June 13, 2008

Worker, Drone, Queen

The bee in the center is a drone. Notice how the girls around him are busy filling the cells with nectar and he's just sitting there? He's not a forager, so can't contribute to honey making. And he doesn't have wax glands so can't build comb. Aside from mating with a virgin queen (another hive's queen), his role is to maintain the temperature inside the hive, which is critical for the developing baby bees. Drones account for up to 20% of the population. That is until Winter comes. In the Fall, the worker bees kick them out in so they don't eat any of the Winter supply of honey. (Days to emerge: 24 – Life expectancy: 90 days)

Worker bees are all girls. Here's one of our girls on the purple sage. Workers can lay eggs, but since they are not fertilized they only produce drones. The girls have many jobs in the hive, including housekeeper, nurse and guard. She spends about 3 weeks inside as a "house bee," then 3 weeks as a forager. We hope to see new bees 4th of July weekend. With a heavy nectar flow or challenging winds, a field bee may only last 2 weeks. After that, the many trips to collect pollen, sap and nectar have worn her out. With tattered wings, she may not make it back to the hive. (Days to emerge: 21 – Life expectancy: 6 weeks)

I saw one such bee trying to make it home, but she was missing a wing so could only spin around and around. She might have been the bee that got stuck in my hair the day before. But that's another post. Maybe.

The queen lays hundreds and hundreds of eggs each day to keep the cycle going. She can live several years because she doesn't forage. The only time she leaves the hive is on her mating flight, and if she swarmed. If I ever see her, I'll be sure to post a photo. For now, we'll just have to have faith that she's in the hive. The colony would be lost without her, and since they're not wandering around confused and anxious, we can assume that they are "queen right." (Days to emerge: 16 – Life expectancy: up to 6 years)


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