Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Busy Life of a Worker Bee

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a bee inside a hive? Well, for the female worker bees, it is pretty busy! Just like there are many different jobs that people do in our world today, there are different jobs worker bees do in their hive. From the day they are born until the moment they die, they really are “busy little bees” working to build and better their beehive. Each worker has five main jobs she completes in her lifetime of 3-5 weeks, and she instinctively knows when it’s time to switch to each job.  

A newly hatched worker bee

1. Housekeeping 
Her work begins right after she hatches out of her cell. She turns around and begins cleaning out her cell, preparing it for the queen to lay a new egg. As a housekeeping bee, she will continue to clean the hive, taking out anything that does not belong inside the beehive.  

A nurse bee feeding baby bee larvae

2. Nurse
Her job as a nurse bee begins when she develops special glands in her head that help her make food for the queen and baby bees. These glands are called hypopharyngeal glands and produce a milky-white substance called royal jelly. As a nurse bee, she helps feed and care for the young larvae or baby bees and gets to serve in the queen’s court where she cares for and feeds the queen bee.

3. Wax

Her next job as a worker bee requires her to make beeswax to build new cells and repair old cells. How does she make the wax? When she eats honey, her body produces wax from eight wax glands located on her abdomen. The wax flakes off, and she forms it into the perfect hexagon shapes you see in honeycomb. She will also store nectar and pollen that other worker bees bring into the hive by packing it into the wax cells.

Worker bees guarding the entrance of their hive 
4. Guard

As a guard bee, a worker bee will stay at the entrance of the hive, defending it from any invaders such as wasps or predators like skunks. Honey bees easily recognize bees from their own hive by scent and will chase away any bee not from their hive. Guard bees release an alarm pheromone to warn their hive when there is an intruder. Pheromones are scents (much like perfume) that the bees release from their bodies to communicate with each other. The guards also help cool the hive down when it gets hot by fanning their wings to move air throughout the hive.

5. Forager

A worker's last job as a foraging bee is when she finally gets to leave the hive and fly out to gather food and supplies. She will work from sunup to sundown visiting flowers to gather nectar and pollen. Did you know that honey bees actually collect more than just nectar and pollen? They also collect water to help cool the hive if it’s hot and tree sap to make propolis, which is sticky bee glue. 

A worker bee collects nectar and pollen from flowers
In between jobs, worker bees may also serve the hive by helping with various tasks, such as removing dead bees from the hive, making propolis and applying it in the hive, and fanning nectar to evaporate water from it. 

Worker honey bees are very committed to their different jobs, working until their wings are so torn they can no longer fly. The jobs performed by each bee may be small, but by working together and contributing their part, honey bees can have a strong and healthy hive.