The life of bees, a very structured society

Do you know the life of bees? It is an extraordinary world, unknown and yet rich in lessons. They form a highly structured company that is similar to a large corporation.

They include 3 castes of bees, namely:

  • the queen,
  • the drones
  • and the workers.

The queen’s sole task is to lay eggs. As for the drones (male bees), a few hundred in number, they also have a unique function, that of fertilizing the queen during the nuptial flight.

Around the queen, there are finally the worker bees, whose number fluctuates according to the season (winter: up to 15,000; high season: up to 50,000) and who are active with a disconcerting ardor.

A role for everyone

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The Queen

The only role of the queen is to ensure the continuity of the swarm by the continuous renewal of its members. She mates a few days after her birth with about 15 males during her nuptial flight in male gathering areas where there may be up to 15,000 drones. During the summer period and at its best, it can lay more than 2000/3000 eggs daily. To do this, she is fed all her life with royal jelly, which ensures her rapid growth. It multiplies its weight by 1700 in the space of 4 days. She receives special attention from her future subjects. Between 4 and 8 workers take care of her constantly. It measures 18 to 20 mm, it is possible to recognize it by its abdomen more elongated than the workers and in favorable conditions, has a longevity of four to five years.

The drone

The drone or male bee is born only in spring (early April). It does not work, is unable to forage, does not make honey and does not sting either. To survive, it draws on the reserves of the hive. It is stockier, longer and more hairy than the worker bee. He also has bigger eyes that allow him to see better when he has to follow the queen high in the air to fertilize her. When autumn arrives and food becomes scarce in August, the drone is expelled from the hive by the workers and since it cannot feed itself, it dies. In general its life span is 3 to 4 weeks.

The bees and their jobs

The workers

The workers are neither more nor less the queen’s court. A few days after its fertilization, the latter starts to lay eggs. The workers are diligent and attentive to its feeding and hygiene. As we will see later, they are all intended to perform work useful to the smooth running of the colony’s activities. Only very young bees are exempted from outdoor tasks until their bodies are sufficiently developed. In periods of intense activity, the workers live about two to three weeks. Their duration in winter is more important and can last several months. Generally, the winter bees disappear in March to make way for the summer bees. The beginning of March is generally a delicate period for the colony. Badly winterized or diseased, they can disappear.

Organized and structured like workers in a real society, bees have no one to envy as regards the distribution of tasks and the defense of the general interest. Throughout their lives, they play a specific, but evolving, role within the swarm. The distribution of their work, different for each one (maintenance, handling, building, air-conditioning, protection, supply…), is established according to their age – at birth, the bee, although completely formed, remains still physiologically immature and particular changes take place on some of their organs.

The cleaner

At its birth, a few hours after its birth the bee is in charge of the household. It removes the waste that the cells contain and then licks and polishes the bottom of them. The complete cleaning of a cell takes about 40 minutes for a team of 15 to 30 bees.

The nanny

The function attributed to the nurse from the sixth day is to take care of the brood, inspect and feed the larvae, on average 1926 times in 72 minutes. At this stage, the hypopharyngeal glands of the young bee are developed enough to be able to produce jelly rich in proteins, lipids and vitamins. The nannies that care for the queen secrete royal jelly from the mandibular glands.

The storekeeper

Around the fifteenth day, the storekeeper bee welcomes the foragers (see 3.8) at the entrance of the hive, back from their journey out of the hive, with their crop (small pouch also called honey stomach) full of nectar. The liquid will be collected by the storekeeper in her own crop which she will regurgitate repeatedly in order to transform little by little the nectar into honey thanks to her enzymes, which is thereafter transferred in a cell to be stored. You need 2 to 3 store bees per forager.

The waxmonger

The wax bee is in charge of building the shelves with wax that it produces autonomously with its wax glands located on its abdomen. They build the cells where the honey and pollen supplies will be stored as well as the larvae laid by the queen. It is a team effort carried out by bees aged 8 to 17 days. 1kg of wax requires 991 00 scales and allows to build 77 000 cells for 8,4Kgr of consumed honey.

The architect and the mason

Just as human beings use workers to build their homes, bees can also count on the good services of workers called architects in their swarms, whose job is to build the combs of the hive, seal the cells, and carry out all the repairs essential to the proper maintenance of the hive. It is a collective work that requires coordination and meticulousness.

The ventilator

The first mission of the ventilator is to ventilate the hive, by the beating of its wings, and thus regulate its temperature, the rate of humidity and carbon dioxide. The average age of the ventilator is about 18 days, although this task can be performed by workers of all ages. The ventilator also has the role of beating the recall during the regrouping of the swarm.

The keeper

The guardian plays a major role in the colony. She is assigned to protect the latter. Its function is to check the identity of the bees entering the hive in order to prevent possible predators (the hornet in particular) or invaders from other colonies who would like to attack them or plunder their precious reserves. The age of the babysitter is generally between 12 and 25 days.

The forager

The mission of the 21-day-old forager is to be in charge of the supply. It is at this moment that she can fly out of the hive to discover new horizons and to bring all the essential elements for the good functioning of the swarm: nectar, pollen, water, propolis. Depending on the proximity of the flowers, she will have to make ten to a hundred trips a day. This rhythm of work gradually deprives her of her energy, she gives up after four to five days.

The birth of a bee

The brood

Brood, in a hive (the term is also used for other insects), refers to all the eggs, larvae and pupae secured and cared for by the worker bees. Eggs and larvae refer to open brood because their cells have not been sealed, while pupae are closed brood because their cells are sealed.

Bees, like a multitude of other insects, undergo a complete transformation in a cyclical form. This transformation passes by the following stages: egg, larva, nymph, adult bee. The egg, a small white rod, becomes a larva after three days. The larva, a kind of white worm, then appears to give way to the nymph on the ninth day of its life until its transformation into an adult bee.

The egg

The egg is the very first step in the life cycle of the bee. It is pearly white, oblong in shape and covered with a membrane called chorion. On the first day, it measures 1.5 mm long by 0.5 mm. The queen lays one egg per cell. A fertilized egg will become a worker bee while an unfertilized egg will become a drone. After three days, the egg becomes a larva.

The larva

After three days, the egg hatches and a larva emerges. From the fifth day on, this larva develops at great speed because it eats almost continuously. In just five days, its volume increases by almost 1500 times. Then, the larva weaves a cocoon. The larval stage lasts about six days.

The nymph

At this stage, the small organism lurking under the operculum begins to resemble an adult bee. One can observe at this stage the legs, the eyes and the wings of the insect develop gradually and small hairs appear on the whole of its body. At the end of this stage, the adult bee prepares to leave the cell by nibbling the cover.

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