Honeybees live in colonies. A colony’s one goal is to reproduce and survive through winter. The colony is made up of one female queen, thousands of female workers and several hundred male drones. As social insects, they cooperatively care for the young, divide their chores, and overlap generations. The queen lays all the eggs – as many as 200,000 in a year! She determines whether the egg will develop into a female worker or a male drone by fertilizing the egg or not. The workers decide whether a larva will become another queen by feeding it exclusively on royal jelly during its entire larval state, which triggers development of a queen. That decision must be made by day three of the newly hatched larva. Worker bees are fed substantially less protein and near the end of their larva state, honey and pollen,
sometimes called bee bread. During a swarm, the “mother” queen will leave the hive with about half of the colony- a swarm- and the “daughter” queen remains to run her new colony.
Workers perform all the colony tasks. When the larva emerges from the cell as a bee, the worker cleans their cell to prepare it for another egg. Throughout their lives, the workers graduate into different jobs. Cell cleaning and capping of cells is done by the youngest bees. They mature and build a new wax comb, deliver incoming nectar, pollen and water to the cells, ventilate the hive, fan the honey, guard the hive, dispose of dead bees and, as the oldest bees, become foragers. Foragers leave the hive to collect nectar and pollen from flowers and water. Foragers pass on their loads to house bees so the foragers can simply turn around and collect more supplies. A worker bee’s life is three to four weeks!
Honey is a combination of nectar from flowers and a special enzyme added from the workers. House bees ripen honey by adding the enzymes and evaporating water by fanning the thick, viscous liquid. Honey’s antibacterial properties make it a cure for many medical problems. And the wax honeybees produce is used for many purposes.
Without honeybees we would not enjoy many fruits and vegetables and even chocolate, as these plants rely on bees to reproduce. 1/3 of our food is available to us because of honeybees and other pollinators.