We have a lot of time for the honey bee here at 2BScientific. You may have noticed her hopping from flower to flower, lazily gorging herself on various nectars, swaying haphazardly around your back garden, but don’t let this drunken demeanour fool you. The honey bee is an incredibly diligent and complex insect.
A honey bee’s job is predetermined at birth, depending entirely on whether it is born a drone, a worker or a queen. Each of these castes enjoys a wildly different lifestyle, all contributing towards the combined success of their hive.
- In short, queens are egg-layers.
- Workers maintain the hive and forage for nectar.
- The sole purpose of drones is to find and mate with a queen.
A day in the life of each caste is a distinct experience, and it would take more space than we have in this article to cover them all, so today’s post will cover the worker bee. It is the worker bee you have mostly likely encountered bobbing through your garden, and hers is arguably the most important role anyway.
Let’s look at a day in her life to find out why.
As you may already have realised, worker bees are female. The queen is the only fertile female in a colony, leaving her workers free to perform the number of functions vital to the well-being and maintenance of their hive. One of the worker bee’s main roles is to prepare the hive’s cells to receive the queen’s eggs.
As perennial insects, honey bees exist all year round, although their lifespans are much shorter over the summer months, when they are most active. As a result of this, hive turnover is high. Most colonies cap at around 80,000 bees, and a colony’s population completely replaces itself roughly every four months. That’s a lot of cell preparation.
Worker bees who prepare a hive’s cells and maintain its interior are called nurse bees. When larva hatch from the eggs in the cells it is the nurse bees who feed them for a week, before sealing them back into their cells to pupate. After another week, the new bee emerges from its cell and gets to work.
Let’s imagine the new bee is also a worker. The first ten days of her life are spent cleaning cells and feeding larva. Soon afterwards she begins building comb cells. After about two weeks from hatching, the worker starts storing nectar and pollen received from older workers who have been out foraging.
On the twentieth day, she leaves the hive herself, and from this point onwards her sole purpose is to forage.
The phrase is a loaded one, rich with topical relevance. It seems stranger still to attach it to bees, yet the role of the workers as foragers impacts directly on our wider ecosystem. As foragers, bees are also pollinators. Many plants and flowers rely on visits from foraging worker bees to spread their pollen, pollinate and so procreate.
It is estimated that one of every three mouthfuls of food eaten worldwide is a result of pollinators. Without the attention of bees and other pollinators, the rate of plant procreation would plummet. Without plants, we cannot grow fruit or vegetables, and without plants we cannot feed the animals we depend on for meat. Our ecosystem is vast and sensitive; removing key elements like bees would be catastrophic for our way of life.
The bee is a hard worker, but more importantly her work is vital to our ecosystem, and we respect that. This is why we are so proud to help support the British Bee Keepers Association with a £1.00 contribution for every order placed with us towards research into understanding the survival of this keystone insect.