There are 3 types of bees in a honeybee colony. The queen bee, drone bees (males) and worker bees (females). The queen bee job is to mate with 15-20 males from neighbouring hives, and then to lay eggs and send pheromones messages through the hive (learn more about queen bees in our Queen bees are made not born post). The drone bees only real job is to find and mate with a queen bee from neighbourhood hives. This leaves the rest of the work to be done for the worker bees.
The worker bees are responsible for maintaining cleanliness, caring for the larvae, building cells, tending to the queen, storing the honey, foraging, and guarding the nest.
Worker bees tasks vary depending on its age. The are not born in to a particular role that they carry out for their entire life, but change jobs as they age. Their bodies will activate hormones as they get older which tells them what to do and when to do it.
A worker bee will have several job in its life depending on its age. A worker bee will only live around 45 days.
Day 1-3 Housekeeper
From the moment a worker bee completes its transformation and exits out of its cell it begins work by cleaning the cell it inhabited. As a cleaner bee the worker bees clean and polish the empty cells to make them ready to receive new eggs or to store nectar and pollen. The queen bee will inspect these cells and if they are not clean enough the cleaner bees will have to do them again.
Day 4-11 Nurse/ Nanny bee
The nurse bee incubates and cares for the young larvae. They can then check on a single larvae over 1000 times a day. They feed the young larvae with royal jelly and the older larvae with honey and pollen.
Day 12-17 Hive Builder
At day 12 worker bees are able to begin recreating and producing beeswax. They then use this beeswax to construct honeycomb. Worker bees will often work together on the same section of honeycomb. They will also collect pollen from returning foragers and pack it into cells to be consumed later. 90% of bees die outside the hive, but if a bee dies inside the hive the worker bees take on the job of undertaker and will remove dead bees from the hive.
Day 18-21 Guard and Temperature Controller
A guard will inspect every bee that wants to enter the hive. Only bees with a familiar scent will be able to enter. They will only let members of the hive enter and will protect the hive from intruders. They will sting intruders to emit a pheromone to warn other bees of the dangers.
As a temperature controller the worker bees are responsible for controlling the temperature and humidity within the hive. If the temperature gets too hot in summer the worker bees will collect water and spread it on the backs of fanning bees. Fanning bees ventilate the hive by fanning their wings creating air flow within the hive and bringing down the hive temperature with water evaporation. In cold weather the bees congregate in a cluster to keep themselves warm.
Day 22-35 Forager
When worker bees are old enough they will leave the hive at sunrise and will visit flowers within a four to 5km radius of the hive. They look for nectar, water, pollen and propolis (bee glue). They can visit 50-100 flowers each foraging trip to collect the nectar and pollen. Nectar is carried in their "honey sacks" and pollen is collected in the "pollen baskets'' on their legs. Bees will continue to be foragers until the end of their life at 40-45 days.