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The tasks of the worker bee are divided into:
- cleaning the hive and the frames
- brood nutrition
- assistance to the queen
- orientation flights
- construction of honeycombs
- hive ventilation
- transformation of nectar into honey and conservation of the same
- hive protection
Table 2 - Chronological sequence of activities
Time spent in days from birth
Duration in days
from 0 to 3
from 3 to 10
from 10 to 16
from 16 to 20
from 20 to 21
foraging bee of which 10% is explorer bee
from 21 to 42
Source: Contessi, A. (2010)
The first operation of a worker is self-cleaning. It removes all unnecessary particles from your body and slowly prepares to exit its cell. Subsequently, it feeds on honey placed in the neighboring cells by other workers and begins to clean the brood cells, using both the ligula and the jaws. The brood cells, after being cleaned, are ready to house the eggs laid by the queen; before oviposition, this will examine them in order to verify their effective cleaning, refusing in the event that the feedback is negative. Other occasional tasks include the removal of intruders and dead bees from the hive, debris and other foreign materials. Everything that is too heavy to carry (such as wax moth, dead hornets or other carcasses) is mummified with propolis.
Bee engaged in cleaning the cells
From three to five days of life (in the adult phase), the worker begins to feed the brood and at this stage is called the sucking bee. Initially feed the larvae with more than three days of life based on honey, adding nectar, pollen, royal jelly and / or small quantities of water. After a few days he passes on to the nutrition of younger larvae, from one to three days of age, exclusively with royal jelly.
Assistance to the queen
Another task is to provide for the queen's needs; in fact at any time it needs food or to be cleaned it calls the closest workers through the issue of the trunk. The workers are always eager to satisfy her needs, tasks they accomplish by placing themselves in a circle or in a semi-circle around her. When they are no longer able to satisfy her, she does not hesitate to turn to other workers until her needs are satisfied.
Bees form a court around the queen (website photo)
The orientation flight is not a task for the workers, but an exercise for the younger ones. They must learn to fly and learn the location of the hive.
At the beginning, to get to know the environment, they carry out short flights in the immediate vicinity of the hive, in such a way as to find the way back once you have gone out for a drink.
Construction of honeycombs
The production of wax satisfies the need to have "rooms" in the hive, in the form of hexagonal cells, for two main requests: the conservation of food and the breeding of brood.
Temperature control is one of the most important tasks in the hive.
When the temperature is low, a group of bees are preparing to generate heat, but when it is high, some bees ventilate with their wings to circulate air inside the hive. The optimal temperature is between 33 ° and 36 ° C, while the brood requires a constant temperature of 35 ° C. In addition, honey, in order to be ripe and prevent any sort of fermentation, requires the circulation of air to decrease its humidity rate.
Ventilation on the running board (website photo)
Transformation of nectar into honey and conservation of honey
Several bees participate in this process. The foraging bees bring the nectar into the hive and transfer it to the warehouse bees, which expose it to the air moved by the ventilating bees. This is done in order to reduce the moisture content of the nectar and to increase the sugar concentration. The bottled nectar from the various flowers varies in percentage of sugar, but is usually in disaccharide form; bees convert it into two monosaccharides such as glucose and fructose, through the addition of the enzyme invertase. Subsequently the evaporation of the water contained in the nectar, which is enriched with the enzyme, begins its conversion into honey: this takes place through the continuous regurgitation of the same from one bee to another by means of the ligula, with a phenomenon called trophylaxis . This enzyme is added to the nectar first by the foraging bees and then by the hive bees to accelerate the conversion of sucrose; the nectar thus processed can be stored in an empty cell, or an incomplete one, where honey is already present. The time required for the transformation of nectar into honey depends on its moisture content; in fact a completely full frame, even if well ventilated, can take up to 36 days to mature. To better understand the process, think that nectar has a sugar concentration of 20% and a humidity rate of 80%, while mature honey has a sugar concentration of 80% and 20% humidity.
The trophylaxis (website photo)
Water, pollen and propolis
Other essential substances that deserve the attention of warehouse bees are water, pollen and propolis. The water is required to cool the hive, especially during the summer season and is also mixed with honey and pollen to feed the larvae from 3 to 6 days of life. For this reason, pollen is stored above all in the cells adjacent to those of brooding on the edges of the frames. Propolis is a resinous material collected from trees, it is difficult to recover because it is rubbery and the foragers have to be helped by the warehouse bees to "unload" it. It has countless functions such as filling holes or hive cracks, it is used to repair frames, to strengthen the bridges between one frame and another, or to waterproof the entrance or to improve its defense by reducing it. As already mentioned, propolis is also used to cover foreign objects and embalm dead intruders too difficult to move thus avoiding rotting or putrefaction, which would lead to the proliferation of bacteria and fungi harmful to the health of the hive.
The entrance to the hive is the entry point for any enemy and must be defended.
The task of keeping watch is the last activity carried out by the bee before it leaves the hive and begins its role as forager. The guardian bee has the task of inspecting all foragers on their return, analyzing and recognizing them through the smell; if the forager is recognized as belonging to the family, it allows entry with its load. In many cases, foragers are more difficult to intercept because the hive is busy beyond measure. The guardian bees, after having been at the entrance for a certain period, can fly out on patrol for some time before returning to the entrance of the hive; they are also responsible for controlling any crack in the hive through which looting bees from other hives, or any other intruder, can enter. In the event of an alert, the position taken is that on four legs, the forelegs raised and the antennae straight; any intruder receives for the first time an audible warning of intimidation, followed by a sting of the stinger. If the intruder does not give up, an alarm pheromone is diffused with the task of recalling other bees that are thus able to immediately identify the target. It has been found that in the breeding period of the brood many more guardians are at the entrance of the hive compared to the peak production period of honey.
The foraging bees
The flight activity begins from the 18th to the 21st day, the ability to produce wax and royal jelly regresses, while the bees begin to optimize their flight skills and to know the geographical position of the hive. At this point they are ready to intercept nectar, pollen, propolis and water thanks to the sight and smell, carrying out all their activities to meet the needs of the colony. The exploratory bees locate the food resources and pass the information to the foragers through the so-called "dance". The latter can even carry up to 85% of their weight.
A worker bee therefore lives about 63 days, 21 days in the form of a brood, 21 days as a house bee and 21 days as a field bee.
Forager at work (photo Romeo Caruceru)
Annual cycle of a colony
Before the honey season
In temperate areas winter temperatures are very low so as to cease flight and oviposition activities; consequently, the colony's activities do not involve brood breeding.
During the development period
With the arrival of summer, at the same time as the flowering of numerous plants, bees can start collecting nectar and pollen so that young workers, feeding on more pollen, are able to produce greater quantities of royal jelly. As a result, the queen increases oviposition while the feeding bees, thanks to imports, can feed and adequately raise the brood.