While the queen bee receives a lot of attention, the worker bees are the true stars of the hive. Worker bees begin their first of many responsibilities within the hive the minute they emerge from their cells. If only worker bees could, they’d wear a lot of caps!
Worker bees are female bees with many roles in the hive, including feeding the queen, drones, and larvae, pollen and nectar collection, wax production, cleaning the hive, nursing the larvae and drones, air conditioning, and guarding the hive. They die through work, age, parasites, and stinging mammals after 5-7 weeks.
Learning about worker bee tasks is crucial to grasp how the colony works to maintain itself. They only survive for approximately 6 weeks during the busy season, but every day is jam-packed with activities to prepare the hive for the impending winter.
What is a worker bee?
Below is all the information you need to fully understand a worker bee and its roles as part of its colony.
Sex, size, lifespan
Worker bees are female bees with shorter and slender legs than drones and the queen, and unique baskets on their rear legs to aid pollen collection. They, like the queen, have stingers, but they can only sting mammals once before dying.
They may, however, repeatedly sting other insects to safeguard the hive. Worker bees only live for around 6 weeks during the busiest season because they work so hard.
They are in charge of the hive’s work and most of its activities, and their roles include housekeeping, feeding the queen, drones, larvae, pollen, nectar collection, and wax production.
Do worker bees lay eggs?
No, but on special occasions, laying workers grow without an open brood generated by a healthy adult queen. Brood recognition pheromones, which come from the brood, normally inhibit the workers’ ovaries from developing.
After the colony’s queen has been lost to swarming or in the presence of a dying queen who has yet to be replaced, laying workers can emerge. After the loss of the original queen, the process of creating a laying worker typically takes weeks.
There is an anatomic and physiological trade-off between the sizes of their more developed ovaries and their less-developed feeding glands in mature laying workers.
Worker bee jobs: the many roles of a worker bee in a hive
Starting at the beginning is the best way to learn about the different duties of a worker bee. Let’s follow the worker bee through her life and discover the many functions she will play in the colony.
It takes around 21 days for an egg laid by the queen to grow into an adult worker bee. Young worker bees begin their careers as house bees, doing various tasks within the hive. They leave the hive halfway through life to begin their duties as foragers in the field.
|1 – 16||Cleaners|
|4 – 12||Nurses|
|7 – 12||Queen attendants|
|12 – 18||Pollen and nectar collectors|
|12 – 18||Air conditioners|
|12 – 35||Wax makers|
|18 – 21||Guards|
|22 – 42||Foragers|
Cleaners (Days 1 to 16)
Beehives are among the most sterile places on the planet. Young worker bees contribute to this in a variety of ways. Their initial task is cleaning their cells to prepare them for the next egg, nectar, and pollen reserves. Then, to keep things going, they’ll clean the surrounding cells.
These young bees also remove any dead bees or larvae from the hive that have not matured into adult bees. They do this to prevent sickness from spreading across the colony, which may lead to colony collapse disorder.
Nurses (Days 4 to 12)
The worker bee’s next job is to look after the larvae and young drones. They’ll visit each cell several times daily, feeding the larvae royal jelly, pollen, and nectar. Then, until the drones are mature enough to care for themselves, worker bees groom, feed, and clean up after them.
Queen Attendants (Days 7 to 12)
The queen bee, like true royalty, needs attendants to assist her in meeting her necessities. After all, she can lay up to 2,000 eggs every day! So, the queen is helped by worker bees who feed, groom, and clean up after her.
They also aid in disseminating her distinct pheromone, which signals to the rest of the hive that the queen is still alive and well.
Pollen and Nectar Collectors (Days 12 to 18)
House worker bees are ready for action when foragers return to the beehive with their tows of nectar and pollen from flowers such as mums and others.
Their task is to transport additional materials from the foragers to the cells that have been assigned to them. Worker bees then add enzymes to the nectar that help it ripen and avoid spoiling.
Air Conditioners (Days 12 to 18)
Controlling the temperatures within the hive is one of the most critical responsibilities of a worker bee. The workers will flap their wings aggressively to improve airflow and minimize humidity, known as fanning.
Other bees will feed water to the fanning bees to aid in the cooling process. They also use their wings to drain water from the honey until it reaches the proper consistency to keep it fresh throughout the winter.
Wax Makers (Days 12 to 35)
Wax glands in the abdomens of older worker bees will start producing wax. The glands generate microscopic flakes of beeswax, which the bees chew until the consistency is perfect. Beeswax makes new honeycomb cells and covers honeycomb cells with larvae.
Guards (Days 18 to 21)
A worker bee will perform guard responsibilities before heading out into the field. Their mission is to remain at the hive’s entrance and prevent illegal guests from entering.
So, how can they detect if a bee isn’t supposed to be there? They employ their sense of smell to discover bees from other colonies.
Foragers (Days 22 to 42)
The worker bee can finally leave the hive! Foragers collect pollen and nectar from flowers, generally approximately 100 blooms every trip, carrying out pollination in the process. As a result, the bees may often travel far from the colony to obtain the finest food sources.
After returning to the hive, they then hand over their goods to younger worker bees, who deposit the nectar and pollen in an open cell.
Interaction with drones and the queen
Between days 7 and 12, worker bees are responsible for the queen. She spends a lot of time with the queen on such days. She is a nursing bee between days 4 and 12 of her life, and she will engage intensively with drones and other newborn bees.
Role when swarming
When a hive swarms, the queen will leave with approximately half of the worker bees to combat overcrowding. The swarm will travel while resting on bushes and shrubs until they find a new location. If they deem it suitable, the swarm will move there permanently and build their new hive.
Role in winter clustering
The worker bee’s job is to protect and keep the queen warm – they will gather around their queen, vibrating their wing muscles to create considerable warmth within the hive and be able to maintain it.
To ensure the workers on the edge of the cluster do not become too cold, workers rotate from the outside to the inside on an ongoing basis. The temperatures range from around 46 degrees Fahrenheit outside the hive to 80 degrees Fahrenheit inside.
How do worker bees die?
Many things influence the lifespan of a bee, including the following:
1. Natural death
Bees usually die naturally after 6 weeks. Given the abovementioned roles, overworked worker bees can perish before their 6th week.
They can sometimes be eaten by other animals or murdered by other bees. Other bees may invade their hive for honey or to set up a home, while larger predators usually come for honey and then kill the bees in the process.
3. Diseases and pathogens
The most severe hazard to bees is sickness or infection, which may wipe out whole colonies in extreme situations. The parasite flies Apocephalus Borealis, for example, compels bees to abandon the hive and die, after which fly larvae emerge from their bodies.
This insect also propagates the deformed-wing virus. Pesticides, habitat degradation, and mites are all hazards to honey bees.
4. Stinging mammals
They also die when they sting a mammal since their stingers are a part of their bodies. Upon stinging the mammal, they lose a part of their body, leading to their death since the stinger remains in the animal’s skin.
5. Winter and summer bees
The ‘winter bees’ are laid by the queen bee in the fall. When they are larvae, the winter bees are fed a diet scarce in protein (pollen) compared to the summertime bee larvae, which receive lots of pollen. This allows them to live for 6 months instead of 6 weeks.
Winter bees only fly out of the hive during “warm winters” to take ‘cleansing flights’ to defecate away from the hive. Unfortunately, they may not always make it back. However, due to their little to no work, they mostly live to the end of their lifespan.
Worker bees perform an essential function in the hive from the moment they are born. Before they become two weeks old, they are housekeepers, nurses, and helpers! They aren’t called workers for no reason, as seen by their various duties throughout their lives.