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Part XXII: The Interdependence of Living Things : Social Behaviour of Animals Index

Interdependence of Living Things : Introduction
Groups which show social behaviour I :
Lions, African Hunting Dogs and Baboons

Groups which show social behaviour II :
Wolves, Hippopotamuses and Elephants

Social Insects : Ants
Social Insects : Termites
In conclusion
Chapter Summary (useful for revision)
Questions relating to this chapter

Topic Chapters Index


Drawing of a queen bee © Shirley Burchill

Drawing of a queen bee


Drawing of a worker bee  © Shirley Burchill

Drawing of a worker bee


Drawing of a drone  © Shirley Burchill

Drawing of a drone


Days Worker Bee's Activities
1 to 2 Cleaning the honeycomb cells and keeping the eggs and the larvae warm.
03 to 6 Feeding the older larvae with beebread.
07 to 11 Feeding the younger larvae with royal jelly.
12 to 17 Making beeswax and building honeycombs; moving food around the hive.
18 to 21 Guarding and ventilation the entrance to the hive.
22 to 34 Visiting flowers to collect pollen and nectar.
35 to 45 End of the life of a worker bee.


Drawing of a head of a worker bee © Shirley Burchill

Towards the end of their lives, the worker bees leave the hive in search of nectar and pollen. The bee's mouthparts and legs are remarkably adapted for these jobs. 

Drawing of a worker bee's third leg © Shirley Burchill


Fact File No.88

A worker bee collects enough nectar in its brief lifetime to make about 45g of honey.


Remember that bees do not see in the same way as we do. Bees can see polarized light as well as ultra-violet light. This means that they can "see" the sun through cloud.


YouTube © BBCWorldwide Uploaded on Nov 3, 2008
Sir David Attenborough visits Malaysia to take a closer look at the life of the world's largest honey bees. When one sting can lead to a thousand very quickly in a very defensive colony of killer bees, Sir David is quite keen to make a good impression!. Amazing video from BBC animal and wildlife show 'Life in the Undergrowth'.


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Social insects: Bees

There are over 10000 different species of bees. Many species lead solitary lives while other species show a high level of social organisation. The honeybee colony lives in a hive which is often constructed in a hollow tree. The colony has only one queen whose function is to lay eggs in the hexagonally shaped wax cells in the centre of the hive.


Bee hive, Bristol Zoo, UK


The workers are all sterile females. Their functions are to feed and care for the larvae, build, clear and guard the hive and search for food. The workers change their jobs according to their ages.


Fact File No.58

Fossil bees have been found preserved in amber. These fossils date back 50000 years.


The worker bees feed the larvae on royal jelly, a food rich in protein and vitamins, for the first three days and then on beebread, which is a mixture of pollen and honey.

The queen bee produces a chemical which is licked off her body by the attending workers. This chemical is passed from worker to worker in their saliva. If the queen dies, the workers react to the loss of the queen substance by making special cells around some of the younger larvae. These larvae are fed entirely on royal jelly until they pupate. Worker bees will also produce special queen cells when the old queen is about to leave the hive in a swarm.

The first young queen to emerge from her cell kills the other developing queens by stinging them. Then she leaves the nest and takes to the air chased by the drone bees.

The drone's only function is to mate with the young queen.


Fact File No.87

The largest bee is called a mason bee because it builds its nest in stone walls. It has a length of 3,9cm. The smallest bee is stingless and is only 2mm long!


Drones develop in special cells from unfertilized eggs laid by the queen. The young queen may mate with several drones before returning to the hive. The queen takes only one mating flight. She receives enough sperms from the drones to use throughout her life. The sperms are stored in a sac inside her body.

Bees will swarm when the hive becomes overcrowded. The old queen leaves the hive with thousands of workers to search for a suitable place to start a new hive.

The beekeeper waits for a swarm to settle on a branch of a tree. Then he covers the swarm with wood smoke which makes the bees drowsy. The next step is to tap the branch gently so that the bees fall into a cloth sack. This sack is then taken to an empty beehive and placed on the ground just in front of it. The beekeeper puts a plank of wood against the hive, leading up to the entrance. The bees leave the sack and walk up the plank of wood and into their new home.

Worker bees protect the entrance to the hive from other bees, spiders and other insects, particularly ants. Each worker bee has a sting which it is only able to use once. The barbs on the sting fix into the enemy so well that when the bee moves away it leaves behind its sting and much of its abdomen. The worker bee only lives for a few hours after it has used its sting.

Worker bees chase the drones out of the hive once the new queen has been fertilized. The drones are not capable of finding their own food and they quickly die. Some worker bees stand at the entrance to the hive and fan their wings. The hive gets hot in the summer, up to 34°C, and the wing-fanning helps send a current of air through it.


A worker bee on a flower © Paul Billiet

A worker bee on a flower


The mouthparts of each worker are shaped into a honeyspoon with which the bee sucks the nectar from the flower. The nectar is stored in the bee's honey stomach and, once back at the hive, the bee is able to regurgitate the nectar which has been turned into honey. (There is a special part of the bee's digestive system, called the crop, where the nectar is changed into honey.)

The bee's legs are also adapted to help it collect and carry pollen. The first pair of legs each has a notch, called a pollen comb, to clean pollen grains from the antennae. The third pair of legs each has a pollen basket made of stiff hairs. Pollen which has been removed from the body by the two other pairs of legs is stored in these pollen baskets. You can easily see the pollen baskets on a bee's back legs as it moves from flower to flower.

Inside the hive it is dark and the bees communicate by using chemical messages and touch. Their antennae are used in both of these methods of communication. When a bee discovers a good supply of nectar it returns to the hive and dances.



Drawing to illustrate the waggle dance © Shirley Burchill

Drawing to illustrate the waggle dance


If the food source is less than 100 metres from the hive the worker bee performs a round dance. If the food is more than 100 metres from the hive the dance it performs is called a waggle dance. The other bees surrounding the dancer follow its movements with their antennae. The waggle dance not only tells the other workers how far away the rich supply of nectar is, but also the direction which they should take. The direction is indicated relative to the position of the sun.


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