Take a walk with us. Close your eyes and find the edge of town. Walk up a hill to where trees and shrubs grow freely in Mother Nature’s garden.
Spy the tiny flowers growing underfoot—wonder if you’ve ever seen them before. Touch a tree trunk or two or three. Now tune in and listen. After a minute, you start to hear nature’s original lo-fi music, the zen hum of honeybees.
Pretty soon, a honeybee pops over to join you. She flies around a bit, checking you out. Then bee-lines it for her hive.
In another dimension, where bees have names and social security numbers, this bee would be called Bella. She’s a 2-week old worker bee. (In human terms, she’s in her early 20’s.) Best case, she’ll live a handful more weeks of the summer.
But she has a lot to do in that time.
So channel your inner David Attenborough and let’s observe Bella’s daily goings on as she slays her life-time gig working for the hive.
🐝 The Life of a Worker Bee
Bella is one of thousands of siblings (mostly sisters, a few brothers) that all come from the same queen mum.
And everyone’s got a job to do.
Some are forager bees; some are honeycomb builders; others purify nectar on its way to becoming honey; and still others eliminate waste and remove the dead from the hive.
But every bee starts from the bottom. After a worker bee hatches from her hexagonal pram, she’ll work as a nurse bee for a few days. It’ll be her job to feed pollen and nectar to the other developing larvae (also called “the brood”). Talk about having to grow up fast.
She’ll then be promoted to other tasks including feeding the queen, being an undertaker, guarding the hive entrance, and finally becoming a forager.
Bella, a star specimen, has graduated to the highest rank to which a worker bee can aspire:
Her 9-to-5 takes her outside the hive as a forager, or scout bee. Duties of a forager bee consist of finding prime hubs of pollen and nectar and then relaying to her sisters where to find them.
All female bees are workers and will act in a handful of different capacities over the course of their lives.
On the other hand, male bees’ career options are *ahem* limited.
Male bees, also called drones, exist solely to mate with queens from other hives. (Gotta get that genetic variation.) If successful, they immediately die in—we can only assume—a blaze of glory.
In return for their service, drones don’t have to lift a finger and get spoon fed every day by worker bees. A glamorous existence? You decide.
🍯 Honeybee Breakfast of Champions
Bella starts her day with a hearty breakfast. Like all worker bees, her diet is mostly pollen and nectar. The balance of these nutrients fuels Bella's daily escapades through the forest and keeps her energy levels buzzing.
Bee babies (or larvae) get to eat something called bee bread. Nurse bees make the bee bread by fermenting pollen with nectar and enzymes from their bodies.
This gooey stuff gives the larvae what they need to grow and develop into fully grown workers or drones. The nurses feed it to them while they’re developing in their little honeycomb cells.
The queen, however, eats exclusively royal jelly. (More on that in a bit)
🧭 Honey Bee GPS
Equipped with a keen sense of direction, Bella takes off in search of new sources of pollen and nectar. Some days she’s doing a quick trip around the corner, other days she’s flying miles away from home.
This begs the question, how does she know where she’s going? Bees keep track of visual landmarks and have a great sense of smell. (Their ability to detect scents like nectar or the queen’s pheromones is pretty much next level.)
But bees can also navigate remarkably well using the sun as a reference point. They can detect the position and angle of the sun's rays and use this information to get oriented. Bella can even compensate for the sun's movement throughout the day.
She soars through the air, visiting flowers and collecting precious resources. How does she then spill her knowledge to her fellow bees? Through dance.
🌸 Dance it Out, Flower Scout
The information floor of the hive is a honeybee discotech. And the scout bees are exceptional dancers. With a series of intricate moves, Bella tells the story of her discovery with a waggle dance, a language unique to bees.
As she dances on the honeycomb, her precise steps and figure-eight patterns relay the exact location of the newly discovered nectar or pollen source.
The other bees watch and decode Bella's dance, following her instructions to find the golden treasures she has unveiled.
📦 Hive Products
Bella and her sisters work day in and day out to produce several spectacular substances:
Honey—Honey is essentially a concentrated and preserved form of flower nectar. Bees make and store honey to eat during the year and especially the winter months.
Amazing thing about honey: it’s the only food source in nature that doesn’t spoil. You can have it unrefrigerated in your pantry for years, no problem (as long as excess moisture doesn't get inside).
Royal Jelly—Royal jelly is an extra yummy and nutritious food fed only to the lucky larva destined for queen-hood. That larva is fed royal jelly her whole life (which can be 10x longer than the life of her royal subjects).
Royal jelly has potential immune-boosting and vitality-prolonging effects for humans as well as queen bees.
Propolis—Bees use propolis to seal and reinforce their hives, filling gaps and crevices, and providing a protective barrier against external threats such as predators, microbes, and the elements. It has antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiviral properties, which help to maintain the hygiene and sterility of the hive.
Propolis has been used by humans for various purposes, including traditional medicine, natural health products, and even as a component in some cosmetics. It is known for its potential antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties
🦠 Perils of a Pollen Collector
Life in the hive is not without struggles. Bella, like her sisters, faces the constant threat of diseases and parasites that can infect their entire hive.
From the formidable Varroa mites to the insidious American foulbrood, these dangers can totally decimate a bee population.
Commercial bees, rented out by large orchards and shipped around the country, are also likely to come in contact with dangerous pesticides.
Bees minding their business collecting pollen get covered in these toxic chemicals and end up feeding them to their young, killing whole generations of bees.
👑 God Save the Queen
Among the seeming chaos of hive work, Bella is grounded by a strong connection with the queen bee.
At any given moment, her hyper-sensitive antennae can literally smell the queen’s…vibe. (Like we said, smell on another level.) Her health, reproductive status, and other signals are on constant broadcast.
The queen ensures the hive's harmony and prosperity, so everything Bella does is centered around her.
⚰️ A Honeybee’s End Game
Sometime next month, whether on the hunt for pollen or mid-dance-performance, Bella’s bee body will shut down.
When worker bees die, it’s the undertaker bee’s job to take them to their final resting place.
Typically, undertaker bees carry the dead bees out of the hive and discard them in a designated area located far away from the main entrance. This area is commonly referred to as the "graveyard" or "bee cemetery."
🌎 Bella’s Place in the Big Picture
While Bella’s life is relatively short, she plays an integral role in the health of the entire planet. This little bee girl helps pollinate flowering plants that produce ⅔ of the world’s food.
Without her and her siblings, we wouldn’t only be without honey. Our way of life would change as we know it.
Because of the commercialization of bees and the methods used to ship them across the country, diseases are infecting and killing many bee populations.
You can support bee population regrowth by supporting your local beekeepers and planting flowering plants where bees like Bella can come and find them. 🐝