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Workers - Division of Labour With Age in Days

  00 - 03 days: Cell cleaning, hive cleaning, incubation

  03 - 06 days: Feed older larvae

  03 - 15 days: Attend the queen, cleaning and feeding her

  06 - 15 days: Feed young larvae

  03 - 10 days: Take first flight

  08 - 16 days: Receive nectar, pollen, water and propolis from foragers   

  08 - 16 days: Process nectar

  15 - 25 days: Hive ventilation

  12 - 18 days: Secrete wax, build cells

  14 - 35 days: Guard entrance

  14 - 35 days: Start foraging

 Other activities of worker bees:

  • Capping cells

  • Regulating hive temperature by clustering (heat), fanning (cool)

  • Water evaporation

  • Collect water

  • Collect propolis from trees and shrubs

  • Remove dead bees and debris

  • Seal gaps with propolis

Wax Production

Young worker bees hang in 'chains' in the warmest part of the hive and exude flakes of wax from the underside of their abdomen from 8 wax glands. The flakes are pulled out by the back legs, chewed and stuck into place.

The mid-rib is built first, then cells are drawn out to 16mm in length for eggs and slightly longer for honey, with a very slight upward tilt.

Comb is built vertically. New comb is white, with a rough surface and becomes yellow as it is varnished and strengthened with propolis.

Comb that has contained brood, gradually darkens in colour due to the remains of pupal cases.

Giving bees frames with a wax foundation inserted can give them a head-start for building comb. Traditionally made of beeswax, although plastic foundation is growing in popularity - either as a sheet or as a complete plastic frame, due to its strength, durability and ease of cleaning for re-use, however there is some risk of leaching into the honey.

Bee Dances

The Round Dance tells other worker bees that a food source is close to the hive (within 100 meteres) - workers will go in search of the flowers.

The Waggle Dance is used when a nectar source is further than 100 metres. The longer the dance, the further away the source is; the dance also indicates which direction to fly.

It is thought that workers can interpret the dance by touch and by vibration of the comb through their feet.


Guard and Soldier bees are no different morphologically than other worker bees. The population of guard and soldier bees is not well-defined and changes with other task requirements, such as foraging.

Guard bee duties are generally a transition between inside hive duties and foraging duties and are performed by workers between 2 and 3 weeks old. Guards often sit at the hive entrance in a characteristic stance, with forelegs off the ground and antennae pointing forwards, ready to launch. Guards check whether incoming bees are their nest-mates, using their antennae, and alert  the colony when predators are detected. If a bee is recognised as an intruder, it is mauled by guard bees or dragged from the comb if it has breached the hive. Around 10-15% of workers become guards. A more defensive colony will allocate more workers to this duty and for longer periods. If a guard detects a robber bee (swaying flight) they dart towards it and start mauling - a guard and robber may try to sting one another.


A small proportion of guard bees are termed soldier bees and are tasked with harrassing intruders and stinging.

Defence Against Other Insects

Ants: guard bees turn away, then fan their wings rapidly to blow the ant out and may kick out their back legs to assist this manouvre.

Hornets and Wasps: These hover near the hive and swoop on returning foragers. Bees cling to each other to form a 'carpet' and try to catch the hornet and then trap it in a dense ball of bees and overheat the hornet and block its respiration.

Defence Against Larger Predators

Larger predators include birds, mice and humans and in some countries raccoons, honey badgers and bears.

Guard bees will fly out to check on any disturbance near the hive and are triggered by dark colours, rapid movements, mammalian scents and rough textures.

Some guards will immediately fly towards the predator, others will extrude their stinger and run inside the hive fanning their wings to distribute alarm pheromone and recruit additional defenders.

The alarm pheromone left by previous defenders is a powerful attractant - most will harrass and bump into the target, rather than sting.


