François Huber

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François Huber
François Huber
BornJuly 2, 1750
DiedDecember 22, 1831
NationalityGenevan, then Swiss (1815)
Known forPioneer in the scientific knowledge of the life of honey bee and its biology
Notable work
Nouvelles Observations sur les Abeilles
Spouse(s)Marie Aimée Lullin

François Huber (July 2, 1750 – December 22, 1831), also known as Francis[1][2] or Franz Huber[3] was a Swiss naturalist.


Early life[edit]

François Huber was born in Geneva on July 2, 1750 in a well respected family[4] with significant contributions to the scientific and theology world. His great-aunt, Marie Huber, was known as a voluminous writer on religious and theological subjects, and as the translator and epitomizer of The Spectator (Amsterdam, 3 vols., 1753). His father Jean Huber (1721–1786) was a prominent member of the coterie at Ferney. He was well known for writing Observations sur le vol des Oiseaux de Proie (Geneva, 1784)[5] and was a close friend to Voltaire.[4]

From his early childhood, he was instructed in the field of literature as well as natural history, a passion he shared with his father. His health and sight started failing at the age of fifteen. His father requested the assistance of Théodore Tronchin to treat him. He sent the young Huber to the village of Stains near Paris to recover. There, he lived that simple existence of a peasant away from the pressure of the high society. The treatment was very successful for his health and he had fond recollection of the simple life there and of the hospitality through out his life.[4]

However, his eyesight was considered by incurable by the oculist Venzel and he was facing a total blindness. He had however already met Marie Aimée Lullin, the daughter of the syndics of the Swiss Republic. They had both been companions during dances and had grown up together. Her father originally refused to consent to their union because of his blindness. However, Marie refused to abandon his and decided to wait the lawful age of twenty-five when she would be able to make that decision on her own. He could still see light and interacted with others as if he could see. He lost his sight completely but throughout his life he would say: I have seen, I have seen with my own eyes when recalling this youth and when others described things to him.[4]


Marie resisted the pressures from her father to not marry this disabled man. She waited to attain her majority. she walked down to the alter with her maternal uncle, M. Rilliet Fatio and married François Huber. At her side was a close friend and confidant, Louise Eléonore Brière de Candolle, Augustin Pyramus de Candolle's mother. His woman latter shared this story with the young scientist would later in life honor him and recount his life after his passing.[4]

Marie became his reader, his secretary and his observer and was very attentive to prevent any embarrassments in public that could have occurred from his disability. This strong loving relationship was noticed by many including Voltaire who mentioned it in his correspondence and was it was inspiration for Germaine de Staël when she described the Belmont family in Delphine.[4]

Early research[edit]

He became interested in honey bee after being read the works of René de Réaumur and Charles Bonnet. He also had conversation with the latter who was also based in Geneva. His curiosity was focused on the history of these insects. His initial desire was to verify some facts and then fill in missing information. Since he was now blind, he had to rely on the help of others. his included his wife but also his servant François Burnens who was fully devoted to his master. Huber taught his how to observe and directed him through questioning. He leveraged his memories of his youth and the testimonials of his wife and friends.[4]

Through his "observation", he discovered that the queen beedid not mate in the hive but in the air and detailed how the timing of this event was essential. He also confirmed the discovery by A.M. Schirach that bees are able to convert eggs into queens by the use of food (royal jelly) and that worker bees can also lay eggs. He described the battles between queens, the killing of drones and what happens when a queen is replaced by a new introduced queen. He also proved that bees used their antennae to communicate. He looked at the dimensions of the cells and how they influence the shape of the insects, the way the larvae spins silk to make its cocoons. He showed that queens are Oviparitous. He looked at the ways swarms formed and was the first to provide an accurate biological history of bee colonies.[4]

These observations were done using new hives he developed using glass sides, the ancestors of our modern observation hives. These allowed the team to observe the bees and follow them around. These discoveries would not have been possible without the skills and bravery of François Burnens who was fully committed to discovering the truth. It is said that he would face the attacks of an entire hive just to learn a fact.[4]


The results of these observation was the publication of Nouvelles Observations sur les Abeilles in Geneva in 1792 (Eng. trans., 1806). It was well received by the scientific community not just because of the discoveries but also because of the fact he had overcome such a disability. He was also welcomed by most of the academies of Europe especially the French Academy of Sciences.[4]

The poet Jacques Delille in his Chant VII, Règne Animal celebrated his blindness and discovery:

Enfin, de leur hymen savant dépositaire,
L'aveugle Huber l'a vu par les regards d'autrui
Et sur ce grand problème un nouveau jour a lui.

A second volume of work was subsequently published in 1814 and covered many more subjects including the construction of comb and experiments on the respiratory systems of bees.[5]

He passed away on December 22, 1831 in Lausanne.[5]


  • Nouvelles Observations sur les Abeilles, adressé à Charles Bonnet (Geneva, 1792; Paris, 1796; new edition Paris, 1804; English translation Edinborgh, 1806 and 1821)[7]
  • Mémoires sur l'Influence de l'Air et de Diverses Substances Gazeuses dans la Germination de Différentes Graines (Geneva, 1801) co-published with Jean Senebier.[8]
  • Premier Mémoire sur l'origine de la Cire (1804) [9][10]
  • Mémoire sur la construction des cellules (1804) in the Journal Nicholson and republished in 1814.[11]
  • Lettre de Mr. Huber au Prof. Pictet sur certains dangers que courent les Abeilles dans leurs ruches, et sur les moyens de les en préserver (Geneva, October 29 1804) This is a letter that was published.[12]
  • Nouvelles Communications relatives au sphinx atropos et à l'industrie des abeilles à s'en défendre (November 27, 1804) This is a letter that was published as a follow up to the previous letter.[11][13]
  • Lettres inédites de François Huber pour faire suite aux Nouvelles Observations (sur les Abeilles) published posthumously in 1897 in Nyon (Switzerland) by la Revue Internationale d'Apiculture[14]


  • Augustine de Candolle gave his name to a genus of Brazilian trees:huberia laurina.[4] It is a 3 metres (9.8 ft) shrub with light green fruits that grows on rocky summits with soil-filled crevices and small areas of white sand at an elevation of 1,100 metres (3,600 ft).[15]


  1. ^ Lieber, Francis, ed. (1854). Encyclopædia Americana. 6. B.B. Mussey & Co. p. 458.
  2. ^ Herrick, S. B. (1875). "Sketch of the Life of Francis Huber" . Popular Science Monthly – via Wikisource.
  3. ^ Gordh, Gordon (2011). A Dictionary of Entomology. CABI. p. 708. ISBN 978-1-84593-542-9.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal - April 1833 - Volume 14 - Page 296
  5. ^ a b c The Encyclopaedia Britannica - Volume 13 - page 845 - 1910
  6. ^ Œuvres complètes de J. Delille - Les Trois Regnes - page 246
  7. ^ The Encyclopædia Britannica - Volume XII - page 328 - 1903
  8. ^ Scanned version of the book:
  9. ^ Journal de Physique, de Chimie et d'Histoire Naturelle T. 58. -
  10. ^ Bibliotheque Britannique - Volume 25 - page 58 -
  11. ^ a b Dictionnaire biographique des Genevois et des Vaudois - Lausanne 1877- Volume I - page 424
  12. ^ Bibliothèque Britannique Volume 27 - page 275
  13. ^ Bibliothèque Britannique - Volume 27 - page 358 -
  14. ^
  15. ^ Huberia laurina DC. - Arizona State University Vascular Plant Herbarium -

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