August 17, 2008

Beeswax

This bee is finished with her house duties as a nurse bee. Now that she is at least 12 days old, she is able to produce wax and will join the construction crew.

Wax is secreted as a clear liquid from glands between segments in her abdomen, then hardens and usually turns white. The scales are about 3 mm across and 0.1 mm thick. It takes 1,100 scales to make 1 gram of wax and 80,000 to make a comb.

For the next 5 days or so, she will spend much of her time manipulating the scales with her mandibles. Most of the activities in the hive are cooperative, so often a nearby sister will remove a wax scale and chew it for her, adding saliva to soften it before using it to build comb or cap cells. Eventually the worker bee's ability to produce wax declines, and her duties will switch to guarding.

Worker bees go through a progression of tasks before taking their first orientation flights. During the 3 weeks they spend inside the hive, their bodies change and their duties are largely dependent on their physical development. That's not to say that this worker will never play nurse again. If, during her routine walkabouts, she comes across an empty cell that needs cleaning, she will clean it. If a larva needs to be fed, she will feed it beebread, a blend of honey and pollen. A larva is checked and fed about 1,300 times a day and, given that the queen can lay over 1,000 eggs a day, that's a lot of checking and feeding. Good thing there's tens of thousands of sisters to pitch in. Yay coop!

Weather Update:
Month-to-date precip.: 4.03" (Normal is 1.47")
Year-to-date precip.: 7.31" (Normal is 11.34")
High in the 50's: just warm enough to fly between the cats-n-dogs

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