Apis mellifera – The honey bee
At the height of the beekeeping season there will be in the region of 50,000 worker bees operating in the hive. Workers, all infertile females, have a fascinating development as they progress through the hive and accomplish a range of duties determined by age. Worker bees start in a worker cell as a fertilised egg. The egg takes three days to hatch and for the first two days of its larval stage it will be fed “royal jelly” after which it will be weaned onto a nectar/pollen diet. On day eight or nine the bee grub will have filled its cell and will seal itself in to pupate. The worker will emerge from the cell twenty one days after its egg was laid.
Before leaving the hive to forage for the first time the young worker will undertake general cleaning duties then, at the age of three days or so, she will feed the older brood. Around the age of twelve days she will start to produce wax and start to build comb. From eighteen days she will start to guard the hive entrance and her venom sac and sting have now developed. At the grand old age of twenty one days she will venture out of the hive and, if the conditions allow, will now start to collect water, nectar, pollen and propolis. The substance known as propolis is a sticky, resinous goo and is the bee equivalent of “No Nails”; used to fill holes and other repair jobs inside the hive.
At the height of the pollen season a worker bee may only live a few weeks, they just work themselves to death such is their dedication to the hive.
Much larger than the worker, the queen lives for four years, more or less and may produce in excess of two thousand eggs a day at the height of the breeding season. She lays two different types of egg, fertilised or unfertilised. From the former workers are produced and, under special circumstances, queens. From the latter drones (male bees) are produced. The worker bees are totally responsible for the care of the queen’s offspring, she takes no interest in their development or care. Drone and worker cells are different in size with the comb and the queen determines whether to lay a fertile or infertile egg by measuring the width of the cell. Another type of cell is built by workers and that is the queen cell, very different in appearance to either worker or drone cell. The queen lays a fertile egg within the queen cell and the workers feed the resultant grub on royal jelly through the entire larval stage and so, just by diet and size of cell, a queen rather than a worker develops.
The male of the species and pretty much a useless article (but you knew that anyway didn’t you ladies?). The drones sole function is to mate with virgin queens, once the drone has completed his task he dies. Drones are cared for by the workers but do nothing to maintain the hive, they don’t even have a sting. However, once the breeding season is over any drones left in the hive will be killed by the workers as they prepare to survive the winter. The drone has nothing to contribute to the well being of the hive so they are disposed of.