THURSDAY: What is a Worker Bee?

17 April 2014


The best known “worker bee” is the worker (honey) bee. Unlike the queen bee, these female “workers” are unable to reproduce themselves. Their labor and activity is directed toward feeding and caring a single queen and her many young.   Among honey bees, a single queen, her young, and the workers bees are members of a community living in a single bee hive.

The worker bee begins her life, like all other honey bees, as an egg laid by the queen. A worker bee hatches in 3 days and is fed by mature worker bee “nurses” for another 6 days. Then, the young worker bee goes through her “pupa” stage. As a “pupa,” she becomes inactive and is sealed in a capped cell in the honey comb. She emerges 24 days later as a full grown worker bee.

Added to the job of caring directly for the young bees, (including workers, queens, and drones), the worker bees keep the hive at an even temperature, again, for the benefit of the eggs and young bees. If the hive gets too hot, the workers collect water and spread it around the hive. Then, they use their wings to fan air over the water and into the hive – a form of air conditioning that, when used by people, is called “evaporative cooling.” If the hive gets too cold, the workers crowd together to warm the hive with their body heat.

But this bee isn’t called “worker” for nothing. Her most public job is gathering nectar and pollen. The worker bees can be seen flying from blossom to blossom. First, the bee consumes some sugary nectar from each blossom to keep herself going.   But most of the nectar the worker bee collects is stored and turned into honey. Second, the bee gathers pollen from each blossom and stores it in small sacks on her back legs.

The worker returns to the hive with her load of honey and pollen. Then, with the help of her fellow workers, that honey and pollen is stored in the cells of the hive’s honeycomb. The stored honey will be eaten during the winter months. The stored pollen can be eaten, but is also fed directly to immature bees. The workers also use pollen to produce a super food, royal jelly, which is fed to immature bees and the hive’s queen.

I should mention another job the worker bee performs. This job isn’t about the hive. As the worker bee moves from flower to flower gathering pollen, some of the pollen gathered from one blossom, rubs off as the bee is gathering honey and pollen from another blossom. This “pollination” fertilizes the blossom so that the plant or tree can produce fruit and seeds.

Without this “accidental” pollination by the worker bee, about 80% of the food consumed by human beings and animals wouldn’t exist. Oh, did I say 80%?   The rest of the food consumed by humans, the other 20%, is meat and milk taken from animals.  But those animal wouldn’t exist to produce meat or milk if they hadn’t been able to eat  the seed, grain, and fruit that resulted from worker bee’s accidental pollination.  In other words, 99% of our food supply wouldn’t exist without worker bees.

The really short answer is — the worker bee’s “work” directly supports all civilized life on earth.

Mark Grossmann of Hazelwood, Missouri


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Mark Grossmann of Illinois & Missouri

Resident of Hazelwood, Missouri Formerly Belleville, Illinois Career History: Illinois Attorney College Instructor Campus Chair Paralegal Studies Program Most recently: blogging on entirely random subjects

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