Here are a few bee statistics for you. To make one pound of honey bees must fly 55,000 miles and visit some 2 million individual flowers. When you consider that a medium-producing hive will make about 150 pounds of honey a season, that’s a lot of activity. Eight and a quarter million miles flown and 300 million blooms. For one hive.
No wonder worker bees simply wear out after a while. It’s a myth that honey bees are specialized within the hive, that some look after brood, others collect nectar, others pick pollen. Every single worker bee that hatches does every job in the hive over the course of her 40-day life. She starts by taking out the trash, then moves up to become a nursemaid for developing brood, then a hive builder, security guard and finally a forager, the job she’ll do until her wings become so tattered that they can’t lift her anymore. Over the course of her life she’ll make about a tenth of a teaspoon of honey.
The only bees that don’t do anything in the hive — save eat and mate with young queen bees — are the males. These are the drones and there are very few of them in the hive relative to the legions of workers who wait upon them. The gig sounds better than it is. Bees mate in the air and if a drone actually succeeds in finding a virgin queen to copulate with, he literally explodes in act with an audible popping sound. As far as the laying around and eating, that works fairly well until the end of the season when the drones are literally picked up and thrown bodily from the hive to freeze. The reason, because no one needs layabouts hanging around when the hive is scrimping and saving its way through the winter. Life’s tough when you’re a bug.
Oh, and reader Flick — if that IS your real name — wants to know what bees do with pollen. The answer is they eat it (and store it). Bees have a two-pronged diet: honey (carbs) and pollen (protein). Fueled thusly they work, fly and produce wax which they secrete from glands on their abdomen in flakes. It takes about five times as much fuel to make wax as it does to do anything else in the hive, which means it’s very, very precious stuff. Think about that the next time you’re smearing beeswax balm on your lips. Those little critters work mighty hard for us!