Yes, yours truly is bringing a “Tell All” column here on Bee Smart called “Beehind The Hive”. The little truths and tidbits my sisters and mama don’t really want you people to know. Actually, they don’t really care who knows beecause they’re gonna do whatever they want anyway. But, it’s more exciting to introduce it like this.
Today I’m spilling the dirt about how bees do certain things because it’s related to how old they are. It’s true. As bees reach certain ages, usually measured in days, they become able to do more things in the hive. For example, producing beeswax. Worker bees all of them females, aren’t able to produce beeswax the same day they climb out of the cell. It takes awhile for the bees physiology to get to the point that they can biologically do that and there is a need in the colony for it to be done.
Bees accumulate abilities to do more and more things as we get older. Physically and by learning. and much of what actually end up doing is based on a need for it in the colony. If there’s not a need for it, the bee will go do something else. So in the case of making beeswax, If the bee is the right age to be able to make it AND There is enough nectar or honey to be consumed to stimulate the production of the wax AND there is a need for wax to be made by that particular bee, then the bee will make and work wax.
If any of those conditions aren’t there then the bee, although able and capable of making wax, won’t. She will go about doing something else she is capable of doing and senses an active need for it to bee done in the hive. She might patrol the comb for pests. She might transfer nectar and pollen from foragers coming in to storage cells. There are many things she could do though it is maybe more common to see bees doing one certain thing at a particular age, that doesn’t mean that’s all they are limited to doing.
Not only that, but bees can change the activities they are involved in within a matter of minutes. As they see the hives needs change or that there is a new priority that needs attention, they will stop what they were doing and go do the new thing.
What’s really interesting is that honey bees can even change their physiology to meet certain demands even though their age might have left a particular window of ability beehind.
Let’s go back to making wax. “Usually”, honey bees become able to produce wax at about age_ until about age _. After that, their body phases out of that ability and the bees focus on new abilities and tasks.
BUT, When honey bees leave in a swarm to go build a new colony in a new hive somewhere else, most, if not all, of those bees that are leaving are bees that are way past the wax making age. Still, they gorge on honey t prepare for the trip, they all fly out and wait for the scouts to pick out a new place to move into. Then they move in and if the new place doesn’t already have beeswax in it (because bees will often move into abandoned nests left behind by other honey bee colonies) they will start making fresh wax and building combs.
Crazy right? How do they do that if they are supposedly “too old” to make wax? They do it by literally changing their physiology. Kind of like turning on a time machine inside their body and getting younger inside till they reach the point that their body can make wax. Once they finish that then they get to the business of building a new nest.
So you see, it’s true that bees develop and perform abilities in stages at certain ages. It’s just honey bees aren’t limited to only doing those few things they are at a certain age for. The colony’s needs, their own physiology and the environment around them will often have bees performing a wide variety of tasks at any given time.