Understanding the Role of the Worker Bee in a Hive

The majority of the bee hive’s population consists of worker bees. Like the queen, worker bees are all female. They are smaller, their abdomens are shorter, and on their hind legs they possess pollen baskets, which are used to tote pollen back from the field.

The life span of worker bee is a modest six weeks during the colony’s active season. However, worker bees live longer (four to eight months) during the less active winter months. These winter workers are loaded with protein and are sometimes referred to as “Fat Bees.”

Worker bees do a considerable amount of work, day in and day out. They work as a team. The specific jobs and duties they perform during their short lives vary as they age. Understanding their roles will deepen your fascination and appreciation of these remarkable creatures.

Initially, a worker’s responsibilities include various tasks within the hive. At this stage of development, worker bees are referred to as house bees. As they get older, their duties involve work outside of the hive as field bees.

Worker bee housekeeping (days 1 to 3)

One of her first tasks is cleaning out the cell from which she just emerged. This and other empty cells are cleaned and polished and left immaculate to receive new eggs and to store nectar and pollen.

Worker bee undertakers (days 3 to 16)Image

During the first couple weeks of her life, the worker bee removes any bees that have died and disposes of the corpses as far from the hive as possible. Similarly, diseased or dead brood are quickly removed before becoming a health threat to the colony.

Nursing young worker bees (days 4 to 12)

The young worker bees tend to their “baby sisters” by feeding and caring for the developing larvae. On average, nurse bees check a single larva 1,300 times a day.

Attending to the queen bee (days 7 to 12)

Because her royal highness is unable to tend to her most basic needs by herself, some of the workers do these tasks for her.

Collecting nectar for the hive (days 12 to 18)

Young worker bees also take nectar from foraging field bees that are returning to the hive. The house bees deposit this nectar into cells earmarked for this purpose. The workers similarly take pollen from returning field bees and pack the pollen into cells. Both the ripened honey and the pollen are food for the colony.

Fanning the beehive (days 12 to 18)

Worker bees also take a turn at controlling the temperature and humidity of the hive. The workers also perform another kind of fanning, but it isn’t related to climate control. It has more to do with communication.

Becoming the bee hive (days 12 to 35)

Worker bees that are about 12 days old are mature enough to begin producing beeswax. The wax flakes they produce help with the building of new wax comb and in the capping of ripened honey and cells containing developing pupae.

Some new beekeepers are alarmed when they first see these wax flakes on the bee. They wrongly think these white chips are an indication of a problem (disease or mite).

Guarding the hive (days 18 to 21)

The last task of a house bee before she ventures out is that of guarding the hive. They are poised and alert, checking each bee that returns to the hive for a familiar scent. Only family members are allowed to pass.

Bees from other hives are occasionally allowed in when they bribe the guards with nectar. These bees simply steal a little honey or pollen and leave.

Becoming field bees (days 22 to 42)

With her life half over, the worker bee now ventures outside of the hive and joins the ranks of field bees. You’ll see them taking their first orientation flights. The bees face the hive and dart up, down, and all around the entrance. They’re imprinting the look and location of their home before beginning to circle the hive and progressively widening those circles, learning landmarks that ultimately will guide them back home.

Foraging bees visit 5 million flowers to produce a single pint of honey. They forage a two- to three-mile (four- to five-kilometer) radius from the hive in search of food. So don’t think you need to provide everything they need on your property.



The Great British Bee Count: 800,000 bees spotted so far

The Great British Bee Count: 800,000 bees spotted so far

buzz bee1


The Great British Bee Count has found yellow and black bumblebees to be the most common species volunteers have seen across the UK, all of which has reported through a smartphone app developed by Friends of the Earth, Buglife and B&Q.

The count will end on August 31 and is hoped it can help conservationists and scientists to assess the status of declining bees, due to parasites, climate change and especially harmful chemicals – as detailed research has proved, triggering a two-year ban on neonicotinoid insecticides in the EU.

With 8 days to go, more than 23,000 people around the UK have spotted 800,000 bees since June, with 239,861 sightings being bumblebees and 131,853 honeybees.

Friends of the Earth’s Senior Nature Campaigner Paul De Zylva said, “It’s wonderful to see so many people becoming bee-spotters this summer and learning more about these fascinating species using the Great British Bee Count app.

“If you’re on holiday, looking for something to do with the kids, or out and about this weekend, download the free app and see what bees you can spot – there are only 10 days left of this year’s survey.

“People around the country are doing their bit for bees – we hope the government will do its bit too by improving its upcoming National Pollinator Strategy so that it fully tackles all the threats bees face, especially from pesticide use and a lack of habitat on farms and new developments.”

The count was possible thanks to an app developed by Friends of the Earth, Buglife and B&Q –one retailer among the firsts to take of its shelves harmful chemicals.

Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at B&Q, Matthew Sexton, added, “We know how vital bees are to keeping our gardens and countryside healthy and there’s lots gardeners can do, with our help, to support hungry bees, such as growing bee-friendly plants and starting a bee café.”





Tree bumblebee

tree bumblebee

The British habit of putting up nest boxes for birds has led to a population explosion of the tree bumblebee Bombus hypnorum.

This newcomer to Britain was first identified in 2001 when a colony was discovered in the New Forest in Wiltshire. This year it has nested as far west as Truro, in Cornwall, Pembrokeshire in Wales and Lennoxtown, north of Glasgow.

The tree bumblebee, as its name suggests, normally nests in holes in trees, but finds bird boxes the perfect habitat and has taken full advantage of the thousands of nesting opportunities provided by British bird lovers.

The bee has been widely welcomed in Britain because so many native bees, including honeybees, have been in decline and there are serious concerns about lack of bees to pollinate crops. The species seems to coexist with other bees and does not seem to compete with or damage them.

On the other hand tree bumblebees have caused some alarm to people because of the proximity of bird boxes to houses, and their use of roof spaces and even the vent pipes of tumble driers as suitable places to build a nest.

This bee is distinguished from other bumblebees because it always has a white tail, which is not seen in any British species. The bees vary in size depending on whether they are queens, drones or workers and there can be as many as 500 living in a blue tit box.

They are not normally aggressive but seem particularly averse to vibration so a nest box on a shed or anywhere near machinery can cause the bees to swarm and possibly attack the person who is perceived as the aggressor.

My neighbour had to make a run for it after knocking a nail into a wooden pergola a few feet from a blue tit box containing a bees’ nest. He avoided being stung and they soon calmed down.

This time of year the large nesting colonies of workers are already dying out having reared numerous new queens. These are currently foraging around flowerbeds and fattening themselves up before looking for a suitable hibernation site to spend the winter.

Next spring they will be among the first bumblebees to emerge and will be seen checking out the nearest nesting boxes. They prefer boxes with plenty of old bird nesting material in to give them a head start in creating their own colony. These queens are quite tough and have been known to evict blue tits from their newly built nests and take the site over.

Despite this rather unpleasant behaviour the new species’ assistance as a pollinator in early spring is particularly valuable in orchards, where shortage of bees can be a major concern.

The arrival of the tree bumblebee in Britain could have been an enterprising queen flying across the Channel, or a hibernating bee being imported in a plant container. Either way the UK has proved a perfect habitat for this species.

On the continent tree bumblebees rarely come to the notice of people. That is because other countries do not normally put up bird nest boxes close to their homes and tempt the newly emerging queens with suitable homes. Tree bumblebees therefore continue to live naturally on the edge of woods, normally quite a distance from human habitation.





More than 100,000 bees to live on roof of Glasgow City Chambers

More than 100,000 bees to live on roof of Glasgow City Chambers



The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow might be over but there is still a real buzz around the city though this time it is thanks to a colony of honey bees.

More than 100,000 of the stripey insects have set up camp on the rooftop of the city chambers.

George Square was a hive of activity on Wednesday as the bees were installed in their new home as part of Sustainable Glasgow’s plans to boost insect numbers.

The initiative follows the news that Scotland’s bee population continues to drop.

Two beehives have been specially insulated to protect against Scotland’s sometimes harsh winter and the bees will travel for up to three-and-a-half miles — meaning you’ll be able to see them in places like Kelvingrove, Glasgow Green and George Square.

Employees and volunteers are lining up to take care of the new lodgers and councillors are confident they will attract a swarm of visitors and maintain the buzz of Glasgow 2014.






Lincolnshire unites on action to save bees

bees on frame


Lincolnshire farmers, nature campaigners, politicians, businesses and individuals are coming together to discuss action to save the county’s bees at a public meeting on Thursday 11 September, organised by Friends of the Earth.

People interested in finding out about the plight of bees and how they can be part of local measures to protect them, such as restoring wildflower meadows and curbing pesticide use, are invited to join the free 7pm meeting at The Drill Hall in Lincoln.

Numbers of bees have been declining at an alarming rate over recent decades: more than 20 UK bee species are already extinct and about a quarter of the remaining 267 species are at risk.

This matters because these vital pollinators put food on our plates and keep our gardens, countryside and farms thriving.

Britain’s largest bumblebee, the Large Garden Bumblebee, is especially in need of help locally as it’s particularly dependent on habitats like fenlands and other wet grassland areas found in Lincolnshire and the East Midlands, such as Gosberton Clough, South Lincolnshire and Eaton on the Hill near Stamford.

At the meeting, Friends of the Earth’s nature campaigner Sandra Bell will urge the government to improve its new national Bee Action Plan to protect pollinators, due to launch in October, so that it tackles all the threats bees face, from pesticides to how land is used.

