Division of labour among honeybees
ALL societies of insects are like overgrown families, for they have all originated from the egg of one female. Some experts have even called these families ‘super-organisms’ for, in one sense, they are like an organism, which needs all its parts to for healthy survival. Of them the honeybee is the most notable example in which division of labour is carried to an extreme and as a consequence, the hive may remain in existence for years.
In these overgrown families, the queen lives for several seasons, but the other bees--- the males and remainder of the females and the infertile workers---are relatively short-lived. As many as 70,000 to 90,000 worker bees in a single flourishing hive are all the offspring of a single female, the queen bee.
Honeybees are social bees of which
there are four species – Apis mellifera, Apis indica, Apis dorsata
and Apis florea or Apis cerana. They build combs of bee wax secreted
by the worker bee and gather pollen and nectar. Their tongue is
elongated and modified to reach down to the nectar source, deep inside
the flowers. Their hind legs are hairy and they act as a brush for
collecting pollen grains and also as a basket for transporting them back
to the hive. Honeybees build hives in branches and tree hollows or rock
The workers have a variety of tasks to perform – some collect nectar from flowers, others pollen, some are engaged in constructing new combs, or looking after the developing larvae, some perform the duty of cleaning the cells or feeding the larvae on special secretion that they regurgitate from their mouth parts. In these insects the exact task of any individual depends largely on its age, although there is a certain flexibility, depending on the requirements of the hive.
If we go by the age, after coming out of the cell a worker’s first task is to clean the cells from which other workers have recently emerged and prepare the cell for reuse by the queen for the purpose of egg-laying. After about three days, the same worker matures to feeding the larvae, in particular the older ones, and gathers pollen and honey from the stores. Her next duty, a few days later, is to feed the younger larvae and this she does by giving them, in addition to pollen and honey, a kind of milky food secreted from special glands in her head. At this stage, bees also begin to brave the open for the first time, making short reconnaissance flights.
After the worker is about 10 days’
old, it takes on the jobs like packing pollen into cells, feeding the foraging
bees with honey and building new cells with wax secreted from glands in the
abdomen. When a worker bee is 20 days’ old, she takes on guard duties that
involve inspecting every individual entering the hive. If anyone is not found to
be possessing the hive-specific smell on its body, it is taken as an intruder
and attacked. Finally, the day comes when it matures enough to be allowed to go
out in search of food.