We explored the queen bee and all her glory in our last post. Now let’s take a closer look at the wind beneath her wings — the worker bee.
Like the queen bee, worker bees are female. But unlike the queen bee, they cannot reproduce. They are exceptionally hard workers and do most of the jobs to keep the hive running. Feeding the queen, housekeeping, collecting pollen and nectar, and making wax are just some of the roles a worker bee will have in their short life.
Quickly after a worker bee is born, between days 3-16, she takes her first job. A mortuary bee is not the most romantic bee job, but it is necessary to keep the hive disease-free. Worker bees remove any dead bees and larvae from inside the hive. If an animal happened to get into the colony, like a mouse, and the bees kill it by stinging it repeatedly, worker bees also help get rid of the carcass. Too heavy to carry out of the hive, they seal the body off with propolis, a sticky substance containing antimicrobial properties collected from trees. This bee glue helps keep the dead intruder from causing disease in the hive.
Another young worker bee’s job is working in the bee nursery feeding the baby bees. Called a nurse bee, she also removes waste from the young bees in the hive.
An important worker bee job is to take care of the queen. The queen attendant worker bees take care of her majesty by feeding, grooming, and removing the queen’s waste. The queen bee doesn’t move much. Her primary role is to lay eggs. In taking care of the precious queen, they spread her pheromone throughout the hive. This way, the colony stays in business and lets the other bees know the queen bee is alive and well.
Another inside-the-hive job is building the honeycomb. The glands of worker bees convert the sugar contents from honey into wax. Then small flakes of wax are expressed through their tiny pores out of their abdomen. Workers then chew these wax pieces into moldable pieces used to shape the honeycomb cells and also cap the honey to keep it clean and safe.
Worker bees can also act as the hive’s air conditioning and heating. They fan their wings like crazy to keep the hive at a cooler temperature. Water-carrier bees drop off the water on the backs of the fanning bees, and as it evaporates, it’s like beehive air conditioning. Come winter; the main job is to keep the queen bee warm. They do this by thousands of worker bees vibrating their wing muscles to keep the hive warm. Bees will rotate from the outside to the inside, so everyone has a chance to be warm.
Next in the job line are the worker bee bouncers. Guard bees hover at the entrance of the hive and guard against unwanted visitors. They can repeatedly sting an insect. However, they can only sting a bigger mammal once since their stinger stays stuck, and they die when trying to pull it out.
One of the most dangerous jobs takes place outside of the hive, and that is foraging. This job is saved for the “older” worker bees. It is an essential activity for the hive, but a dangerous task. They must find pollen and nectar and bring it back the hive. Out in the open, they can be eaten by birds or swatted by humans, among other threats. They collect the pollen in their “baskets” they have on their hind legs. They then store it in a cell in the beehive. The honeycomb is a perfectly shaped receptacle for pollen.
Talk about hard workers; you might even say a worker bee works herself to death…working day and night. In fact, in the summer, they only live to be six weeks old. Imagine how many jobs they have in six short weeks!
Like the whole bee colony worker bees are fascinating creatures. You do not want worker bees moving inside your house. The longer you wait to fix the problem, the worse it will get.
Please call Little Giant Beekeepers if you are interested in learning about live bee removals.