A colony of bees is made up of as many as fifty thousand creatures, and different bees have different roles. These are the hive’s queen, drones, and worker bees. Perhaps the busiest of these are the Worker Bees!
The worker bees are female bees within the colony, however, unlike the queen they are incapable of reproducing. Instead, their role is to do all the work and control the happenings within the hive – and this is a huge job.
Shorter in the abdomen and slimmer than the queen and the drones, the worker bees have “baskets” on their back legs into which they collect pollen.
Jobs worker bees undertake include:
- Feeding the queen and drones
- Caring for the larvae
- Cleaning the hive
- Collecting pollen and nectar
- Making the beeswax
How Long do Worker Bees Live?
Due to the volume and difficulty of the work they do, worker bees live only about six weeks during their busiest season. During the winter months, when they are less active, they may live between four to eight months.
Worker Bee – Role-in-Life Timeline
Bees start as eggs and hatch after three days to become larvae. They shed their skin five times as they grow, and they are then sealed in their cell by worker bees after which they spin a cocoon.They are now pupae and take the form of an adult bee, growing legs, eyes, and wings. After 12 days, the young adult emerges. Depending on their life stage, worker bees are assigned different roles in the colony. They start as “house bees” and graduate to become “field bees”.
Worker Bee Roles:
- Housekeeping – from age 1-3 days, bees clean out the cells from which they emerge, polishing them so they are ready to hold new eggs and to store nectar and pollen.
- Undertakers – from days 3-16, the worker bee removes the corpses of dead bees for disposal as far as possible from the hive. This is to protect the health of the hive, and diseased bees are removed also.
- Nursing – from days 4-12, worker bees tend to younger bee larvae, caring for and feeding them royal jelly. A single nurse worker bee will check on a larva more than one thousand times per day and these babies have voracious appetites. The babies are weaned with beebread, a mixture of honey and pollen.
- Attending to the queen – some workers aged 7-10 days will tend to the queen, meeting all of her needs.
- Nectar Collection – performed by bees aged 12-18 days, they collect nectar from the foraging bees as they return to the hive. This is taken by the house bees for deposit into the cells, as well as taking pollen which is used to pack the nectar. These products are the food for the colony.
- Fanning – at the same age as the Nectar Collection house bees, some will be responsible for fanning the hive with their wings to keep it cool and control its humidity.
- Beeswax Production– from days 12-35, bees produce wax. These flakes of wax are used to build new comb and cap the ripened honey in its cells as well as sealing the cells where pupae develop.
- Guarding the Hive – bees aged 18-21 days guard the hive to ensure no interlopers from another hive enter. Some interlopers seeking to steal pollen or honey are permitted entry by bribing the guard bees with nectar.
- Field Bee Graduation – from days 22-42, the bee ventures out to forage for nectar and pollen. They begin with orientation flights, darting around the hive entrance and gradually memorizing landmarks.
Other Facts about Worker Bees
- Like the queen, worker bees have stingers. Unlike the queen they can only sting a mammal once, after which they will die.
- Worker bees can sting other insects over again – this mechanism enables them to protect their hive.
- Bees forage within five kilometers of their hive.
- Bees must visit five million flowers to produce one pint of honey.
- On average, a bee will make just 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.
- When a field-worker bee locates a good source of nectar, it returns to the hive and shows the other field bees in the colony where the nectar source is. It achieves this by doing a “waggle” dance – positioning the flower relative to the sun and the hive.
- With a brain the size of a sesame seed, a bee’s capacity to learn, remember, and make complex calculations is remarkable.
These truly are fascinating little creatures. By planting the right plants and saying no to pesticides and weed killers, you can attract them to your garden and boost their numbers.