RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1862. Bees in Jamaica increase the size and substance of their cells. Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener (15 July): 305.

REVISION HISTORY: Scanned, text prepared and edited by John van Wyhe 2003-8. RN3

NOTE: See record in the Freeman Bibliographical Database, enter its Identifier here.

[page] 305


I AM very much obliged to your several correspondents for their information in regard to the supposed differences in the bees of Britain.1 Possibly some few of your readers may be interested in the following case:—The hive bee was introduced many years ago into Jamaica. Having seen it stated that the cells were larger, I procured (through the kindness of Mr. R. Hill, of Spanish Town), some bees and comb.2 The bees have been carefully examined by Mr. F. Smith,3 of the British Museum, and pronounced to be the common species. I also secured the hind and front legs, the antennæ and jaws of worker bees from Jamaica and my own stock, and could detect no trace of difference in size or other character. But here comes the remarkable point—the diameter of the cells is conspicuously greater in about the proportion of 60 to 51 or 52 than in our English combs. The wax seems tougher, and the walls, I think, are thicker. The cells in parts of the comb were much elongated, and the whole hive contained a great quantity of honey. It certainly appears as if the instinct of the bee had become modified in relation to its new, hot, and rich home. But it seems to me an astonishing fact that the cells should have been made larger without a corresponding increase in the size of the body of the architect.—CHARLES DARWIN, Down, Bromley, Kent.4

[The extra thickness and toughness of the wax employed by the bees in the torrid climate of Jamaica render the combs better capable of resisting the heat. The increased size of the brood-cells would better protect the larvae from the same excessive heat by interposing a wider air-filled space between them and the walls of the cells; for air is one of the worst conductors of heat. If such be the true explanations of the changes adopted by the bees, they are additional instances of instinct approaching closely to the confines of reason.—EDS.]

1 Darwin 1862. See Correspondence vol. 10, pp. 324-5. The final paragraph of Darwin's letter was not published here but it appeared at auction partially transcribed in 1915 in The Collection of the late Hon. John Boyd Thacher of Albany N.Y. Part V English Autographs (Letters A to E). To be sold Thursday and Friday Afternoons May 13 and 14, 1915. The Anderson Galleries, Inc. New York, U.S.A and again in Christie's East, New York (catalogue 26 April 1995: the Philip M. Neufeld collection, pt 2) from which it appeared in the Correspondence: "I am well aware that when any person dips into a subject with which he is not familiar he is apt to make great blunders. And this conviction leads me to ask whether the excellent observer [Mr] Woodbury5 would like to look at the pieces of combs, the queen, drone & [worker]-bees. If he would, I would most gladly & gratefully send the specimens, (carriage paid) to his residence; for I should either get a curious fact established or my error would be corrected. If he will consent to examine them, I hope he will publish a brief note of the result in your Journal" with a note by the editors: "The text of this paragraph, which was not published in the Journal of Horticulture, is reportedly 'neatly crossed through by Darwin'. However, it is probable that the text was in fact crossed out by the editors of the Journal of Horticulture to indicate that it was not to be printed."

2 Richard Hill (1795-1872), Jamaican-born naturalist. See Correspondence vol. 7, pp. 233, 322 and 401.

3 Frederick Smith (1805-1879), entomologist.

4 See Correspondence vol. 10, pp. 324-5 for a final paragraph written by Darwin which was not published.

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