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Nine Lectures on Bees
GA 351

Lecture III

28 November 1923, Dornach

Good morning, gentlemen!

Has anything occurred to you that you would like to ask me? (An article was read from the “Schweizerische Bienenzeitung” of February–March 1923 entitled “Do Bees perceive colours invisible to Man?”)


I will say a few words on this subject. You see, these experiments made by Forel and Kühn show so plainly how thoughtlessly experiments are carried out today. One can naturally not imagine anything more absurd than such an interpretation of these experiments as is given here. Think for a moment that I might do as follows: I might take a substance—there are such substances—specially sensitive to ultra-violet rays, i.e., to colours lying beyond the blue and violet; for instance I take barium platino-cyanide. I exclude all the other colours, let us say, I exclude red, orange, yellow, green, blue—then the indigo would come in and the violet—these also I exclude (Diagram missing.) (Diagram missing.) Now I make a screen; I shut these off in the spectrum; then I have here the so-called ultra-violet rays which are invisible to man. If I now add this substance, this barium platino-cyanide (which is a white powder) then it begins to shine, In a darkened room we see nothing; now we let in these rays, screening them as they come in, allowing therefore, only the ultra-violet rays to enter, which become visible when I introduce barium platino-cyanide. Then one sees it. Then it lights up. Thus, according to this article, I must state that barium platino-cyanide is able to see with some kind of eyes because it shows an activity. But very much the same thing happens if one experiments with ants. Suppose that instead of barium platino-cyanide I take ants; then I exclude the light. The ants run towards the sugar; in the same way barium platino-cyanide lights up. I then say (according to this article) that the ants see the ultra-violet rays. But they need to see them just as little as the barium platino-cyanide needs to see in order to shine. All one can really say is, that given a certain substance it produces an effect on the ants. More than that one cannot assert. The scientists concerned are as thoughtless as it is possible to be and make statements that are pure phantasy.

The only thing one can say is this,—that through the sense-organs (once more, according to this article this is proved by the fact that no effect is produced if the eyes of the ants are varnished) that through the sense-organs an impression was made on these insects. It is characteristic that the scientist applies to ants and wasps what he has observed with bees—and vice versa. This only shows how thoughtlessly these experiments were carried out.

Now, one can add the following: you see, when one proceeds further [drawing on the black-board.] to the so-called ultra-violet rays—here you have red-orange, yellow, green, blue—then indigo would come in, and the violet—the ultra-violet rays. On the other side, the infra-red rays.

We have here the ultra-violet rays (on the right hand side) and these have the peculiarity (so he himself expresses it in the article) that they produce strong chemical reactions. Whatever is introduced here (into the sphere of the ultra-violet light) is strongly affected chemically, with the result that if I now put an ant here it will at once experience a strong chemical reaction. It feels this; that is true. It feels this effect above all in the eyes. When the ant is brought into the sphere of the ultra-violet rays it feels this, just as barium platino-cyanide reacts when brought into the same sphere of chemical activity. If I completely darken a room and have only the ultra-violet rays there, then the ant would notice at once that something was happening. For instance, if one had ants' eggs or larvae they would be completely changed, they would be destroyed the moment this powerful chemical working occurred. This is why the ants rescue their eggs.

What this article is really concerned with is effects of a chemical nature.

The statement I made recently is quite correct. I said the bees have a sense which is intermediate between smell and taste; thus these things are sensed by the bees, and it is similar in the case of ants. So little are these gentlemen aware of the real question that they do not know, for example, that when man himself perceives colours, even in perceiving the ultra-violet rays, slight chemical changes take place in his eyes. Man's perception of colour tends to be of a chemical nature.

All that has been investigated here is the reaction to the inner chemical change that takes place in the bees when they are in the ultra-violet light.

Now all that is within the sphere of black, white, yellow, grey (and grey is only a somewhat darker white), or blue-grey, in all these colours there is no ultra-violet. Thus all these colours are freely perceptible to the bees. The chemical effects which the bees sense so strongly when they come to the ultra-violet are not present in these colours. But when the bee leaves the sphere of black, white, yellow and blue-grey and comes into this other sphere it feels in the ultra-violet rays something alien to it. There the bee can do nothing. It is thus so important to note that the bee has a sense between taste and smell.

We men make a great distinction between smell and taste. The latter is primarily a chemical sense; it is entirely based on chemistry. The bee has something which is intermediate between taste and smell. This does not contradict the fact that the bee is able to distinguish colour when the front of the hive is painted in one way or another; for you must consider that as all colours differ in their chemical effects, so they can also be perceived in relation to their warmth or coldness.