Worker bees forage for:

Nectar  |  Pollen  |  Water  |  Propolis


  • Nectar is sucked from the nectaries of flowers, up through the hollow proboscis into the honey stomach

  • The enzyme Invertase, from the hypopharyngael gland in the head is added to begin the conversion of sucrose into glucose and fructose

  • At the hive, foragers transfer the nectar to house bees who continue the conversion

  • House bees reduce water content by regurgitating nectar and holding it between their mandibles to evaporate water

  • House bees then place the nectar in the comb to further evaporate

  • Nectar is then packed into cells and seal with a wax cap when full

  • A worker can carry up to 40mg of nectar, gathered from 100 to 1,000 flowers

  • A worker has around 10 foraging trips per day when weather conditions are suitable

  • During its life a worker will collect enough nectar to be converted to a teaspoon of honey

  • Nectar is used: to feed adult bees, make brood food, seal over pollen, build up winter/bad weather stores







  • Contains protein, vitamins and minerals

  • Used to make brood food

  • Some is eaten by adult bees

  • Pollen grains from flowers adhere to the hairy body of worker bees

  • Combed off by fore and middle legs, moistened with regurgitated nectar and transferred to the back legs and packed into 'pollen baskets'

  • Pollen is placed in a cell and left for house bees who press it down, cover with honey and seal with wax

  • The addition of honey prevents fermentation

  • A pollen load can be 15 - 25mg

  • 20% of foragers collect only pollen (30% only nectar), other alternate

  • 70 - 150mg of pollen is needed to raise a single bee

  • Stored around the brood area

  • Pollen from particular flowers has a distinctive colour



  • Water is required to: liquefy crystallised honey and sugar, dilute honey for larval and adult bee food, to drink and to cool the hive through evaporation

  • Collected by foragers as needed and distributed by house bees

  • Carried in the honey stomach

  • Keep a suitable source near the hive (within 30 metres), rainwater is ideal - collected from plants or from a shallow dish with marbles/small stones for the bees to land on

  • Some beekeepers have a water feeder at the front on the hive



  • Plant gum obtained from buds and the wounds of some trees

  • Foragers chew off pieces and place them in their pollen baskets

  • House bees remove the propolis and use it to fill gaps, varnish interior of brood cells and embalm dead intruders that are too heavy to move e.g. mice

  • Anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties

  • Sold by health-food shops as a supplement

What is pollination?

The transfer of pollen from the anther of a plant to the stigma of a plant, enabling fertilisation and the production of seeds. Pollination is aided by animals, most often insects, birds and bats and by the wind.


Plant and Pollinator

Pollination is a mutualistic interaction - both the plant and pollinator benefit; the plant can reproduce and perpetuate itself and the pollinator obtains a food source - a process that maintains biodiversity and helps to ensure a functioning and stable ecosystem.

Bees and Pollination

Bees are the best known example of pollinating insects and are particularly vital because of their habit of visiting a large number of flowers and due to their large colony size: more bees = more visits to flowers. The preservation of bee species is vital fot the conservation of ecosystems.

Fruits, Nuts & Vegetables that need Pollination

Pollination is required to produce Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower, Collards, Cucumbers, Aubergine, Kale, Lettuce, Muskmelon, Mustard, Okra, Parsley, Peppers, Pumpkins, Swede, Squashes, Watermelon, Avocado, Apple, Apricot, Blackberry, Blueberry, Cherry, Coconut, Cranberry, Currants, Elderberry, Fig, Kiwi, Mango, Pear, Raspberry, Strawberry, Tomato, Almond, Beans, Melon, Cashew, Gourd, Lemon, Lime, Orange, Papaya, Peach, Quince, Courgette, Plum and more.

Only a few fruit and vegetable plants do not rely on pollinators in order to produce.

The diagram below shows the steps in the pollination process, where an insect pollinator is required.

Other Pollinators

 Many other animals are important pollinators, including those that humans find unpleasant or destructive,  such as wasps, ants, bats, rodents, moths and slugs.

Silver Y Moth

A regular migrant from Europe. Easily disturbed into rapid low wing-blur flutter that knocks pollen everywhere.


