The Amazing Life-Cycle of the Honey Bee
When people think about bugs, and bees in particular, they probably think they hatch as a baby bee and then do whatever tasks are required to sustain life and survive. When in fact, honeybees hatch out of a cell and have a very regimented and intricate life cycle. We’ll take you trough all the amazing stages of the honeybee life-cycle.
First you need to know that there are 3 different casts of bees in a honeybee colony; a worker (female), the queen (female) and a drone (males). Here we’ll discuss the life-cycle of the worker bees only. We start by discussing the time period from when an egg is laid, until it hatches. Next, we’ll give you a look into what a bees life looks like after it has hatched and what challenges it will face.
From Egg to Bee
A worker bee starts out as fertilized egg which the queen lays in the bottom of a cell. An egg will stay an egg until day 3, at which time it will fall over and develop into a larva. A larva is something like a grub, to give you a visual. This larva needs to be fed thousands of times a day, which the young nurse bees in the hives take care of (more about them later). The larvae continue to develop and on day 9 the cell gets capped by the worker bees. Under this cap the larvae develops into a pupa (the grub is like a baby inside a woman’s stomach. It goes from something like a blob into a human baby with eyelashes and finger nails). It continues to evolve until day 21 when the young bee chews it way out of the cell. Now it’s part of the magnificent bee colony!
The Young Honeybee
Day 1 of a young worker bees life is comprised mostly of getting food so she can build the strength that is needed to work. Young bees can digest both honey and pollen, while older bees can only digest honey.
On days 2-5 her main duties are cleaning the cells that her other sisters are hatching out of. These cells need to be cleaned so that the queen can come back and lay more eggs in them. At this time, she’ll also remove waste from the colony. This can be waste from the caps of the cells the that baby bees are hatching out of, or from the queen herself.
On day 6 the workers’ glands that produce royal jelly begin to develop. The young bee can then take “bee bread” (a pollen and honey mixture), consume it and excrete royal jelly. This royal jelly is fed to both the queen and the larvae in the hive. Different casts of bees will require different concentrations of royal jelly.
We call the worker bees at this stage ‘nurse bees’, as they are caring for the young in the colony. The nurse bees will continue to clean out cells, as well as preparing them for more eggs to be laid. This stage of the bees life goes on until day 11.
On day 12 the glands in a bee that produce wax will develop. From this time she can start to construct and build new cells. She can also cap the cells of the larvae that are developing into pupa. The wax making process is really cool! The bee will consume honey which she then converts it into wax. The wax is secreted in sheets from beneath her abdomen (they kind of resemble a snow flake, but in the shape of a pancake). If you put them on your tongue you can taste the sweetness from the honey. She’ll take these sheets into her ‘hands’ and mouth and mold them into new cells or repair cells as needed. At this point in her life she’ll spend time at the front entrance of the hive where she’ll collect pollen and nectar from the foraging bees to be stored in cells.
On day 18 the worker bees venom glands develop. Although they always have venom glands, it isn’t until the 18 day mark that they fully develop. While it’s possible for a young nurse bee to sting you, it certainly wouldn’t have as much of a punch as a bee with fully developed glands.
We call bees at this age Guard bees. They’re now in charge of guarding the front door of the hive and alerting the colony if there are any intruders. Should an intruder come into the hive the bees will sting them. When a honeybee stings something, the stinger gets lodged in the predator and when they pull away the bees whole intestinal tract comes with it, kill the honeybee. Because of this they only sting when necessary. When feeling threatened, bees can also emit pheromones. Think of this like perfume. These perfumes will spread quickly through the colony to warn the other bees of the intruders and will put the colony in defense mode.
Once the bees reach day 22 of their life, they have graduated into forager bees. These are the bees that you see in your backyard. They go out into the wild and collect pollen and nectar from flowers.
Bees usually live until they are 42-45 days old. However, there are many things that can affect this. Diseases, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides play a huge roll in the lifespan of all pollinating creatures, including honeybees.
The last 20 days of their life will be spend visiting different flowers for either pollen or honey, depending on what the colony requires. Some bees will spend their day only getting pollen, while other bees will just collect nectar.
The above life-cycle is that of a bee born from February through the end of August. Bees that are born outside that time period are physiologically different. We call them fat bees. These bees can survive up to 9 months! Think of them like a bear with their extra fat stores to help them survive the long winter. Their life-cycle will be slightly different depending on when they’re born, but they don’t have the hard demands of flying thousands of miles for food. This activity is very taxing on the bees and their wings. The main job of bees during the winter is to keep the colony warm by vibrating their wings. They will maintain a temperature in the hive of 33-36 degrees Celsius, which is absolutely amazing! This allows the queen to lay a small number of eggs to ensure that there is some regeneration of life over the winter.
Honeybee Disease Prevention
The process of the bees’ life-cycle is very important in the prevention of spreading disease. They start their life out in the center of the hive and work their way towards the outside. This helps to keep disease to a minimum within the colony and therefore prevents the spreading of anything within it. Should a bee get sick, they will instinctively try to leave the hive to die, as not to spread disease. And generally, the older foraging bees will die while out collecting nectar and pollen for the colony.
Honeybee colonies are amazing in that they work together. They do everything for the greater good of the colony. There are no selfish acts that take place within the hive, everything is done to ensure longevity and survival. If mankind could learn to act as a honeybee colony does, our world would be a very different place.