The short but productive life of a worker Honeybee

May 18, 2016 0 Comments

Now that spring has sprung, our Honey bee colonies are growing fast - from 5-6000 individuals in January to 40 or 50,000 bees by the end of April. The vast majority are female worker bees, hatching from their cells as adults each day to join the rest of the workforce. They will live for about six weeks in total, leading short but productive lives, changing roles as they age.

Two Bee Good bees

Two Bee Good worker bees feeding on a drop of honey

As soon as she emerges from her cell a new worker bee receives food from her slightly older sisters before becoming a "cleaner bee”, cleaning out her own and other cells ready for the Queen to lay another egg. She will also inspect and remove any diseased or dead larvae or bees, dragging them towards the entrance for disposal elsewhere.

Bee Good Honeybee larvae
Young Honeybee larvae growing in their cells

Around day four as certain glands develop, she will become a “nurse bee” able to produce the Royal jelly to feed newly hatching larvae and her Queen as well as feeding her younger sisters, checking the larvae in her care many times a day.

Bee Good nurse bees

Inside a Bee Good hive with nurse bees feeding larvae

At around day 12 our new worker will undertake various tasks such as collecting nectar and pollen from arriving foragers and transferring it into cells above the brood nest for storage and conversation to honey. She will also vibrate her wing muscles generating to keep the brood area at  32-35C also fanning her wings to keep the humidity at around 80%. Around this time, many workers will develop their wax glands producing beeswax scales from their abdomen that they will use to cap larvae cells or build new comb. Her venom gland will also fill ready to defend the colony if she needs to.

At about day 18 our worker may graduate into a guard bee, moving into the entrance area, checking each returning bee for a familiar scent. Only family members are usually allowed to pass. Bees from other hives may be allowed in only if they bribe the guards with nectar. 

Guard bees at the hive entrance

Guard bees at the hive entrance 

Reaching her middle age of three weeks old, our house bee transitions into a field bee or forager.  Initially taking orientation flights around the entrance, facing the hive, darting up and down. She imprints the look and location of her home before beginning to circle the hive and progressively widening those circles, learning landmarks that ultimately will guide her back home.

A Bee Good bee on a Dandelion flower

A Bee Good bee foraging on a Dandelion flower

For her final three weeks of life our worker bee leaves the nest at sunrise visiting flowers in a four to five-kilometer radius collecting nectar, water, pollen and propolis. She makes about ten trips a day, each one lasting about an hour before returning to the hive at sunset. At the age of 6-7 weeks, our worker bee will probably die in the field, just like 500 of her sisters that day.

Her short, busy life contributes to the success of the colony that year and with the Queen laying up to 2000 eggs a day, there are plenty of younger workers to succeed her...