If, for example, you cover a surface with red paint and the bee approaches it, it experiences warmth. How should the bee not know that this is different from coming, for instance, into the sphere of blue! Near the blue surface the bee senses coldness. The bee senses the warmth of red and the cold of blue, and then it can naturally distinguish between them. But one is not therefore justified in concluding that the bee sees with its eyes in the way man does. This of course is utter nonsense. But so it is with many other things that people think.

I have previously told you what all such experiments amount to. I once told you there is a certain plant, called the “Venus fly-trap” which immediately contracts its leaves when they are touched. Just as you make a fist of your hand when you are going to be touched—that is, when somebody means to give you a blow—so the Venus fly-trap waits for the insect and then shuts itself up. Then people say: this plant, the Venus fly-trap, has a soul like men have. It is aware of the arrival of the insect and shuts itself up.

Yes, gentlemen, but I always say: I know of a certain arrangement so constituted that when an animal approaches it and touches something inside it, then it immediately shuts up and the animal is caught. This is a mouse-trap! If one ascribes a soul to the Venus fly-trap, one must equally ascribe one to the mouse-trap! If one ascribes sight to the bees because they do something or other in ultra-violet light, then one ought to ascribe sight to barium platino-cyanide as well!

If people only took the trouble to think they would discover many quite remarkable things, for barium platino-cyanide consists of barium. This is a white metal belonging to the class of alkaline metals. Now it is interesting that such metals play a certain part in the life of man. As human beings we could not have the right working in our bodies of the albumen we take in if we had not such metals in our pancreas. They must be there. In barium we have something connected with our feeling comfortable in our digestive process. Platinum is an especially valuable metal, as you know; a metal that is also especially hard and heavy—it is a precious metal. All these metals have the property that they are, once more connected with feeling, with “sensing.”

Now remind yourselves of another thing. Cyanide is also there. This is a certain kind of cyanic acid, of prussic acid. I told you before that man always develops a little prussic acid in the working of his muscles. This substance thus resembles what man is constantly producing in his body. You can gather from this that man is particularly susceptible in his body—not in his eyes—to what happens in ultra-violet light—i.e., to the chemical components of light. We can judge for ourselves if we only pay attention to these things.

But it is only Spiritual Science that can enable one to observe such matters as the fact that where barium platino-cyanide is affected a kind of feeling arises. This applies to the bees in the highest degree. The bees sense colours with especial intensity, but they only see the colours dimly shining on the appearance of a self-luminous organism.

For this reason I say, that generally speaking, twilight surrounds the bees. But when the new Queen appears, she shines for the other bees as the glow-worms shine for us when June is here. This is so, only as regards the three small frontal eyes; the other eyes, the larger ones, have already some perception of light, but as in twilight. When it is in darkness the creature senses the presence of just those colours that work chemically, such as ultra-violet, or of one that does not work chemically at all—i.e., the infra-red.

At the end of this article in the bee journal, it is stated that further information as to the infra-red rays will be given later. Certainly, when the bees come to the infra-red, they will behave quite differently, for then there are no longer any chemical effects.

As to the facts, the experiments are correct, but one must be clear that one cannot draw conclusions such as Forel and Kühn have actually done. To do so is a totally thoughtless way of following up the experiments. Then people say: “this has been proved beyond contradiction.” Naturally, but only for those who ascribe a soul to the mouse-trap! But for others who know how far one can go, how far one is able to think in such a way that things are rightly followed up, these proofs are by no means beyond contradiction.

In ordinary life we are not in the habit of following things up accurately. When people experience some small matter or another, then, as the saying is, a gnat can become an elephant. And so it is with our scientists. When they get hold of something they don't stop their thinking, but carry it on, and apply it to what is immediately before them. This results in fantastic nonsense; a gnat becomes an elephant. When modern science makes such statements this is due to its authority, for what is thus brought forward meets, as a rule, with no contradiction, because all the periodicals are in the hands of scientific authorities. But in the long run, one will not be able to make much use of this nonsense.

if you go over the whole ground of bee-keeping, I believe you will find that just the very best bee-keepers do not trouble themselves very much about the discoveries of Forel and Kühn; for bee-keepers must work practically, and then instinctively one does what is necessary. Of course, it is best if one has the right instincts. I seem to have noticed that the bee-keeper sometimes likes to settle down on a Sunday evening, when it is snowing perhaps, and to read some such article, because naturally, it interests him, but he cannot make much out of it because in an article of this kind there is nothing he can get hold of.

But surely, gentlemen, you have other interesting things to ask me about?


I should like to add something about the Queen. We have already described how she lays her eggs. Then we have the unfertilised Queens; for instance, in bad weather, and then only drones are hatched which have no value. Also, when a Queen dies and there is no young brood, then one of the worker bees is bred to be a Queen. It also lays eggs but only unfertilised eggs, from which only inferior drones come out.

