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A Correction from Thos. Wm. Cowan

Bee Culture – April, 1898

A Correction from Thos. Wm. Cowan, Editor of the British Bee Journal.

Dear Mr. Root:- On page 144 you refer to the “number of cells or worker comb to the linear inch.” Will you kindly look at my “The Honey-bee; its Natural History, Anatomy, and Physiology”? On page 180 you will see that I say, “The average size of a worker-cell between the parallel sides is 1/5 of an inch, or 0.2 (a printer’s error makes it 0.02; but it is two-tenths of an inch). Then I go on, “We say ‘average,’ because considerable variation exists in different parts of the same comb, as both Reaumur and Huber found.” I then go on to summarize the large number of measurements I took; and if you will read the details you will see what a variation there is. You say, “It has been said over and over again in bee-books and bee-journals, that there are five cells of worker comb to the inch, so that we have come to believe it;” also that Cook is the only authority you have run across who says worker-cells are a little more than 1/5 inch; but in my book you will find that, out of 36 measurements that were taken, I found the greatest aggregate diameters of any one series of ten cells to amount to 2.11 inches, which you see makes them considerably larger than 1/5 inch. On the other hand, the least came to 1.86, which makes them smaller.

You will also see that, to reduce the possibility of error, I also measured a large number of series of 60 cells, which, if the cells are exactly 1/5 inch, would occupy a space of 12 inches. However, in almost every case the 12 inches was exceeded, although not always. Please also note that, on page 181, I say that cells worked by Carniolan bees are larger. Nearly the whole of the chapter is devoted to the measurements of combs and cells; and as I know these were most carefully taken, with most accurate instruments, I am certain of my facts. You refer to Cheshire; but has it occurred to you to test his figures? He tells us the length of the worker-cell is 15/32, whereas it is only 13/64, showing his cell to be nearly double the right length. His cell, drawn on paper, would look like this:

How would a bee like it? A similar error is made with drone-cells, which he says are 9/16 but which are only 9/32 inch long. He criticises Langstroth, who shows a cell with an acute angle, and says, “100 degrees is the limit the bee can reach,” and that no angles of less than 100 degrees are found. I have been able to confirm Langstroth’s statement by showing similar combs, and demonstrating that bees frequently work at a less angle, even, than 90 degrees. I also show that, in the matter of angles, these differ considerably when carefully measured with a goniometer. I have for a long time considered that we should use the expression “average size” as being the more correct, as I have not believed in a worker-cell being exactly 1/5 inch. I see Mr. Weed uses the term “average worker-cell,” which is about correct.

Thos. WM. COWAN.
Loomis, Cal., Feb. 24.

[I am glad to get this, even though I do have to confess that I did not give your book the careful scrutiny that I should have done. I remember looking into it, and finding the sentence that "the average size of a worker-cell between the parallel sides is 1/5 of an inch." Why I stopped and did not go further to take in all you Said, I can not say. I shall have to acknowledge-indeed, I do so most cheerfully-that you have gone into this question far more thoroughly than any one else I know of.With regard to Cheshire, he who was so ready to point out the mistakes of others made a good many himself. If any writer lived in a glass house, he did. I am sorry to know that some of the glass seems to have been badly shattered. After all, he gave us much of value, even if he did make some glaring mistakes.

If I were not talking to Mr. Cowan's face, I believe I should say that, while his work is smaller, no one has pointed out an error in it, save the typographical one that he refers to above-ED.]