Workers are the soul and the keepers of each colony, they are amazing busy bees with a mission! Although they occupy the lowest rank of the honeybees, without them, there would be no others!
Workers do pretty much all the jobs in a colony except for mating, but did you know that in certain circumstances they can also lay unfertilized eggs? If the queen has died, is unable to lay eggs or doesn’t return to the hive, some of the workers are able to lay unfertilized eggs that produce drones.
Workers are smaller than the queen and drones and they occupy the highest number (up to 80,000) in the hive. All worker are female and unlike the queen and the drone they have two distinct anatomic differences. One is the hypopharyngeal gland that is used to feed larvae, drones and the queen. The second is the proboscis, a long tongue used to suck the nectar from flowers.
The life span of worker bees is around 6 weeks of which 3 weeks are spent inside the hive and the remainder outside. Did you know that workers have different roles depending on their age and that they literally work themselves to death?
They start their lives like the drones and the queens but are only fed on royal jelly for the first 2 or 3 days. After that their diet is honey and perga (bee bread). Once they transitioned into a pupa, they cap their cells at around 9 days and emerge as an adult worker bee about 12 days later.
Once they hatch, they immediately occupy a specific role to contribute to the wellbeing of the hive. The worker bees occupy specific jobs depending on their age. Unlike humans who can choose their occupation, bees don’t pick a job like, “I want to become a royal attendant”. It’s rather necessity, hormones and the mixture of genetics that determine what job a worker bee will take on. Changing conditions in the hive mean that bees need to adapt and take on different roles depending on the situation.
Usually the first job a new worker bee gets, is to take out bees or larvae that have died in the hive and remove them to prevent the hive from becoming contaminated with any disease.
Nursemaid-workers tend and feed all larvae of the brood. Worker bees and drones can feed themselves after a short while. Did you know that the queen cannot feed herself at all or even digest food by herself? This means that workers have to digest the food for her and feed her throughout her life. If you think being a nursemaid is an easy job, think again! Nursemaid workers check the larvae over 1300 times a day!
3 Royal Attendants
As with other royalty, the queen has her private attendants but that’s where her royal role ends. She doesn’t rule, it’s the workers that call the shots! First they prepare her cell to enlarge it so the queen has room to grow. Then they attend to the larvae and help her hatch. Once the queen has emerged, they feed her on royal jelly throughout her life, groom and clean her.
The royal attendants also have some other vital roles:
- Did you know that they spread the queen’s pheromone throughout the hive like a newsflash to the others that the queen is healthy and fit?
- They also put the queen on a diet by not feeding her before she goes out on her mating flight. This is to keep her weight down so she is able to fly.
When the queen (link to queen) starts laying her eggs, they act as midwives and let the queen know by their behavior where, when and how many eggs she can lay.
5 Store Keeper (Pollen Packing)
The foraging workers and the workers in the hive practice great teamwork. The foraging workers bring pollen back to the hive, which is collected by the others by ‘licking’ it off. They mix the pollen with a bit of honey to avoid it from going bad and store it in a cell. Others then seal the cell with wax.
6 Honey Workers
The honey workers job is to hydrate the water content in the honey (to around 17 to 20%) and sealing it with wax that they produce in their abdomen into a honeycomb cell. They can also work out if a hive has enough food for the colony. See bees can do simple maths
7 Architects & Builders
Honeybees produce wax by converting the honey’s sugar content in their glands. The wax leaks from the bee’s tiny pores and is chewed off by other workers until it’s soft and pliable before it is formed into a honeycomb. To repair cracks in the hive they use propolis because of its glue-like texture. Propolis is also used for hiding foreign particles that are too big to be carried out of the hive.
8 Air-conditioning – and Heating Service
It is vital for a hive to remain at a stable temperature of around 35 degrees Celsius. If the temperature drops, the workers (and even drones) generate heat by shivering using their wings. If it gets too warm, they use their wings like fans to cool the hive down to the required temperature.
9 Water Carriers
The water carriers gather and transport tiny droplets of water to the workers when the hive needs cooling down and spread it along their backs. The water evaporates when the A/C workers fan their wings and the temperature drops.
10 Security Guards
These workers protect the hive from unwanted visitors by hovering at the hive’s entrance and raising the alert. Honeybees release an alarm pheromone when they perceive a threat, which serves to recruit more bees into a mass stinging attack. As the pheromone is transmitted directly through the stinger, its concentration increases as the attack progresses. The number of guards depends on the season and how much traffic there is at the time. They also protect the hive from ´drunk bees´ that have consumed too much fermented nectar as this can cause the honey inside the hive to ferment.
Foraging workers collect nectar and pollen from flowers. They travel up to a 3 to 6 kilometer radius from their hive. Did you know that bees learn at what time of the day particular flowers bloom and adapt their timing for foraging accordingly?