The Honey Bee Life Cycle

by Jay W. Sharp

The honeybee begins its life as a pinhead-sized egg, one of 1500 to 2000 laid by the queen of the hive during the course of a typical late-winter or early-spring day.  It and its siblings each occupy private, adjoining, six-sided cells that, collectively, serve as the nursery and the honeycomb of the hive. 

Within three days, the honeybee hatches from its egg, the larva resembling “a grain of rice with a mouth, and its sole function is to EAT and grow,” said the Capital Area Honeybee Stewards Internet site.  As it develops over the next five to six days, it will receive 7000 to 8000 visits from dedicated nurse bees, which deliver it food – bee bread – they make from glandular secretions and the hive’s honey and pollen stores. 

It grows rapidly, increasing its weight by 1500! times, according to William Atherton DuPuy in his entertaining old book Our Insect Friends and Foes.  (A human child, growing at the same rate, would weigh five or six tons by the time it is a week old.) 

Perhaps with its voracious appetite satisfied for a few days, the larva, ensconced in its cell now capped by a nurse, spins a cocoon, said the Capital Area Honeybee Stewards Internet site.  In about a week and a half, it hatches, emerging from its cell as an adult. 

Bees entering a hive in a hole in an Oak tree

How a Queen is Born

The honeybee’s role in the hive flows largely from choices made by the queen and the nurse bees.  If – as is most likely – it hatches from an egg the queen chooses to fertilize, it will emerge as a female, likely a worker bee.  If it hatches from an egg she leaves unfertilized, it will develop as a male, or a drone, a presumably happy (although short-lived) sloth and queen’s sex slave. 

If a newly hatched female arrives on the scene at a time when the hive needs a new queen, she may receive bee bread enriched by royal jelly, made from glands in an indulgent nurse bee’s head.  The chosen infant will then develop into the new queen, ready to assume the royal duties. 

Honey Bee on Pink flower

The Worker Bee

The young worker honeybee, about half an inch in length, begins its adult life as you might expect, by cleaning up her birth cell.  It then assumes the duties of nurse bee, a role that will last for a week or more.  It spends the next week within the hive, constructing new honeycomb, producing wax, and repositioning food and nectar stores.  It then spends several days guarding the entrance to the hive.  Finally, when it reaches bee maturity, it takes wing, visiting many dozens of flowers in its every expedition, gathering pollen and nectar.  Arriving back at her hive, she performs a sophisticated and highly structured dance that points the way to the source of her bounty.  She, with perhaps 40,000 of her sisters, will fly tens of thousands of miles within their neighborhood to visit millions of flowers to produce a single pound of honey.  In the event of a threat to the hive, she produces special scents to raise the alarm.  Her scout sisters produce a special scent to signal the location of promising flowers.  If born in the spring, the female worker can expect to live for about six weeks.  If born in the fall, she will live until the following spring. 

The Drone Bee

The drone honeybee, slightly larger than the female worker, lives a pampered and indolent life, tended by his sisters.  After a few weeks, he discovers sex, and lured by scents produced by new, virgin queens from other hives in his area, he rushes to join other drones in mating flights, a ritual that may last no longer than an hour.  Having served his purpose in life, he will soon find himself an outcast, driven, by his sisters, from his own hive to die in the coming fall. 

The Queen Bee

The queen honeybee, about one and a third times larger than the female worker, serves as the instrument of reproduction and cohesion for the hive.  Tended and fed by five to ten worker bees, she may lay as many as 200,000 eggs in the course of a season, or about 400,000 eggs in the course of her two-year life span.  From special glands near her mouth, according to the FAO Corporate Document Repository Internet site, she produces pheromones called “queen substances,” which help her attract drones during her mating flight, maintain her colony’s cohesion during a swarm, identify members of her hive, and inhibit ovary development in worker bees.  Should she fail to produce queen substances, for instance, when she sickens or ages near the end of her life, her colony may fracture.  Her worker bees begin to produce ovaries.  Much to the old queen’s distress and anger, her faithless daughters prepare new quarters – a queen cell – to serve as accommodation for a newly laid egg, with the larva to be fed royal jelly to promote its development as the hive’s new sovereign.

Video available on this subject. Click Here for the video on Honeybees.Video available on this subject.

Anatomy of a Honeybee

The honey bees' role in agriculture

Colony Collapse Disorder


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Carpenter Bees
Discover the World Of Insects
Plants & Wildlife Links
Insects and Spiders



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