A striking black and yellow, wasp-mimicking fly with large ruby eyes, porrect (forward pointing) antennae and a broad abdomen.


Buzz pollination is essential for many types of flowers including tomato - the bumblebee grasps the flower with its legs or mouthparts and vibrates its flight muscles rapidly, without moving its wings shaking pollen out of the flower's anthers and attaching to the oppositely charged body hairs.


Found in damp meadows and hedgerows. Has a distinctive wide abdomen and short brown/black wings.

Tree Wasp

Similar to the commen wasp, but with a longer and narrower face and yellow legs. Important pollinator of figworts and hellborines. Useful to the fruit, vegetable and rose grower as this wasp eats aphids, caterpillars and flies.

Ashy Mining Bee

One of many species of solitary bees - the females make small burrow nests in the soil and stock a few cells with a pollen-nectar mix for their grubs. Has a short flight period from April to June.

Red Soldier Beetle

A mated pair are often found together on the same flower. The male has smaller bulging eyes than the female.

Marmalade Hoverfly

Slim with an orange and black abdomen, with a distinct moustache shape marking on each segment and large red hued eyes.

Solitary Bee

Makes individual nests in sandy ground. The pale abdomen bands have thick bars of broad feathery frond-like hairs.

False Oil Beetle

Has a shiny metallic green exterior. The male has thickened back legs.

What can be done to help pollinators?

  • Plant native trees that flower (includes catkins)

  • Don't mow, let it grow - wildflowers, flowering weeds and hedgerows

  • Do not use toxic sprays for weedkilling or toxic insectides in farming

  • Provide habitats for pollinators - as a beekeeper, bee hotels and long grass for solitary and bumblebees

Robbing Behaviour


Causes are often avoidable | Prevention is easier than cure | Early recognition of robbing behaviour is essential | Management should be decisive

Causes of Robbing

  • When colonies are in close proximity

  • After sugar syrup or honey spills in the apiary

  • When nectar flow abruptly ceases

  • Hives are opened for unnecessarily long periods

  • Weak colonies and Nucs are next to strong colonies

  • Hive entrances are left wide open with feeder on

  • Feeding during daylight hours

  • Selectively feeding some colonies and not others

  • Queen-less colony

  • A colony that perishes in the winter will be robbed in the spring


Some bee types are more known for robbing behaviour e.g. Italian Yellow.  Robbing generally occurs within apiaries but can occur between apiaries and can be performed by wasps and other insects as well as by bees. Bees will only rob honey and will ignore other stores.



  • Avoid opportunities for workers drifting between hives by orienting hive entrances in different directions

  • Keep entrance blocks/reducers in place when nectar flow is reduced

  • Keep entrance blocks/reducers on Nucs at all times

  • Make sure there are no other access points into the hive

  • Avoid spillage of sugar syrup or honey

  • Minimise the length of time a hive is opened

  • Open and close weak colonies before opening strong colonies to avoid following behavior

  • Feed at dusk

  • Feed colonies at the same apiary visit

  • Be vigilant for robbing behaviour during inspections



Silent Robbing – robbing bees gain admittance without being challenged and will be seen to fly between hives.  On leaving, the bee’s ventriculus will be full and it will fly in a head down position with its rear legs forward. Robbers will not be bringing forage into the hive. A normal forager leaving the hive flies with its rear legs extended and its head in a more upwards posture.


Defended Robbing – guard bees will intercept robbing bees and ‘rough up’ those that are not passive and submissive and/or do not have the correct brood smell. Robbers will attempt to avoid guard bees by flying in a zig zag pattern.



At the first signs of robbing:

  • Entrances should be closed to a single bee-way if possible, to assist the guard bees

  • Entrances can be disguised with plugs of dried grass

  • Place a vertical sheet of glass in front of the entrance to confuse robber bees

  • A robber hive may need to be moved to another site

  • If relocation is not an option, swap the robber and robbed hive positions to cause confusion

  • There is little point in moving a robbed hive as it may be chemically marked as a target

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