Bees live short, busy lives. The average lifespan of a bee is only six weeks. They come out of their cells working and keep at it until their wings give out. With up to 3,000 fellows born from each batch of eggs, it can be easy for one solitary worker bee to get lost in the hectic shuffle. Each bee does important work for the health and safety of the hive, but generally they’re replaceable. Still, each bee can get a lot done and have its own unique experiences. As a thought experiment, let’s follow one bee’s perspective as she goes on her daily adventures. Let’s take a look at a day in the life of Beetrice, a honey bee from the Hexagonia hive.
Most of Hexagonia gets up with the sun. Beetrice extricates herself from her fellows and perks up, ready to get the day underway. She gives herself a quick once over – cleaning herself off and stretching out her wings. Then she’s off! Her first order of business is foraging. A few worker bees specialize in getting water, or guarding the hive, but not our Beetrice, she’s an explorer. A small patch of flowers by the creek had been bursting with pollen yesterday. Beetrice is eager to get back to it and bring some more resources back to her sisters. The sun tells her all she needs to know; she uses its position to put herself in the right direction and buzzes on over.
Her first haul is pretty good. Not great, but she gets enough pollen to fill the pollen baskets on her legs after only a couple flowers. A little sugar wouldn’t hurt either, she thinks, and drinks down some nectar. It looks like the area has been picked over pretty well though, and on the way back Beetrice realizes that Hexagonia is going to need a new place to get its food from. Still, Beetrice figures, it’s best to finish off this area before moving on. When she gets back to the hive Beetrice beelines for a honeycomb to store her collected pollen, adding nectar as well before sealing the honeycomb. By the time she’s back out in the air, her stash has already started fermenting into bee bread.
Beetrice’s next few trips go by without much incident. Sometimes, instead of making bee bread herself, she passes the nectar off to a processor bee, who passes it on again to another worker bee. Each time they pass the nectar they add their own enzymes to the concoction. When it reaches the end of the line, the last bee plops the proto-honey into a honeycomb and beats her wings like crazy to make any extra water evaporate. It might not look like honey yet, but it gets there. Then they seal it up with beeswax. They’ll be grateful for the stored food come winter.
After dropping off the pollen and nectar from her latest trip, Beetrice spots some of her sisters signaling that they found a great spot for foraging. She buzzes with excitement, her normal hang was getting sparse, and heads out to where they’re pointing. Beetrice can’t wait to start harvesting the good stuff again. Hours of foraging in, and Beetrice is still raring to go. In fact, she’s so focused, she doesn’t notice the summer tanager swooping down toward her and her sisters. It’s not until the bird snatches Beeanca, a fellow worker bee, that Beetrice even notices how much danger she’s in. Now Beetrice’s wings beat 230 times per second, and she can fly up to 20mph, but to a summer tanager those are chump numbers. She’s in trouble.
The bird’s heavy wingbeats knock poor Beetrice off her flight plan. This turns out to be lucky. The summer tanager swoops back and forth, making the isolated foragers dive for cover. Beetrice takes off in the opposite direction, but wait, what’s that? Off the beaten path, Beatrice has come across a hidden grove just full of untapped pollen! Ecstatic, our busy bee loads up on pollen and thanks her lucky stars. The tanager is nowhere to be seen as she makes her way back to Hexagonia. When she gets back, Beetrice can’t help but show off her find. She waggles this way and that, telling her sisters how high the sun was and how long of flight it took to get back home.
They may have lost good bees out there, but Beetrice hopes the pollen bonanza she discovered will make up for it.
Beetrice has had enough excitement for one day and decides to get a little domestic. The hive needs cleaning and somebee needs to do it. Cells need mucking out, and her sisters need their coats picked over. It’s not glamorous, but Beetrice figures that work’s work. She’s just going about her chores, right as rain when – what’s that?! A crack in the hive! That just won’t do. It’s just a little crack, not immediately dangerous, but Beetrice knows that a little crack today is a hive collapse next week.
Our daring worker bee friend takes off out of the hive like a shot. She knows just where she’s going, left past this bush, right past the boulder with a divot in the center and there it is! Beetrice pulls up to a copse of trees and starts collecting the ingredients she needs to make propolis. It just takes a little sap from a tree and a little resin from a leaf bud. That’s all Beetrice needs, and she’s flying back to Hexagonia ready to get her repair work started. Once she’s back at the hive it doesn’t take Beetrice long to whip up a batch of propolis and patch the crack.
The rest of the foragers get back to Hexagonia as the sun goes down. With the sun goes the heat. Beetice snuggles up against her sisters to keep warm. She and the rest of the foragers congratulate themselves on a day well done and get ready to slip into sleep. The younger bees, too green to be foragers, start shaking themselves awake as their older sibling settle in for the night. Even at night, there’s work to be done. For Beetrice though, the day is over, and the only thing left to do is answer the question: what do bees dream about?