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  • Writer's pictureCJ Turner

Busy as a Worker Bee: The Jobs of Your Hive's Girls


Worker bees enjoy some honey from their hive.

As a beekeeper, I am blessed to have such an intimate view of the life of the honey bee. However, one of my favorite aspects of honey bee life to observe is the vast number of roles worker bees are assigned to do. Often, beekeepers refer to their bees as "girls" because worker bees are only female, whereas the male bees (drones) are solely responsible for mating with the queen. Because of this, worker bees have a multitude of jobs they are assigned throughout their lifespan to keep the hive buzzing.


The following are the jobs you will see find worker bees conducting during their short 6 weeks of life.

Inside the Hive

Nurse

Bees assigned this job are generally young and require them to nurture the hive's brood and feed its larvae. It is very much as the name entails.

Queen Attendants

The girls assigned this job are required to keep the queen happy and healthy. They do this by feeding and grooming her. These bees are also responsible to signal to the rest of the hive there is a queen present by spreading the Queen Mandibular Pheromone. Without this pheromone, worker bees will attempt to create a new queen by feeding new larvae royal jelly.


Pollen Hoarders

These bees are tasked with collecting and storing pollen in the hive by packing it in the honeycomb cells. Without these bees, there would be no food for the brood, and the hive's honey would spoil. This is because pollen in the hive is mixed with the honey to keep it from spoiling.

Honeycomb Constructors

Speaking of honeycomb, there are also bees specifically assigned to create/build honeycomb throughout the hive. These bees will take wax from their other bee buddies to start building new honeycombs. It is these bees you have to thank when you pick up a frame and see a nice new pattern of drawn comb.

Honey Cappers

It is one of the most basic concepts of beekeeping. Capped honey is honey ready to be harvested (while this is not always the case it is a good rule of thumb). Therefore, there are worker bees specifically tasked with putting waxed caps on honey when it has reached the appropriate water content - hence how we know it is ready to harvest. Pulling a frame out of a hive with a beautiful pattern of white-capped honey is one of the most miraculous sights to a beekeeper.

Entrance of the Hive

Undertaker

Watching this bee behavior occur is still one of my most favorite to observe. Another job assigned to young worker bees is to "clean house" by taking sick or dead bees away from the hive. While observing this behavior you will see a honey bee physically carrying another lifeless hive-mate. It really is an incredible sight to see. If you peek outside your hive and see a pile of dead bees, you are observing some of these girls' handy work.

The Air Conditioner

With temperatures reaching over 100 degrees in many locations in the U.S during the summer, these bees are essential for keeping the temperature inside the hive just right. You will find these bees fanning their wings outside the entrance of the hive, generally with their butts facing outward. It is so cute!

Guard

Worker bees assigned this task are faced with the life and death task of defending the hive. These bees are responsible for taking care of those pesky hive robbers that try to take their honey during a nectar dearth. If you peek outside your hive and see bees fighting outside your entrance, you are watching these guard bees at work. It is also a good sign your hive is being robbed, and placing an entrance reducer will help these girls out a lot.

Outside of the Hive

Water Gatherers

Not only are the air conditioner bees essential for keeping the hive at the perfect temperature, but the water gatherer bees are also necessary for hive temperature management. You can help these girls out by making sure there is a ready source of water nearby, especially during the summer when temperatures are extreme.

An example of a water feeder near a hive.

The Foragers

And finally, the foragers. These are the girls you see on your flowers, or on your sugary drink during the summer. These bees are responsible for gathering pollen and nectar to bring it back to the hive for the other girls to process it. These bees can travel for up to 6 miles, and as fast as 15 miles an hour to collect the resources necessary to maintain the hive.


There is a reason I have a bee tattoo. While the queen bee gets a lot of hype, and in my opinion rightfully so, the other girls of the hive deserve some recognition too. Every time I open up my hive, I try and say a little thank you to my girls for all of their hard work in keeping the hive moving. And as a beekeeper, it is our job to facilitate them to do just that.



Happy Beekeeping :)


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