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During the summer the hive will most likely be at its peak, with around 20,000-50,000 bees. Most of these bees are called “workers”, infertile females that will spend their entire life foraging, creating wax cells and filling these cells with honey and pollen.
There are also a few hundred “drones” which are male bees who do nothing but sip the honey until they are told to leave the hive by their sisters! At the center of every hive is a queen bee, who dwarfs her fellow hive mates in size and is also the only fertile reproductive bee.
Worker bees are all female, but they do not have the same abilities as the queen. They are born sterile and their purpose is to work for their entire lifespan. Worker bees are essentially the lifeblood of the hive. Without worker bees, there would be no one to care for the ever-important queen, produce honey or pollinate plants and flowers. Worker bees are also afforded the privilege of ejecting the unusable drones from the hive.
Worker bees have many jobs throughout their life. The jobs for the worker bee change through their life-span. There are jobs like cell cleaning and capping that are generally handled by younger bees. Guarding and foraging is for the older bees. Worker bees live for about 5 weeks then die – they quite literally work themselves to death to help the survival of the hive.
Bees are neat freaks and because it is the workers bee’s job to clean the hive they will remove themselves from the hive before they die so the other bees can get on with their job.
Order of jobs bees are assigned based on age, from day one:
Worker bee housekeeping
The very first job of the worker bee is house-keeping! She will clean the cells and prepare them for a new egg or nectar. When a new bee emerges from a cell there is a cocoon-like wrapping left behind, along with other bodily waste. This is for the young worker bee job to remove.
Worker bee undertakers and cappers
Cleaning the cell also means removing dead bodies and unhealthy brood, which could potentially pose a threat for the society. Capping the cells is also a job for them. They seal the cell with wax after larva have been planted in the cell.
Nursing young worker bees
This is when the bees become the “baby-sitters of the hive. They feed and care for the developing larvae. Worker bees will check their young over a thousand times a day. Talk about hovering! These young bees that have yet-to-hatch will be very hungry about 8 days before their big day. The nanny bees will feed them 10,000 times during this time. Not only are they very protective they also make sure the larvae will be plump.
Attending to the queen bee
The lucky queen is treated like royalty every day. These worker bees clean her, feed her and even remove her waste for her. This is so all she has to worry about is mating and laying eggs.
Collecting nectar for the hive
The older worker bees returning to the hive leave these packets of nectar for the house-bound worker bees. The latter will find cells that are marked for nectar and deposit the nectar there. This is how they turn nectar into honey. They will fan the honey until its dry enough, then seal the cell with their wax to protect the maturing honey from the atmosphere.
Guarding the hive
There will be a small number of bees that will spend their time guarding the entrance of the hive. They will challenge anything trying to enter and not belonging! Some of the bees will fly around the hive in response to any potential threat.
Becoming field bees
This is the stage when the bees graduate to field bees. They are sent out to collect nectar and pollen. She is middle-aged now and is leaving the hive for the first time. When she leaves she will fly up and down the hive and take some time to memorize what it looks like, also taking note of landing spots. This is so she can remember how to get home.
Drones are all male bees that have only one purpose in the hive. Their only job is to mate with the queen to help her produce offspring. Unfortunately, this is a thankless task, as the queen will effectively kill all drones she mates with by removing the drones’ sexual organs in order to store their sperm within her body. Consequently, drones that are not favored by the queen for mating don’t get an easy ride. These rejected suitors will be forced out by the other bees of the hive during the winter, having been deemed worthless by the hive’s standards. Tough life…
Spring and summer is the time drone bees pop up. They are much larger then the worker bees and are also all male. Drones will not collect food. Their sole purpose is to breed with the queen. However only 6-8 drones actually breed with her. Their lifespan is a little longer than the worker bee (in the summer – worker bees can survive the winter), being around 2 months. Once fall hits they are ejected from the hive by worker bees. Drones can not kill or hurt anything – they are just used for their seed.
Each beehive must have a queen to keep the hive well stocked with new bees. Her sole job is to lay eggs. Other bees are needed to do everything else regarding the maintenance of the hive, the production of honey and the care of the queen. The queen needs bees to mate with (drones), bring her food and clean up after her (workers).
The queen bee is the largest of all the bees in a hive. Her main job is to lay eggs and she can lay around 1500-2000 eggs a day at her prime. However this is not everyday of her life – there are some days she won’t lay any.
The queen bee is able to control the sex of the eggs she lays. The queen lays a fertilized (female) or unfertilized (male) egg according to the width of the cell. Drones are raised in cells that are significantly larger than the cells used for workers. The queen fertilizes the egg by selectively releasing sperm from her spermatheca as the egg passes through her oviduct.