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The specialist international beekeeping organisation

Honey bee workers

 Workers are the only bees that most people ever see since they are the most obvious inhabitants of a honey bee colony - and the ones that sting. Workers are one of these two specialised female castes in the honey bee colony. However, unlike the queen the workers are not sexually developed. They have sacrificed their reproductive capacity in order to maximise the survival of the whole colony. Some people term this a 'superorganism' as no one part of it can survive without the others. This suggests that the whole colony is the organism rather than the individual bees that are in the colony.  This social development has allowed honey bees to thrive in an astonishing variety of ecological niches worldwide.

The worker bee, as her name implies, carries out all the non reproductive societal functions. Honey bees workers also show a loosely age related division of labour that links to the development of their glandular systems. Once the young worker emerges from its cell it will gradually start learning its way around the hive gaining feedback about the jobs that need doing. The first job they do is hive cleaning. As their brood food glands develop  they will become nurse bees tending the young larvae and capping over the pupating larvae with wax lids. As their wax making glands develop they will start to build honeycomb.

As a colony get to its full size there may be as many as 1000 new workers emerging from their cells every day. The effect of this is to push the older workers to the edges of the brood nest where the jobs they will undertake will change. At the periphery of the nest they will start to become receivers of pollen and nectar packing this into the cells of the honeycomb and using their wings to evaporate the excess water from the hive. This also serves to ventilate the hive, driving off excess water and drawing inn fresh air. Finally they become guard bees defending the hive shortly before they start on their foraging duties.  Foraging bees will usually die away from the hive just disappearing one day and not coming back. Their whole life cycle from egg to death will have spanned only around 6-8 weeks in the foraging season. African bees live for a shorter time than temperate bees because of their smaller size and higher metabolic rate. Worker bees survive longer during dearth periods. This is because the work of rearing brood critically shortens their lives. During the dearth period no brood is produced and the workers life is extended to cover the dearth period until the queen start laying eggs again and the whole cycle restarts.

In such a complex environment excellent communication between all its members is essential. Bees have a range of behavioural communication strategies that include pheromones, dances, food sharing, touch and possibly sounds.


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