The Worker Bee

Learn about the intrepid worker bee — the colony member you see foraging for pollen. Find out how and why this little creature’s job changes.

| August 2019

worker-bee
Photo by Tosca Radigonda

Female worker bees make up most of the beehive and perform the various jobs that keep this superorganism up and running. If you’ve ever watched a honey bee on a flower, you’ve witnessed a worker bee carrying out one of her most vital tasks: foraging! But worker bees do much more than visit flowers. In fact, they spend the first half of their lives almost entirely inside the beehive.

worker-bee
Photo by Hilary Kearney

Although they are famed for their hard work, you may be surprised to find that the worker bees inside the hive are not running about at a frantic pace, but instead remain relatively motionless. When I look into a hive with students, they often ask what exactly each bee is doing. The amusing answer is that they are not doing much at all. They work in short bursts with long periods of inactivity in between. They even take naps!



worker-bee
Photo by Hilary Kearney

A Worker Bee’s Résumé

In her 6 weeks of life, a worker bee performs a variety of jobs within the hive, and these change as she ages. First she acts as a housekeeper, tidying up the cells. Then she transitions to a mix of other house tasks, sometimes performing two or more at a time: caring for brood, attending the queen, handling food, building comb, regulating temperature, and guarding the hive. There is even an undertaker bee tasked with removing sick or dead bees from the hive (in fact, only 1 percent of bees get this job).






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