RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1860. Intercourse between common and Ligurian bees. Cottage Gardener and Country Gentleman 24 (29 May): 143.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed and edited by John van Wyhe 10.2005, textual corrections by Sue Asscher 1.2007. RN4

[page] 143


"A DEVONSHIRE BEE-KEEPER"1 states (page 94)2 that he caught a common drone entering one of his hives of the pure Ligurian stock. Will he have the kindness to state at what distance in a straight line there are hives of the common bee? I believe it is not known how far the drones commonly wander from their own hive. Andrew Knight believed, as stated in the "Philosophical Transactions,"3 that the queen was seldom fertilised by her own blood-relations, the drones of her own hive. Does "A DEVONSHIRE BEE-KEEPER," who seems to be so conversant with the habits of bees, believe in this doctrine of Andrew Knight?—C. D.

[I have this day (May 24th) seen pure Ligurian drones for the first time in one of my stocks, but believe none have yet taken flight. The distinction between the two species does not appear nearly so strongly marked as in the workers; but this may be owing in some degree to their not being properly matured. The apparent difference being so slight, has, however, modified the opinion expressed by me at page 94, and I am now inclined to believe the "unwelcome stranger" to have been a small hybrid drone which had come to maturity in my pure Ligurian stock, instead of being, as I at first supposed, a straggler from some other colony. The presence of a small hybrid drone is easily accounted for by the fact that I had previously strengthened the Ligurians by adding to them a couple of hybrid brood-combs, and it is more than probable that in so doing I had overlooked one or two small-sized hybrid drone grubs.

My idea is that females among bees are very generally fertilised by the offspring of the same mother, because they appear the most likely to meet during the nuptial excursion. The degree of success which attends my efforts to breed pure Ligurians may, however, throw some light on this subject.

Some years ago I witnessed a circumstance which leads to the inference that drones do, in point of fact, extend their flight to a greater distance than is generally imagined. A strong stock in full work was, at the latter end of May, removed during the night to a new situation quite a mile distant from its old locality. During the next and following day some hundreds of workers returned to the accustomed spot to meet a melancholy end in the unavailing attempt to find their habitation. The weather happening to be cloudy, not a single drone appeared until the third or fourth day, by which time not a worker was to be seen; but a bright sun then happening to shine out heralded the approach of some scores of drones, which, like their predecessors of the (not in this case) "gentler sex" also perished miserably.

When the season is a little more advanced, specimens of Ligurian drones and workers will be very much at the service of "C. D." if he will favour me with his address.—A DEVONSHIRE BEE-KEEPER.]

1 'Devonshire bee-keeper' was the pen name of Thomas White Woodbury (1818-1871). See Correspondence vol. 8, p. 199.

2 Woodbury 1860, p. 94.

3 Thomas Andrew Knight (1759-1838), botanist and horticulturist, experimented in cross-breeding and hybridisation. Knight 1828, p. 307

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