The Life of the Honey Bee

Worker Honey Bees

The worker honey bees are sexually underdeveloped females more compact than the queen yet capable of laying modest numbers of eggs under some conditions. Worker honey bees that lay eggs are called laying workers. Their eggs, generally put in worker cells, create into small but nonetheless , functional drones.

Worker honey bee larvae hatch from the eggs in 3 days, are fed royal jelly for 2 1/2 days, and then their diet is changed to include pollen and honey for 2 1/2 days. They are sealed in their cells for 12 days, during which period they spin a cocoon and transform from the larvae to the pupae, emerging as adult honey bees 20 days after the eggs were laid.

The difference in the cell and food environment causes the worker honey bees to require 5 days longer to create than the queen, yet their life expectancy is only 5 weeks during the summer and a few months during the winter. Any worker honey bee larva under 24 to 48 hours old may be developed into a queen underneath the proper colony conditions that insures the nurse honey bees will construct a queen cell and feed royal jelly lavishly to the developing larva.  The rearing of queens for market is a highly specialized field of beekeeping.

The worker honey bees vary markedly from the queen in numerous respects other than function, time-span of life, and also behavior. Structurally they have got an extended tongue for gathering nectar, altered mandibles (jaws) especially designed for comb building, special glands for secreting royal jelly, enzymes for the conversion of nectar into honey, and glands that function in communication; highly specialized leg structures for gathering and carrying pollen, four pairs of wax glands on the underside of their abdomen for the secretion of wax, and a straight barbed sting for the defense of the honey bee colony.  The queen’s sting is curved and smooth and is used only to destroy rival queens.

The worker honey bees exhibit a well-defined division of labor based mainly upon their physiological age but adjusted to some degree by the needs of the honey bee colony.  The physiological age of honey bees is similar to their actual age during the active season when the honey bee colony is raising brood and storing food. During dearth periods, especially in winter, a 60-day old bee could  be younger physiologically than a 20-day old honey bee in summer.

In a basic way, honey bees under 3 days old clean and polish the cells for the queen to lay in and for food storage; those 3 to 7 days old feed the older larvae; those 7 to 14 days old secrete royal jelly for feeding the queen, younger worker larvae, and queen larvae of any age, and they secrete wax for comb building; those 14 to 21 days old forage primarily for pollen; and those over 21 days old forage for nectar. All the honey bees in the honey bee colony probably contribute to the process of changing nectar into honey and in the air conditioning of the honey bee colony to maintain a suitable temperature and humidity. Other labor activities include collecting water and propolis, and defense of the honey bee colony.

There is considerable overlapping of the age groups engaged in the various duties. When the age groups aren’t in normal balance, honey bees of any age can do the work necessary, but not so efficiently. Bees under 3 days old and the field honey bees can feed the queen and raise brood or they can secrete wax and build comb even though their glands aren’t fully developed or they have degenerated from lack of use. Similarly, very young bees can forage for pollen and perhaps nectar when there are no field bees of normal age to do this work.

Worker honey bees inherit many skills man employs that they manifest purely on a behavioral basis whereas man has had to develop these through intellectual inquiry, learning, and experience. They’re skilled architects and craftsmen, certified dieticians and nurses, proficient house keepers, professionals in heating and air conditioning, and fully certified to police and defend their colony.

Their architectural ability and craftsmanship is exemplified through the splendor of the honey comb, its structural toughness, economy of material, and also the rapidity with which they construct the uniform hexagonal cells.  

The building of comb is accomplished by first “plastering” the wax into approximate position in the form of round cells, and then thinning down the wax walls to a uniform thickness to produce the hexagonal cells for strength and economy of wax. As dietitians they prepare one kind of food for the queen larvae and another for the worker and drone larvae. Each larvae receives approximately 10,000 visits from the nurse honey bees during development.  The hive is maintained immaculately clean at all times, and the guard honey bees with their stingers for armor protect the honey bee hives against all intruders.

Honey Bees, similar to other insects, are cold-blooded and have a body temperature close to that of their environment. However, the honey bee colony functioning as a single organism can maintain uniform hive temperatures under northern winter conditions identical with those in summer or in the tropics. Only lately has man accomplished this by developing elaborate heating and air-conditioning equipment.

By clustering together, they generate and conserve heat, or they lower the temperature by evaporating moisture and establishing air currents through the honey bee colony to maintain a uniform temperature of 93. F. within the cluster, even though the outside temperature is at -50. F. or 120. F. Under low temperatures, the cluster temperature ranges from 45. F. on the surface to as high as 93. F. within when brood is being reared.

One of the most conspicuous characteristic dominant in honey bees is their great industry. Honey Bees do not procrastinate by doing tomorrow what they can do now. They may fly 50,000 miles and visit 5,000,000 blossoms to gather enough nectar to produce one pound of honey, which is stored not for themselves but for the survival of the honey bee colony. The honey bees that gather this food do not live long enough to enjoy it. One honey bee, of course, cannot fly such a distance, yet the honey bees of a colony may store 5, 10, or even 20 pounds of honey in a day.

They have to gather 200 to 300 pounds of honey and 50 pounds of pollen (10 gallons) to meet the honey bee colony’s needs each year. The beekeeper also expects to harvest a surplus of 100 or more pounds of honey for his efforts. The honey bees have to be industrious to gather so much food, rear so many young, build comb, air-condition the honey bee hive, and perform all the other duties peculiar to the honey bee colony.

About John Payton

Bee control expert and founder of a bee control company
This entry was posted in Bee Control, Bee Removal and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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