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Are We Ready for a New Bee?

ABJ, April, 1936 – Page 180

By P. C. Chadwick,
California.

The article by Dr. Lloyd R. Watson in your February issue seems to me to have left an opening for some discussion as to the advisability of enlarging the type of our present honeybee by select breeding.

His reference to the breeding of the primitive horse from inferior types to our present forms is a matter of selection consistent with nature and is sound from that standpoint. However that there are limitations to the distance nature will permit some forms of life already apparently complete for the purpose created, must be recognized. To my mind the honeybee is in that class.

Dr. Watson speaks of “the little wild honeybee,” the inference being that there is a larger tame honeybee. Personally I do not regard the present honeybee as we find it today, as a wild bee.

Take a colony from the most remote part of an infrequented woods, bring it to your apiary, house it as other colonies are housed or let it remain in a section of its original tree home and you will find it to be no more wild than the colonies long in your possession.

We beekeepers are in the habit of going off on an impossible tangent once in a while so far as nature is concerned. For years our bee journals have been printing reams of articles on the question of a non-swarming strain of bees. It has always seemed to me there was a lot of time wasted advocating such an improbable accomplishment, because nature would hardly yield to an arrangement that in itself might destroy the species. If accomplished it would be tantamount to breeding the mating instinct out of domestic animals. If it were possible to keep a single colony from swarming for a period of 99 years, they would more than likely swarm on the hundredth year if conditions were met that made it desirable from nature’s standpoint.

Dr. Watson says, “but the genetical potentialities of Apis melifica now, after 3,000 years of continuous history, are as a closed book.” With this I heartily agree, but maintain the thought that another 3,000 years may pass and find little difference in Apis melifica at the end of that period, because the honeybee would seem to be in perfect balance with the requirements of its natural mission, as it is.

Even if man should seek to change it, nature would likely intervene in such a way as to preserve the necessary balance. For there is some reason to believe that in the plan of nature the honeybee was not only created to conform to the necessity of its mission as a pollenizing agent, but that the plants and their bloom may have been fashioned to conform to the convenience of the bee. At any rate there is a barrier that seems to have been deliberately placed by nature to prevent any wide deviation of the bee in size and action from what nature designed that it should be, this being accomplished by limiting the size of the bee to that of the cell in which it is developed, beyond which it cannot go. A wise move on the part of nature, designed to prevent this all important pollenizing agent from developing beyond a size necessary for the adequate service for which it is intended.

Dr. Watson further says: “She is perfect, indeed, from the viewpoint of nature.” If such is the case (and I believe Dr. Watson has exactly expressed the matter), I doubt if by any process man will be able to tear down such a perfect accomplishment. If it were possible to increase the size of the honeybee to that of the bumblebee, would it be a benefit or a detriment to nature?