Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University







Spring In The Colonies

Spring is an exciting time of year in temperate regions of the earth. It is a time of birth and growth — a time of renewal. It is a busy time when humans and other animals and plants prepare to take advantage of the impending growing season. 

Nowhere, though, is life more frantic in the spring than in the colonies — the honey bee colonies, that is. With the lengthening days and the promise of summer flowers, the colony is abuzz with activity. The queen has begun to lay eggs, and production of summer workers has begun. The current workers are, you might say, busy as bees.

A key to the success of the colony is to have high numbers of workers available during the summer months. These workers not only tend to duties within the hive, but also must collect nectar for processing into honey. To the colony of honey bees, it is essential to make honey when the sun shines. A good store of honey is necessary for survival during winters in temperate regions of the world.

Honey bees are like human industrial organizations in that workers progress through steps the longer they have been on the job. For instance, the oldest workers in the colony are the bees seen on flowers in the field. Before these forager bees get to wing their way over hill and dale in search of nectar and pollen, they must serve the equivalent of an apprenticeship beginning with the task of cell cleaning. That job lasts about three days.

The young worker bee moves from cleaning woman to nursemaid. During the next 10 days she will feed larvae. First the old larvae, then the younger ones and even the queen. From this task she gets promoted to the pollen and nectar storage detail. Next, she is called on to secrete wax, and finally to guard and ventilate the hive. All of this has taken approximately three weeks, and the worker is ready to move from hive bee to field bee.

The field bees will live about another three weeks during the busy days of the summer, when the flowers are full of nectar. During this time they will make thousands of trips to the field and literally work themselves to death.

Unlike human factories that can hire additional workers for peak production times, the honey factories have to plan ahead and produce the workers for those busy times. The honey bee colony is really busy in the spring time so there will be a lot of bees to be busy in the good ol' summertime.



Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Andrea McCann