Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Emergency Nuptial Flight

After last weekend’s disappointment in the snow department (Washington got tons, we got squat.) it is heartening to see how the predicted “blizzard” of tomorrow is galvanizing our town.
Our town of Hastings on Hudson has declared a snow emergency, and in Ariel Size 18 Bold Font emailed a list of all the streets you cannot park on and reminded business owners to shovel the sidewalks.
The Center for Fiction will be closed tomorrow, and encourages you to read.
Federated Conservationists of Westchester Efficient Energy lecture is rescheduled.
In anticipation of the paper deliverer being unable to deliver our paper tomorrow, the Journal News says it will give us access to their E-Edition. And this is just the beginning.

Meanwhile I fear I may have gone over the edge, Little Blue Book-wise. As some of you may be aware I have been obsessed with the Little Blue Books I discovered in the ancestral basement.

I just took the obsession a step farther. Upon learning of the existence Blue Book #728- Fascinating Facts about Life Among the Bees,* by Vance Randolph and because this precious volume was not among the ones collected by my mystery grandparent, I searched on-line and bought a copy of this blue book for $4.00 (+S&H), which means that I paid 80 x the original price. This is seems ridiculously inflated to me and I assume it does to you as well.

Not only that, but in this otherwise delightful & small book, Vance Randolph perpetrates a myth about the impregnation of the queen. Regarding the nuptial flight he writes:
“Even the pleasures of sex are almost denied the Queen [I love the insertion of almost in there], who often lives and lays eggs for three or four years, but copulates only once. When the queen is about a week old she comes out of the hive for the first time, to engage in her nuptial flight, for there is no sexual intercourse in the hive. After a little coquettish pirouetting about the entrance, she is off like a rocket, followed by every drone within sight, smell or hearing. One of these gallants overtakes her, usually at a great height, and the sexual embrace lasts but a moment. The male is unable to extract his penis from the vagina of the queen, and the entire copulatory apparatus is torn out of his body, dragging with it the other internal organs and killing him immediately. The queen returns to the hive with this whitish mass attached to her abdomen, or to use one of Maeterlinck’s luscious phrases, “She descends…trailing behind her, like an oriflamme, the unfolded entrails of her lover.” The workers pull these organs out of the queen’s body, and her brief love-life – lasting15 or 20 minutes at best – is at an end.”
I could easily be so enamored of Randolph’s prose that I might miss the one error. The queen mates with more than one drone. She mates with as many drones as possible on that nuptial flight, because it is good to vary the hive’s genetic material and because she needs enough spermatozoa to last for all those years of laying up to 2000 eggs a day.
Life Among the Bees came out in 1924, which may explain for this error.

All Aboard Science Reader – Honeybees (Grosset & Dunlap, 2003) has no such excuse. In this book for beginning readers, it states: “All the drones fly after her. Only one drone will mate with the queen.” Did the writer want to sanitize the queen bee’s polygamous nuptial flight? Will we care less about honeybees if we know the truth of the queen’s sex-life? Will we like honey more if the queen is monogamous?

* In the Free Catalogue of 1150 Little Blue Books, published by Haldeman-Julius. The minimum order was $1.00; for ¢50 you could order a leather holder.


Diggitt said...
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jrb said...

Folks interested in learning more about the Little Blue Books might want to check out:

Emanuel Haldeman-Julius : Pocket Series and the Little Blue Books