What Are The Bees Doing In There?

Dr. Thomas Seeley, who’s been studying honey bees for decades, still refers to a honey bee hive as “a treasure chest of mysteries.”  We probably don’t begin to know how much we don’t know about honey bees.

As I study honey bee biology – which I study far more than I study beekeeping – one of my favorite resources has been a book by Rosanna Mattingly titled Honey Maker: How the Honey Bee Worker Does What She Does.

On page 32 of her book, she provides a sequence of responsibilities that a worker bee will move through as her glands and various other body parts change throughout her short life.  While far from exhaustive, this list is still very informative and interesting.

Worker Tasks Full Page

At first, a worker bee will be a “house bee,” performing a sequence of roles within the hive.  As time goes on, however, her body will go through various transformations and she’ll become a “forager bee” working outside the hive to bring back all of the resources that the colony needs.  It is while she is a forager that she provides the wonderful and beautiful pollination service that the earth needs.

Here is just one example of the changes her body goes through as she moves from being a house bee to a forager.  In addition to her two compound eyes, the worker bee has three simple eyes on top of her head that function as light sensors.  They are called her ocelli.  While a house bee, her ocelli are negatively phototactic; that is, she is repelled by the light at the entrance to the hive.  But, as time goes on, and her various glands change, it also happens that her ocelli become positively phototactic and she starts being attracted to the light at the entrance to the hive and begins to fly out and forage!


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