A Day in the Life of Honey Bees
The beehive has long been a representation for industry.
Content supplied by Harvest Lane Honey
The honey bee hive is one of the best run, most efficient operations in existence. It is no wonder that the beehive has long been a representation for industry. There are three main types of bees: queen, drone, and worker bee. Every bee in the hive has a distinct role and a job to perform.
Contrary to popular culture, the bees that gather pollen and make honey are female bees and are referred to as the worker bees. The life of a worker bee goes like this:
Day 1: Egg Stage — The queen lays an egg into the honey comb.
Days 1-6: Larva Stage — Worker bees known as "nurser" bees will feed the new larva a diet of royal jelly, pollen, and honey.
Days 7-21: Pupa stage — new cute fuzzy little bees will emerge from their comb on the 21st day.
The new little bee will begin their first job right after emerging from their cell their first task will be cleaning the cell they just emerged from. They will generally spend 1-2 days doing this. Bees are very clean by nature and the Queen will not lay additional eggs in the cell until this is done.
Bees will then move into their role as a nurser bee. Just like the nurser bee who fed them, they will begin to excrete the needed royal jelly to feed to new larva. After 5 days of this role and mastering the art, bees will move on to feeding royal jelly to new drone and queen cells until day 11.
At this point bees are able to help build honey comb with wax excretion. The honeycomb is a wonder all in itself, if you look at the uniformity in the cells and pattern. Bees will spend around 6 days performing this role and during this time will build comb, and repair comb.
Bees will then spend their remaining life working in jobs that fall under the following categories:
- Cleaning & Maintenance — Removing dead bees from the hive on cleansing flights. Bees are very clean. After a long cold spell, if you look carefully in front of your hive, you will notice dead bees. That is because as soon as it's warm enough, bees will take all the bees that have died in the hive outside the hive. Worker bees will use propolis as a seal in caulking the hive. There is also a job for guarding the hive from intruders, as well as helping to cool the hive as temperatures rise. Other bees bring water to the hive.
- Feeding — Drone bees or being selected to be an attendant for the Queen Bee. Fun fact; beauty pageants get their hierarchy of Queen and Attendants from Honey Bees. While attending to the Queen they will groom her and take her excretions out of the hive. Allowing the Queen to focus solely on her tasks of laying eggs.
- Honey Production — Jobs in this area will consist with honey sealing, and pollen packing.
- Foraging Bees — The last job that a worker will have, and that they will do until the end of their life, is to forage. They will spend their days looking for nectar, pollen, and propolis. They will work themselves to death.
The drone bee is the only male in the hive, their only role is to procreate with the queen, and once they have mated with the queen they will die. Worker bees can lay drone eggs since the drone egg is an unfertilized egg. Drone eggs look very different from regular worker bees. Their cells are small and round vs. being in the honey comb. Drones are distinctive in their appearance; they are larger with big eyes and are unable to sting. They will spend their days waiting to mate with a queen and hanging out with other drones. In colder climates drones will be the first indication that winter is in the air, since right before winter the female worker bees will kill off the drones and will push them out of the hive. The hive will not need a queen mated in winter months and cannot afford to have drones consuming honey.
Let there be no mistake, their can only be one queen in the hive, and if there are more queens present, the queens will fight it out until the death — leaving only one survivor. Most people never get the chance to hear the songs of a queen, but if you ever get the chance to hear multiple queens in one area, they will chirp and sing. Hives create reserve queen cells that resemble a peanut in preparation for the chance the queen dies. Hives also produce multiple queen cells if they are getting ready to swarm or they are queenless.
Without a good queen, your hive may suffer. There is a lot of pressure on your queen not to lay spotty brood and to be strong. Your queen will set the mood for your hive. She has the longest life expectancy of 2-5 years. She will mate with multiple drones during her mating flight, but may never have the need to mate again. The queen appears different from her workers. She will usually be longer. Don't worry if you aren't able to see her when you first start beekeeping, as her attendants will do their very best to prevent you from finding her.
A healthy and happy hive is truly a thing of wonderment and beauty. The hive's ability to self-maintain and produce is amazing to see. To see how a hive cleans and cares for itself is awe inspiring. To watch little fuzzy worker bees emerge from their cells and assume their new roles is fascinating. Being able to observe the cleansing flights and foraging is miraculous. And it is truly astonishing that these little insects know from birth instinctively what their role is in the hive.