Toxic pesticides and habitat loss are major factors causing the drop in bee populations. 97% of the UK’s wildflower meadows have disappeared in the past 60 years.

Ms Bell said: “It’s clear that many people in Lincolnshire are deeply concerned about the loss of our bees and are taking action to protect them locally.

“The government must do its bit nationally too, with a stronger Bee Action Plan that provides better support for farmers to create new habitat for bees and reduce their reliance on pesticides, and ensures new developments built to tackle the housing shortage include bee-friendly green spaces too.”

Over 70% of UK land is farmed, so what happens there is pivotal to bee heath.

Lincolnshire farmer Peter Lundgren will talk about how he is successfully and profitably growing wheat and oil seed rape without using bee-harming neonicotinoids as pesticides, and call for more Government support to help farmers.

Mr Lundgren said: “The government seems to suggest that things such as simply providing a few wildflowers is sufficient, but we need to ensure the whole farm environment is as safe as possible for bees.

“Farmers can limit our effect on bees, but we need to control pests sympathetically and use the full knowledge available about things such as plant breeds and companion cropping.”





Honeybee genome throws up survival clues


Honeybees probably originated in Asia, not Africa, said scientists Sunday who had teased interesting tidbits from the busy little pollinators’ genome that they hope can be used to protect it.

They sequenced the genomes of 140 honeybees from 14 populations from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, United States and Brazil, looking for DNA clues as to how the insects responded to survival threats throughout their 300,000-year history.

Honeybees, responsible for pollinating a large chunk of the fruits, nuts and vegetables we eat, are in decline in many parts of the world, raising concerns for food security.

An international expert team reported in the journal Nature Genetics that they had found evidence of evolutionary adaptation on some 3,000 individual genes of the Apis mellifera species, that boosted functions like immunity and climate adaptability.

This information could lay the foundation for producing bees in future that are more resistant, for example, to the Varroa mite that has been implicated in hive declines in Europe and North America.

“We have compared the entire genomes of honeybees from Africa and Europe and identified positions in the genome where they differ,” study co-author Matthew Webster from Sweden’s Uppsala University told AFP.

“Amongst these positions may be specific differences that make African bees more resistant to Varroa… If we could identify these genetic differences we could understand what makes them more resistant. This could help us to produce more disease-resistant honeybee populations in Europe and North America, which would be a major step in fighting honeybee declines.”

The team had also found a “surprisingly high” level of genetic diversity for a domesticated species.

This diversity was obtained through mixing honeybees from different parts of the world — suggesting that inbreeding is not the cause of the current colony losses, the researchers said.

The genetic analysis also showed that climate changes over the past 300,000 years had affected honeybee population sizes.

“If we knew how bees are adapted to warm or cold climates then this could help us to maintain populations that are adapted to local environments and protect them from climate change,” said Webster.





RoboBees might be pollinating our crops within 10 years

RoboBees might be pollinating our crops within 10 years



A team of researchers from Harvard University that created the RoboBees are developing the robotic insects to be able to pollinate crops.

The researchers are pushing the development because of the phenomenon of colony collapse disorder that continues to threaten the honeybee population, which are responsible for the pollination of one-third of global food crops.

The RoboBees, first introduced last year by the team led by engineering professor Robert Wood, are bee-sized robots that have the ability to hover in mid-air when connected to a power source.

The breakthrough in micro-aerial vehicles was published in the Science journal. However, at the time, the team found it impossible to add more weight to the tiny body of the robot without sacrificing its ability to fly.

However, Kevin Ma, Harvard graduate student and mechanical engineer, said that their team is currently “on the eve of the next big development” for the RoboBees, as the robots are now able to take on more weight while in flight.

The team believes that in 10 years, the RoboBees will be ready to carry out artificial pollination on food crops, which will be a much needed reinforcement if the honeybee population continues its decline.

The seriousness of the honeybee population decrease is so severe that the White House has issued a presidential memorandum to address the problem.

“Over the past few decades, there has been a significant loss of pollinators, including honey bees, native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies, from the environment. The problem is serious and requires immediate attention to ensure the sustainability of our food production systems, avoid additional economic impact on the agricultural sector, and protect the health of the environment,” according to the memorandum issued by the White House.

Another study from Harvard University has determined neonicotinoids as a possible cause of the phenomenon. Neonicotinoids are kinds of pesticides that have similar characteristics as nicotine.

Other possible causes for colony collapse disorder include disease and parasites.

RoboBees are just one of the many plans that are being prepared to either aid in the recovery of the honeybee population or to replace the honeybees that have died from colony collapse disorder.

However, before RoboBees can take flight and do the duties of honeybees in pollinating crops, they have to be able to communicate with each other to coordinate their actions as a single hive.

