Worker Honey Bees
Worker honey bees are the largest group of bees within a colony. All of them are sterile females, incapable of producing fertile eggs. Workers are approximately 12 mm long, with pollen baskets, known as the corbiculum located on each hind leg, and an additional stomach for nectar storage. Worker honey bees also have four pairs of highly specialized glands under their abdomens, which allow them to secrete beeswax.
Honey bee workers are also armed with straight, barbed stingers that can be used only once. After stinging, the stinger of a worker honey bee remains attached to the victim’s flesh. As a result, its abdomen is ripped out and the bee dies soon after.
A healthy honey bee colony consists of up to 80,000 workers at one time. Worker honey bees perform a wide range of responsibilities needed to maintain and operate their hive. During the first few days of their lives, worker honey bees work inside the hive, tending drones and the queen, building combs, rearing broods and cleaning. As these workers age, they become “field bees,” responsible for gathering pollen, nectar, water and other food, defending their hive and collecting plant resins used to construct the hive.
Worker honey bees build their nest from wax, which they secrete from their abdominal glands. They arrange a series of hexagonal cells to build a comb. Cells are used for the development of young honey bees and as storage for food. The structure used by worker honey bees to store honey is known as honeycomb.
Worker honey bees have a unique way of cooling their hive during hot seasons and warming it in cold climates. They use their wings to fan and ventilate, maintaining a temperature near 94 degrees Fahrenheit within the hive. During cold weather, worker honey bees will cluster tightly around developing offspring to generate heat.
When mature workers leave the hive, they either gather nectar and pollen for food or collect propolis, a substance used in sealing the nest exterior. Worker honey bees convert nectar to honey by holding the nectar on their tongues. When the water evaporates, it becomes honey, and the workers transfer the newly produced honey into a cell inside the honeycomb.
If a colony becomes overcrowded, the queen will sometimes leave the colony with a large contingent of the worker honey bees.