Thursday, July 1, 2021

If I were a Worker Bee...

The jobs of the worker honey bee correspond with their age. The older the worker bee, the more responsibility she gains. She cares about the colony as a whole and does everything that she can to help her family. This article is written by a newly emerged worker bee. Read on as she shares about the jobs that she does throughout her life!

Mortuary Bees (days 3-16)

From the first day I am born, I clean the hive from top to bottom. By taking the scraps of wax, grass, and dead bees out of the hive, I help protect the colony from dirt and disease. Because everyone pitches in, our home is spotlessly clean! It has to be clean because there are 2,000 new bees being born every day! 

Nurse / Queen Attendant (days 4-12)

Speaking of the young bees, also known as brood, someone needs to feed those mouths; that’s my next job! During this time, I make a special high-protein, a white milky substance called royal jelly. All honey bee eggs, queens, drones, and workers get fed royal jelly for the first three days. After that, there is a diet change. The drones and workers are fed bee bread for the rest of their life. Starting from the outside of the comb and moving in, I take some honey, mix it with pollen to make bee bread. The queen bee however is fed royal jelly throughout her entire life! 

While I am a nurse, I assist the egg-laying queen by cleaning, grooming, and feeding her constantly. The other assistants and I help pass the word to the rest of the colony that the queen is in good health. If the queen were to get sick, we could make a new queen by feeding royal jelly to the female bee eggs.

Pollen Packing / Honey Sealing / Honeycomb Building / Water Collecting (days 12-35)

When the forager bees bring in pollen, I store the pollen baskets in the wax cells and keep everything organized. We bees eat pollen for our protein just like humans eat meat, eggs, and almonds.

When the foragers bring in nectar from flowers, I have to process it before storing it. I take a small drop of nectar and roll it back and forth on my proboscis (bee tongue) to remove the water and concentrate the sugar that is inside the nectar. Once the nectar has begun to thicken, I place it into the comb cell and fan it with my wings. With the help of my sisters, we create a strong airflow that blows across the comb and dehydrates the nectar even more! As the cells fill up and the nectar gets super thick, we will seal the cell with a layer of beeswax to preserve it for later. We eat honey for our carbohydrates like humans eat fruits and vegetables.

Many times, people wonder how honey bees make the magnificent wax combs that we use for storage. Let me tell you! First, we eat a lot of honey. In order to make 1 pound of beeswax, we have to eat 8 pounds of honey!  And then we link arms and legs forming what looks like a bee ladder from the top of the frame to the bottom. Since we have six legs, we use our middle legs to take the wax flaxes that are secreted from our abdomens and work it like you would with play dough or clay. As I work the wax flake, it warms up and is easier to build with since it can move. We have found that by making the wax combs in the shape of hexagons we are able to store more honey and use less wax. Once I put the wax flake in place, it begins to cool and harden so that we can walk on it later. 

Guard Bees (days 18-21)

Now that I am almost three weeks old, I stand guard at the entrance of the hive. Traditionally, castle guards have swords and shields. However, I do not have those weapons. I have a stinger that delivers a dose of venom to intruders like mice, bears, and skunks! When a worker bee stings, they have a white venom sack that stays attached to the stinger after the bee flies away. Sadly, worker bees die shortly after they sting, but they are willing to die to protect their hive. Honey bees only sting when they feel threatened or that their colony is under attack.

If you are ever playing in a field of flowers and I accidentally sting you, take your fingernail and scratch it out quickly! Tell an adult as soon as you can so that they can help you as well.

For insect intruders like wasps, I call my sisters by releasing a certain smell (alarm pheromone) and we cluster around the insect. Our stingers cannot penetrate the intruder’s hard exoskeleton, so we warm up our thorax by wiggling our wing muscles. This clustering and heating action cooks the insect to death!

Forager Bees (days 22-42)

As a forager, we bees are looking for food that we can take back to the colony for food. 

Forager bees are the most common that you may think of because of their important role in helping to produce human food. Honey bees pollinate 80 different crops in the United States of America! They help produce apples, blueberries, cranberries, oranges, watermelon, cantaloupe, and many other favorite fruits, veggies, and tree nuts! 

Dear human, thank you for planting lots of flowers for us to gather food from! As we gather pollen and nectar from the flowers, our plants will produce more flowers and continue to look beautiful while giving us more food for the bee colony. We all benefit when you plant and water your flowers year-round! I look forward to visiting your garden and seeing your wonderful flowers!

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