RoboBees could be used as a “stopgap measure while a solution to CCD is implemented,

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Conservationists abuzz at the sighting of a rare bee variety

new bee


A rare variety of bee has been sighted on the north coast.

The sighting earlier this month, at White Park Bay along the Causeway Coast, has been celebrated by local conservationists.

The National Trust said that Patrick Barton, volunteer butterfly surveyor, was scouring the grasslands for butterflies “when something less flashy – but just as captivating – grabbed his attention”.

Mr Barton said: “I was thrilled to see the bees. I knew something about them was different. I had seen similar in the far north of Scotland on a family holiday years ago.”

The insects were later confirmed to be Northern Colletes bees, a rare type.

They breed from mid-June to late August in coastal habitat such as White Park Bay.

Solitary female bees make burrows in sandy soil before laying eggs within.

They usually nest closely together, but are not social insects and act individually.

Up to half of Europe’s population of the bee is concentrated in the UK – specifically the Province’s north coast, or the Scottish western isles.

Dr Cliff Henry said increased bee sightings were encouraging, and hoped that it was a sign their decline was slowing.

He said: “There are 101 recorded species of bee in Ireland and unfortunately 42 of these are in decline. At White Park Bay the National Trust takes great effort to maintain the habitat in suitable condition for the bee”.

He said grazing is closely monitored and brambles and bracken have been cleared to preserve flower-rich grass.

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A love story


An important story, and a nice one to read. Please take it to heart.

A Conservation Story In My Front Yard

Cathleen Burnham

I travel far to write and photograph endangered species stories for children’s books and articles: wild dogs in Africa, Thai elephants, orangutans, nesting sea turtles. Yesterday a story about one of the most important disappearing-species came right to my front yard.

A visiting friend noticed insects swarming under my crabapple. “I think they’re bees,” Barb said.

“No,” I said, wandering outside. From behind my screen door they just looked like some innocuous fliers. My gaze fell on a swollen tree branch. I thought it was burl or gall but this lump writhed. Bees. I was pretty sure they were honey bees. Although I advocate for wildlife, I felt panicky. Two girls were attacked by bees in my yard once; and my dog was one week out from major surgery. My mind flew to the quickest way to rid my yard of the swarm – Orkin – but I knew it was wrong and also now illegal to kill honeybees. I called my husband to take a look and he murmured, “Hmmm, I saw a sign down the road that said, ‘honey bee swarms wanted’.” I drove to the sign, called the number and began entreating the man on the other end of the line, Joe Hurley, to come right away. He said he’d cancel his planned meeting and would be at my house in ten minutes.

Joe Hurley, owner of owner of Kettle Ridge Farm on Benson Road in Victor, showed up with smoker, plastic bin and saw. He donned netted hat and gloves. He lit a smoker and stoked it with sweet smelling grass. He eyed the swarm. “A couple thousand. Relatively small hive,” Joe said. A large hive can house 10,000 bees or more. He said my small crabapple wouldn’t have been appropriate for the new hive and that the swarm would have moved on within a couple of hours to a couple of days (“maybe into your attic,” he said and smiled.). Joe Hurley said honey bees were least aggressive when on the move. “Honey bees are usually only aggressive when protecting honey,” he said. The bees’ original hive was overpopulated. The queen had laid eggs in her former hive and taken off with half the hive’s bees to build a new home hive.

Joe Hurley climbed a ladder and smoked the bees into a sleepy state, then gently hand-sawed the branch. It proved, however, difficult to sever the limb. He said, “I’m going to shake them into the bin.” That didn’t sound good. I back-walked fast and far down the hill of my front yard, realizing I’d now placed myself much farther from the safety of my house. But, since I was still within my zoom lens’ range I stayed outside. Joe shook the branch with the swarm and most fell into the bin. A good number still flew around, separated from the captured swarm. Those still free clustered back on the branch. Joe Hurley stared into the bin.

“What are you looking for?” I asked. “The queen,” Joe Hurley said. “If the queen isn’t in there, I have to get the rest of the bees.” He gazed some more. No queen to be seen. Back up the ladder he climbed, sawing the branch until it severed. He gently shook the bees on the branch into the bin. He watched for several minutes more and shook his head. Still no queen to be seen.

“If the bees cluster again, call me,” he said. A few hours later, the bees still swarmed the branch.

“The queen could be there, or the bees could just be on the branch because the queen’s stench is on it,” he said over the phone. But he returned and captured the remaining honey bees. This time he was sure he’d captured them all. By dark, only twenty-five or so bees swarmed the branch that now lay in the grass.

A side note: Joe Hurley never got stung and neither did I.

Postscript from Cathleen

Honeybees numbers are in drastic decline and the reason is a mystery. Remember, a swarm will only alight on a branch for a few hours to a few days. You may want to just leave the bees to find their new home in the wild. But, if you want a swarm removed contact: Andy 07787758033

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