The worker bee is the familiar honey bee which you see everywhere collecting nectar and pollen from flowers. Of the three castes of bee she makes up about 99% of 40,000 to 80,000 individuals in a strong hive.

When you get stung by a bee, this is the culprit. She is aptly named, since she literally does ALL the work.

worker honey bee on flower

Once the egg hatches, the larva is fed royal jelly for two days. On the sixth day she is weaned off royal jelly onto a mixture of pollen and nectar, bee bread. The bee bread is fed for about another three days after which the cell is capped.

The larva then metamorphoses into an adult bee, emerging between 18 and 22 days after its egg was laid, weighing approximately 1,000 time as much.

When a worker bee hatches, cleaning of the brood cells for about 3 days is the first of many tasks. She will then nurse the brood for several days. From about aged 10 days until 20 days she will engage in building comb, pollen reception and storage. For a day or so she will be on guard duty, repelling attacks from wasps, hornets or bees from other colonies.

This is a good example of bees failure to observe the rules rigidly. Sometimes strange bees are let in. In a line of hives, often the hive at one end will lose bees and the one at the other end will increase its population.

Despite the guards at the entrance, if a bee from another hive turns up at the entrance with pollen or nectar it’s allowed in. I think of it analogous to someone coming to your door, unexpectedly, with a bottle of wine and a potluck dish, of course you let them in!

The final task is foraging for pollen and nectar outside the hive. She will continue foraging until she dies.

The time an individual spends at one stage depends largely on the hive’s need. If forage is desperately required, the other stages will be shortened or even skipped entirely. How the hive achieves this is not yet understood, but is another example of the honey bee’s tremendous survival skills. Not so surprising that they are believed to have been around for 30 million years.

In the peak of the summer, when the nectar flow is at it’s most abundant, her life-span will be as short as 6 weeks. She literally works herself to death. In the winter a worker bee will have nothing much to do, so will live for perhaps as long as six months.

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