of the year, a few hundred drones.



The queen is the mother of the entire family; her duty appears to be only to deposit eggs in the cells. Her abdomen has its full size very abruptly where it joins the trunk or body, and then gradually tapers to a point. She is longer than either the drones or workers, but her size, in other respects, is a medium between the two. In shape she resembles the worker more than the drone; and, like the worker, has a sting, but will not use it for anything below royalty. She is nearly destitute of down, or hairs; a very little may be seen about her head and trunk. This gives her a dark, shining appearance, on the upper side—some are nearly black. Her legs are somewhat longer than those of a worker; the two posterior ones, and the under surface, are often of a bright copper color. In some of them a yellow stripe nearly encircles the abdomen at the joints, and meets on the back. Her wings are about the same as the workers, but as her abdomen is much longer, they only reach about two-thirds the length of it. For the first few days after leaving the cell, her size is much less than after she has assumed her maternal duties. She seldom, perhaps never, leaves the hive, except when leading a swarm, and when but a few days old, to meet the drones, in the air, for the purpose of fecundation. The manner of the queen’s impregnation is yet a disputed point, and probably never witnessed by any one. The majority of close observers, I believe, are of opinion that the drones are the males, and that sexual connection takes place in the air,1 performing their amours while on the wing, like the humble-bee and some other insects. It appears that one impregnation is operative during her life, as old queens are not afterwards seen coming out for that purpose.


As all labor devolves on the workers, they are provided with a sack, or bag, for honey. Basket-like cavities are on their legs, where they pack the pollen of flowers into little pellets, convenient to bring home. They are also provided with a sting, and a virulent poison, although they will not use it abroad when unmolested, but, if attacked, will generally defend themselves sufficient to escape. They range the fields for honey and pollen, secrete wax, construct combs, prepare food, nurse the young, bring water for the use of the community, obtain propolis to seal up all crevices about the hive, stand guard, and keep out intruders, robbers, &c., &c.


When the family is large and honey abundant, a brood of drones is reared; the number, probably, depends on the yield of honey, and size of the swarm, more than anything else. As honey becomes scarce, they are destroyed. Their bodies are large and rather clumsy, covered with short hairs or bristles. Their abdomen terminates very abruptly, without the symmetry of the queen or worker. Their buzzing, when on the wing, is louder, and altogether different from the others. They seem to be of the least value of any in the hive. Perhaps not more than one in a thousand is ever called upon to perform the duty for which they were designed. Yet they assist, on some occasions, to keep up the animal heat necessary in the old hive after a swarm has left.


In spring and first of summer, when nearly all the combs are empty, and food abundant, they rear brood more extensively than at any other period, (towards fall more combs are filled with honey, giving less room for brood.) The hive soon becomes crowded with bees, and royal cells are constructed, in which the queen deposits her eggs. When some of these young queens are advanced sufficiently to be sealed over, the old one, and the greater part of her subjects, leave for a new location, (termed swarming.) They soon collect in a cluster, and, if put into an empty hive, commence anew their labors; constructing combs, rearing brood, and storing honey, to be abandoned on the succeeding year for another tenement. One in a hundred may do it the same season, if the hive is filled and crowded again in time to warrant it. Only large early swarms do this.


Industry belongs to their nature. When the flowers yield honey, and the weather is fine, they need no impulse from man to perform their part. When their tenement is supplied with all things necessary to reach another spring, or their store-house full, and no necessity or room for an addition, and we supply them with more space, they assiduously toil to fill it up. Rather than to waste time in idleness, during a bounteous yield of honey, they have been known to deposit their surplus in combs outside the hive, or under the stand. This natural industrious habit lies at the foundation of all the advantages in bee-keeping; consequently our hives must be constructed with this end in view; and at the same time not interfere with other points of their nature; but this subject will be discussed in the next chapter. Those peculiar traits in their nature, mentioned in this, will be more fully discussed in different parts of this work, as they appear to be called for, and where proof will be offered to sustain the positions here assumed, which as yet are nothing more than mere assertions.

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