  1. Then I should like to add something about swarming. At the time of the first swarm there is as yet no new Queen there. She is still asleep in her cell and cannot yet provide new brood. Only the older bees leave the hive with the Queen. I can take her out and put the whole swarm back in the hive.

  2. As to the sight of the bees, I should like to say that when we are at work in the bee-house and there is too much light there (for the bee-master himself there is always too little light), then the bees are terribly agitated.

As to stinging when the bees are swarming, it is well known with us that the first swarm is rather ticklish; this is much less the case with casts. We hold the opinion that young bees do not sting, that they do not use their stings.

  1. There are certain districts where people do not harvest the honey before August 8, which is held to be a Holy day. August 8 is a honey day.

  2. It can happen that the swarm goes out and the Queen settles somewhere, and it seems that is an end of it, but it is not so—not altogether so.


With regard to what I said, everything pointed to the fact that the old Queen leaves the hive when the new Queen shows herself and appears to the bees like a glow-worm. When the swarm goes out and the old Queen has been captured, then one can return all the bees into the hive, as you say, and they will go on working quietly. That does not mean that one cannot therefore say that the bees were first driven out by the strong effect of the light of the new Queen on their tiny eyes. This cannot be done away with. You must proceed quite logically here. I will give you an example from life. Imagine for a moment, that all of you here were employed somewhere, and you discover one day that you must all go on strike because something is wrong with the management. Let us suppose you all decide to go on strike. So you swarm out, gentlemen.

Then a certain time passes and you find yourselves unable to procure the necessities of life. You reach the hunger-stage, and are obliged to go back to your work. I cannot now say that therefore you had originally no reason to run away! You must consider that if you take the old Queen out of the swarm and bring it back into the hive, then naturally, the bees must endure the new Queen after all, for the old Queen is no longer there. They must bite into the sour apple! What I said is therefore not wrong; it is a question of seeing these things in the right light.

Then you spoke about the first swarm, when the new Queen is not yet there, when you cannot yet speak of her. Well, have you ever seen a first swarm when even the egg of the Queen is not there?


Nine days before the young Queen has crept out.


To begin with the young Queen is within her cell, as an egg. After sixteen days she is a full-grown Queen; then she creeps out. Nine days before this she is already there in the egg. The strange thing is that the egg shines brightest of all. Gradually it shines less and less, but the young Queen still shines for some time; she shines strongest of all in the larval state. Thus, it is quite comprehensible that you may have several swarms made up of the most sensitive of the bees which go out. It is to be explained by the fact that nothing happens before the young Queen is there. For what is the young Queen? She is already there when only the egg is there.

As to an unfecundated Queen, when the Queen is not fertilised then no worker-bees come out but only drones, and as Herr Müller said, very bad drones at that. This is true. The brood of an unfertilised Queen is useless because there are no worker-bees. One must see to it that the Queen can make her nuptial flight under the influence of the Sun.

You see, gentlemen, once more, what a great part is played by the chemical element. For what takes place on this flight is an effect on the sexual nature of the bee. But the sexual nature is entirely of a chemical character. When the Queen flies so high then naturally the impregnation is not brought about by the light, but by the chemical working of the light. Just in this instance you can see how delicately sensitive the bee is to the chemical element.

You said further that while at work in the bee-house, as a man one naturally needs light, and this makes the bees restless.

Try to form a vivid picture of the bee receiving chemical reactions from the light which it feels terribly strongly. When you, as a human being, approach and let the light in, suddenly making it light everywhere, this affects the bee as a strong gust of air affects you; it is just as if you opened the window and a strong draught were to blow in. The bee senses the light, it does not feel that it becomes light all round it, but it senses the light as a concussion, it is quite shattered by it. One could almost say, (though I have not actually seen the bee-keeper letting in too much light) the bees become terribly nervous, inwardly restless. They are thrown into these chemical workings of the light and begin to fly hither and thither almost like little swallows. They dance up and down as a sign of how restless they feel within. The bees would not behave in such a highly nervous way if they could see the light; they would then try to hide away, to creep into a corner where the light could not thus affect them.

Naturally, in all these matters, we must realise how perfectly clear we need to be as to effects that everywhere exist, and must not be compared with the effects things have upon men. Otherwise we anthropomorphise everything, and cannot but conclude that because man sees in a certain way, the animals also must do the same. One cannot make such statements straightaway.

Maybe you have observed the following. If one notices such things, one can often become aware of them. Imagine you are in a kitchen where the stove is nice and warm. The cat likes to sit on the warm stove; it curls itself up and falls asleep, has its eyes shut. Well, if there is a mouse somewhere under the cupboard, which the cat cannot possibly see with its eyes, it may happen that the cat suddenly springs down without opening its eyes, pounces with absolute certainty on the mouse, and before you have time to think the thing out to the end, the cat returns with the mouse already in its mouth.

