One half holiday, three school boys went to a small pond to catch some fish.
After they had fished awhile without getting so much as one nibble at the hook, they threw
off their clothing and plunged into the water for a bath.
Finally one of the lads swam out to an old stump that stood near the middle of the pond and climbed up on the top.
He had not been there very long, when his back, arms, and legs began to tingle, as if he had been stung by some small insect; and he soon found that his body was covered in places with tiny little things that looked like flat worms.
He was terror-stricken, and so were his mates, and they all ran towards home as fast as their legs would carry them.
Now the fact is, this old stump was the headquarters of Dr. Leech and his large family of young ones; and a more bloodthirsty set of creatures was never known.
Indeed, they are often called bloodsuckers, and that is a good name for them.
The leech is an ugly, thick-skinned worm, having a very flat body that tapers at each end. Its color is generally dark, thickly mottled with light-brown dots.
This creature has a sucking plate at each end of its body; and when it fastens itself upon the skin of any other animal, it is very hard to make it loosen its hold.1 A figure bounded by three lines and having three angles.
Its mouth is in the center of the forward plate, and is armed with three small teeth that are notched like the sharp edge of a saw.
So when the sucking plate has stretched the skin smooth and tight, the fine, sawlike teeth press down hard upon it, until three deep cuts are made, in the form of a triangle.1
Then the leech draws the blood into its stomach, and holds right on, till it has filled itself full. It is said that one of these creatures can eat enough at one meal to last a year.
With such a savage animal as that in the pond, it is no wonder that the lads caught no fish; for these hungry worms fairly drain both the frogs and the fishes of their very lifeblood; and when they can not find anything better, they will devour one another.
This leech worm lays about a dozen eggs in a gluey band that encircles the upper half of its body.
When all the eggs are laid, the worm withdraws itself from the band, which then closes up, forming a strong sac. This sac is the cocoon; it is oval in shape, about a quarter of an inch in length, and contains from six to sixteen eggs.
The egg cases of the leech may often be found in mud banks, and also in old logs and stumps that are in the water.
The baby bloodsuckers stay in their slimy cradles nearly a month; and then they begin to push hard, with their heads, against the walls of their cocoons, till some weak point gives way, and lets them out.
They are very thin little things at first, not a tenth of an inch in length, and no thicker than a fine thread. But they know well how to use their teeth, as the poor lad that visited the old stump that day could testify.
In winter, they are not seen; for they bury themselves under water, deep in the mud, till spring returns; then they come up more bloodthirsty than ever.
But we must give these ugly worms the credit of doing some good in the world; for they were formerly much used to draw out the impure blood of people who were sick.
A DIVIDED HOUSEHOLD
What a noisy din and bustle there is in the domain of the queen honeybee to-day! I wonder what it all means. We will wait a little while and maybe we shall be able to learn more about it.
Ah, now I understand it; the bees are getting ready to swarm. Let me explain.
When honeybees swarm, a large number of them fly away from the hive, and the queen bee goes with them.
Now this queen and her subjects have a nice, large hive under that old apple tree in the garden; and one would suppose that they might all dwell together there in peace and harmony. But not so; for this morning there came a thin, piping sound from one of the cells, and there is just where the trouble began.
The moment the queen bee heard the sound, she said, Ha, that is the voice of a young queen, I know it well, and I will not stay in this hive any longer; for one queen in a hive is enough.
As she spoke, she darted a sharp piercer out of the end of her body, two or three times.
Now, strange to say, a queen bee will sting another queen to death, through jealousy and spite; but she never puts forth her sting to harm anything else.
Do you want to know how the queen bee looks? Like all insects, her body is made up of rings; her abdomen is long and slender and her wings are short.
Besides her two, great, compound eyes, she has three single eyes, and a long, slender tongue for lapping up sweets. But she never stores up the sweets that she gathers; for she does no work. She is mistress of the hive, and she lays all the eggs.
She is a born queen; for when she was an infant she lived on better fare than the other larval babies in the swarm. Is she to be blamed, then, that she will not divide her realm with another?
Ah, she will forsake the hive before she will do that; and when she goes away, more than half of her subjects will follow her. But what if she should die?
If there were more royal babies in the cells, a young queen would take her place. But should there chance to be none, then the bees would take a common larva and feed it with royal fare, and it would grow up to be a queen; for a household of this kind can not exist without a queen to lay its eggs.
The rich, sweet food that is fed to the queen larvæ is called royal jelly.
Come, come, says a busy little wax worker, we must make all the haste that we can, for there will be plenty of new comb to build up.
She has her wax baskets already filled; they are on the under part of her abdomen.
Every time she eats a morsel of food, a portion of it is changed into oil; this oil soon hardens and
forms thin scales of wax upon the rings of her abdomen and on the under side of her body.
These rings are her wax baskets.
How strange that the oil upon the inside of her body should find its way to the outside and harden into wax!
But it is still more strange that after she has changed other portions of her food into clear, sweet honey, she should be able to draw it up from her stomach, back into her mouth again, so as to store it away in the white cups of the comb.
Now when the baskets of the little wax maker are full, what does she do?
On her hind legs there is a small, hairy brush or scraper, and with this she scrapes the wax from her baskets and passes it forward to her jaws with her fore feet.
Then she chews it and makes it very soft, and when she draws it through her mouth, it comes out like a white satin ribbon; then it is all ready to be worked into honeycomb.
If you examine a piece of the comb, you will see that it is made up of a double row of cells, placed back to back, in such a way that it forms quite a thick middle wall of wax between the two rows.
This wall is the base of the cells; and here the little bee first begins to work with the fine strip of
white, ribbon-like wax that she has chewed and softened so carefully in her small jaws.
The cells are quite deep, and are six-sided in form; they are set very closely together, and they look something like long, waxen boxes laid down upon their sides.
Do you suppose that you could ever learn to make a set of boxes like that? And yet, the little brown bee makes them very easily with her sharp jaws, without any one to teach her how.
In every hive there are more busy little wax makers than you can count. Their bodies are not so large as those of the queen; but their wings are larger and stronger than hers.
And they need just such strong wings as they have; for they must fly, far and wide, in search of sweets to make their clear honey, and to furnish wax for the comb.
These busy little creatures are well named the workers in the hive, since they both make the cells and fill them with honey for their winter store.
But the cells are not all of the same size; neither are they all used for the same purpose.
Some of them are made for holding honey; others are for the queen bee to lay her eggs in; and others, still, are for storing a kind of food called beebread.
This beebread is a sticky mass that the bees make of a fine dust, called pollen, which they gather from flowers; the bread is of a dark-brown color, and is not sweet to the taste.
The queen bee lays her eggs in three separate sets of cells, placing one egg in each cell.
She first lays some eggs in the small cells that are used for hatching out workers; then she lays some more eggs in a set of larger cells that are built for hatching out thick, stout-bodied bees called drones.
These drones have no sting, and they do not gather honey. They are the father bees in the hive; while the queen bee is the mother.
Finally she lays a few eggs in some large, flask-shaped cells that are built on the edge of the comb. When the comb becomes old, these cells are darked-colored, and they look like large peanuts hanging there.
These are queen cells, and there are not very many of them; but all of the other cells are smaller than these, and are made six-sided, as I have told you.