A short article describing an aspect of honeybee life, that would be of interest to the general public.
|What do honey bees do in the hive?
|When most people think about honey bees, they have a mental picture of the insects busily moving from flower to flower collecting nectar and pollen on a warm and sunny day. Whilst worker bees are responsible for foraging they also spend a lot of their time in the darkness of their home. This short article covers some of the jobs they do around the hive.
Young bees emerge from the cell that they have developed in, generally by eating the capping. They immediately set to work cleaning out the cell. They quickly graduate to become nurse bees, working around the brood nest keeping it clean, warm and feeding the larvae. Honey bees are fastidious for cleanliness. A few bees will even become undertakers, responsible for removing any dead bees from the colony. Food (their protein source of pollen and carbohydrate source of honey) is usually plentiful around the brood nest and with the rich diet the young bees develop the ability to secrete wax. They start to seal cells with wax as the larvae pupate. At this stage they gradually start to move away from the brood nest. When they have developed the ability to produce wax they become comb builders and help to produce honeycomb to create stores to help the colony survive between honey flows. The worker bees typically spend the first three weeks of their life without leaving the hive.
As the bees develop they gain the ability to sting, which can be used to help defend the colony. They will gradually move nearer to the hive entrance where they might be recruited as a guard bee, for fanning purposes or to receive honey from the flying bees and take it to the honeycomb to be dried. Maintainance of a brood nest with constant temperature and humidity, and evaporation of water from nectar are critically important for the colony and are achieved by air circulation created by coordinated fanning of wings.
At around 3 weeks of age some of the honey bees will take their first flights. A few will become scouts who locate the areas of best forage or when the colony wants to swarm they hunt for suitable new homes. The majority will be recruited to forage mainly for nectar and pollen, but a few will specialize in collecting water or propolis (a sticky substance used to fill holes) when required. Bees will return to the colony and if they have found a good nectar source will dance to encourage others to visit the same area.
The saying “busy as a bee” is all too true, as in the height of the season, after just six short weeks, of which around three have been lived in darkness, a worker bee will take a final flight and die away from the colony, totally worn out from the hard work. Maybe we need to rethink our idyllic image of the honeybee?