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Micrographia - or some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses with observations and inquiries thereupon/Chapter 34

Observ. XXXIV. Of the Sting of a Bee.

THe Sting of a Bee, delineated in the second Figure of the XVI. Scheme, seems to be a weapon of offence, and is as great an Instance, that Nature did realy intend revenge as any, and that first, because there seems to be no other use of it. Secondly, by reason of its admirable shape, seeming to be purposely shap'd for that very end. Thirdly, from the virulency of the liquor it ejects, and the sad effects and symptoms that follow it.

But whatever be the use of it, certain it is, that the structure of it is very admirable; what it appears to the naked eye, I need not describe, the thing being known almost to every one, but it appears through the Microscope, to consist of two parts, the one a sheath, without a chape or top, shap'd almost like the Holster of a Pistol, beginning at d, and ending at b, this sheath I could most plainly perceive to be hollow, and to contain in it, both a Sword or Dart, and the poisonous liquor that causes the pain. The sheath or case seem'd to have several joints or settings together, marked by f g h i k l m n o, it was arm'd moreover neer the top, with several crooks or forks (p q r s t) on one side, and (p q r s t u) on the other, each of which seem'd like so many Thorns growing on a briar, or rather like so many Cat's Claws; for the crooks themselves seem'd to be little sharp transparent points or claws, growing out of little protuberancies on the side of the sheath, which, by observing the Figure diligently, is easie enough to be perceiv'd; and from several particulars, I suppose the Animal has a power of displaying them, and shutting them in again as it pleases, as a Cat does its claws, or as an Adder or Viper can its teeth or fangs.

The other part of the Sting was the Sword, as I may so call it, which is sheath'd, as it were, in it, the top of which a b appears quite through at the smaller end, just as if the chape of the sheath of a Sword were lost, and the end of it appear'd beyond the Scabbard; the end of this Dart (a) was very sharp, and it was arm'd likewise with the like Tenterhooks or claws with those of the sheath, such as (v x y, x y z z) these crooks, I am very apt to think, can be clos'd up also, or laid flat to the sides of the Sword when it is drawn into the Scabbard, as I have several times observ'd it to be, and can be spred again or extended when ever the Animal pleases.

The consideration of which very pretty structure, has hinted to me, that certainly the use of these claws seems to be very considerable, as to the main end of this Instrument, for the drawing in, and holding the sting in the flesh; for the point being very sharp, the top of the Sting or Dagger (a b) is very easily thrust into an Animal's body, which being once entred, the Bee, by endeavouring to pull it into the sheath, draws (by reason of the crooks (v x y) and ( x y z z) which lay hold of the skin on either side) the top of the sheath (t s r v) into the skin after it, and the crooks t, s, and r, v, being entred, when the Bee endeavours to thrust out the top of the sting out of the sheath again, they lay hold of the skin on either side, and do not onely keep the sheath from sliding back, but helps the top inwards, and thus, by an alternate and successive retracting and emitting of the Sting in and out of the sheath, the little enraged creature by degrees makes his revengfull weapon pierce the toughest and thickest Hides of his enemies, in so much that some few of these stout and resolute soldiers with these little engines, do often put to flight a huge masty Bear, one of their deadly enemies, and thereby shew the world how much more considerable in Warr a few skilfull Engineers and resolute soldiers politickly order'd, that know how to manage such engines, are, then a vast unweildy rude force, that confides in, and acts onely by, its strength. But (to proceed) that he thus gets in his Sting into the skin, I conjecture, because, when I have observ'd this creature living, I have found it to move the Sting thus, to and fro, and thereby also, perhaps, does, as 'twere, pump or force out the poisonous liquor, and make it hang at the end of the sheath about b in a drop. The crooks, I suppose also to be the cause why these angry creatures, hastily removing themselves from their revenge, do often leave these weapons behind them, sheath'd, as 'twere, in the flesh, and, by that means, cause the painfull symptoms to be greater, and more lasting, which are very probably caus'd, partly by the piercing and tearing of the skin by the Sting, but chiefly by the corrosive and poisonous liquor that is by this Syringe-pipe convey'd among the sensitive parts thereof and thereby more easily gnaws and corrodes those tender fibres: As I have shewed in the description of a Nettle and of Cowhage.