Worker Honeybees

A colony of honeybees can have as many as 80,000 workers. To many people, this may seem like a large number of workers. Considering the amount of work that they do, it makes one wonder whether there are enough workers to get everything done.

During the summer, the average honeybee worker lives about seven weeks. During the first few weeks, the honeybees work inside the nest. During the last few weeks, they go outside and become “field workers”.

Inside the nest, workers do a variety of jobs. They make flakes of beeswax from special glands on their abdomens. They chew the wax flakes to make them soft, and then they use the wax to make the cells in the combs.

The temperature inside the nest must be warm for the immature bees to develop. However, the high temperature is a threat to the wax combs. To keep the comb cool, nest workers drip water onto the comb. Then they fan their wings to circulate the air.

Field workers bring nectar into the nest. Nest workers take the nectar and add enzymes to it. They place the nectar in cells in the comb. Because of the warm temperature and the circulating air, most of the water evaporates from the nectar, leaving the honey that the bees are famous for. A colony of honeybees can make more than 50 pounds of honey in a year.

The field workers also bring pollen that they have gathered from flowers. The nest workers mix the pollen with honey. This mixture is often called beebread. The workers feed this to the larvae that will develop into adult workers.

The workers create a special substance from glands on their heads. Many people call this substance royal jelly. They use this name because the nest workers feed the royal jelly to the larvae that will develop into new queens. Scientists suspect that the nest workers eat pollen to stimulate the glands that make this royal jelly.

When the workers become “field workers”, their duties change. The job of field workers is to go out of the nest, find nectar and pollen, and bring it back to the nest. The workers can carry balls of pollen with their back legs. If they are bringing nectar, they carry it in a separate second stomach. A worker can carry almost her own body weight of nectar on each flight to the nest.

The field workers must make as many round-trips as possible because the colony needs an amazing amount of nectar and pollen. Scientists report that many honeybee workers have frayed wings when they die. Honeybee workers are “busy bees” indeed!