The saying busy as a bee becomes very clear when one looks at the life in a beehive, the frantic, frenetic never-ending activity with their work dictated by their particular roles at any particular time that they are members of the hive. A beehive can contain tens of thousands of bees and the purpose of all these bees is to promote the longevity of the hive. Whilst looking at a hive it may appear to be in complete disarray, when in actual fact it is the opposite. Life in a beehive is complex, yet finely balanced with each bee playing a particular role to ensure the survival of the colony and its offspring. To keep the fine balance of the hive, worker bees play different roles as they mature.
Life in a beehive is busy for all bees except for the male bees, known as drone bees. These bees laze around all day sipping nectar – and hoping for a chance to mate with the Queen Bee.
All female bees (except for the Queen) are worker bees. Worker bees work in the hive and also out of the hive at different stages of their lives. They start their lives working in the hive but in the second half of their lives they then become field bees or outside working bees.
In Hive Worker Bees
As stated previously, during the first half of their life, female worker bees work inside the hive. There are a number of different jobs that these bees do, moving from one role to the next as they mature. These roles include being nurse bees, evaporative fan (not a real term) bees, cleaning bees, carrying and delivering bees with the final role in the hive being that of guard bees.
Evaporative Cooler or Air-Conditioner Bees
In the hive, the role of some bees is to act as air conditioners or evaporative coolers. The water is used as a film to seal the cells containing eggs and larva and the evaporative cooler bees vigorously fan their wings over the water creating an airflow that evaporates the water and cools the interior of the hive
Nurse worker bees feed the bee larvae. These bees consume large quantities of water, pollen and nectar which their glands convert to a jelly that is used to feed the developing larvae.
Winter In-Hive Bees
During the winter a worker bee has a longer lifespan. The main job of the worker bees in winter is to keep the Queen bee warm. Thus the worker bees huddle around the Queen Bee and flutter their wings generating energy to keep the hive (and the Queen) warm.
Guard bees protect the hive from danger including wasps and robber bees They sting intruders and also warn bees inside of the hive by emitting a specific type of pheromone.
Field worker bees also have different jobs and could be a scout, a nectar and pollen collector, a water gatherer, or a propolis gather.
The scout bee’s job is to find a source of nectar and recruit the nectar and pollen collector bees to forage in the nectar source – and then scout for a new source…
Water Gathering Bees
Water gathers collect water from puddles, ponds and wet vegetation. They swallow the water and take it back to the hive in their crops. Life in the beehive controls the number of water gathering bees. If there is a high demand for water there will be more water gathering bees. When there is a high demand the water delivered is very quickly taken by the in-hive workers. This lets the gathering bees know that there is still a great demand for water and fly out to continue to forage for it. When there is less demand for water, the in-hive workers don’t take the delivered water as quickly and less water gatherers will leave the hive to seek more water.
Nectar and Pollen Collectors
Worker bees will leave the beehive once they are about two weeks old and they become foragers flying around five kilometres from the hive in search of nectar and pollen. Each trip takes about an hour and they usually do ten trips a day, making it a very long working day of 10 hours!
Specific bees become propolis collecting bees so this is not a role which all worker bees play. The propolis bees collect propolis – which is commonly called bee glue and is a resinous substance or gum that they find on trees. This material is used in the construction of the beehive.
Queen Bees play the essential role of laying eggs and can lay as many as 2,000 eggs a day. A queen Bee has the longest lifespan of all bees, usually three to four years. During her lifespan a Queen Bee can lay up to a million eggs! There is always just one Queen Bee in a hive.
Fun Facts about Life in the Beehive…
1. A worker bee in the busy season lives for only around 6 weeks. 2. A worker bee flies approximately 800 kilometres during her life. 3. Life in a beehive also includes mortuary bees whose role it is to carry dead bees away from the hive so as to prevent disease. 4. When a hive becomes too large a second Queen Bee is produced and the first Queen Bee taking about fifty percent of the hive worker population swarms to a new location to start a new hive. 5. During the active period the total population of a hive is around fifty thousand bees. As we know there is only one Queen Bee, there is usually hundreds of drone bees and for every drone bee there is a hundred female worker bees. A hive in the active season will also include thousands of pupae, larvae and eggs. Blog image source Todd Huffman, Wikimedia Commons