Now naturally, you gentlemen, will not say the cat saw the mouse, for it had its eyes shut, it was asleep. Some people say the cat has a very fine sense of hearing, and by means of this very sensitive hearing the cat is aware of the mouse. Well, apart from this, that one must now state that the cat hears best when it is asleep, which is a rather doubtful statement, because sight and hearing are those senses which play so great a part in waking life, whereas the sense of smell for example, plays an extremely important part in sleep. It works chemically. Within the nose, and the whole brain something chemical is happening. Moreover, when you hear something, can you pounce upon it with absolute certainty? This is not at all the case; hearing is not at all such that it leads one to orientate oneself quickly. Hence, it is not the hearing of the cat that is in question here. But what is very strongly present in the cat is a terribly fine sense of smell, which it has within its bristly beard. This terribly fine sense of smell is there because in each bristle there is a little channel, and within each bristle (see diagram 9) is a substance, and this substance is chemically affected by the presence of the mouse. When there is no mouse near, this substance has a certain chemical quality, but if there is a mouse anywhere in the neighbourhood of the cat, even some distance away, then the cat is aware of the mouse through the chemical reaction in its whiskers.

I told you once that there are people who, though living on the third floor, are aware of some substance in the cellar, and can sometimes be made ill by it—for example, by buckwheat.

People could easily convince themselves with what certainly the sense of smell works, for otherwise there could he no police dogs. These dogs work very little by sight, but much with their sense of smell. In the animal kingdom precision and sureness cannot be ascribed to the eyes, but to chemical activity; under the influence of ultra-violet rays this activity is strongest of all.

If you wished to be especially gracious to a police dog you would do well if, for instance, you went with him and constantly held a dark lantern in front of him so that you kept him always in the ultra-violet rays. The police dog would then be even more certain in finding things, for in its “smelling hairs” (for the dog also has smelling hairs) the chemical reactions would be still more certain.

All that can be known about the animal points to the fact that the moment we enter the animal kingdom, one must not look for such conscious senses as those of man, but must descend into the senses of smell and taste—into the “chemical senses.”

You indicated, Herr Müller, that young bees do not sting. This is easily accounted for, for young bees have not yet the organ of the sting as they have not fully developed their whole inner organisation. This comes only as they grow older. There is nothing especially remarkable in this, and it does not contradict what I have said.

(Herr Müller asked about artificial feeding. He takes for this four parts of water, five of sugar, and then adds thyme, camomile-tea and a pinch of salt. What is the effect of this?)


We are especially able to give you information in this matter, because our own remedies are partly based on the same principles as those that have been used instinctively here. Not all our remedies, but a certain number of them, are founded on similar principles.

You see, when you feed the bees on sugar, this is certainly nonsense, for the natural food of the bees is not sugar but nectar or honey, and pollen.


For example, one has to empty even the half-filled combs of honey that come from the woods, because otherwise the bees get dysentery; also when the bees have at times only 4–6 lbs., left over, this is not sufficient.


Bees are not accustomed to feed on sugar but on nectar and honey. This is in accordance with their whole nature. The remarkable thing here is that in winter the bee changes whatever food it happens to get into a kind of honey. All food is changed by the creature that partakes of it. Thus, in winter the bee is able, in its delicate digestive processes, to transform the food it takes into a kind of honey.

You can well imagine that this is a proceeding demanding much stronger forces than when you feed the bees on honey. They do not then need to expend the same amount of strength as when they must change sugar into honey. What kind of bees then will those be which within themselves can transform sugar into honey? They will only be the strongest bees, of which one can make good use. One cannot get weak bees to change sugar into honey; hence, they are more or less useless.

Now I said just now that we can well understand why you take for example, camomile tea, because you thereby spare the bee something which it has otherwise to do in its own body. If you dilute the sugar with camomile tea, then you take that part of the plant which prepares the nectar. For the substance of the camomile tea has not only camomile in it, for every plant also contains potential honey (the camomile contains this process in a greater degree, and can for this reason not be used as a honey plant). Suppose you have a plant, with a great deal of so-called starch in it. The starch has a constant tendency to change into sugar. The camomile sap already works on the starch of the plant in such a way that it directs the sugar-sap of the plant towards the formation of nectar.

If you give the bees camomile tea you support them in their inner honey-process. You make the sugar already like honey, when, you dilute it with camomile tea. We do the same with our remedies. When one takes some kind of metal, one cannot give it to a human being just as it is, because it would disappear in the course of digestion. You must dilute it with something so that it can be more readily absorbed, and so it is with the camomile tea which you add to the sugar. Salt must be added for the reason that salt especially makes otherwise indigestible things, digestible.

Man instinctively puts salt into his soup, because salt has the property of spreading rapidly through the body, and makes food digestible.