Beekeepers Friend

Peaches’ Beekeeping Blog

March 4, 2015

Life Cycle of the Honey Bee

The honey bee is the most versatile insect in the world. It pollinates, makes medicinal products, food, and shows us how the insect world works (in a way). This is a post on how they operate from conception to death, (my own opinion).

First of all, the virgin queen goes on a maiden flight to the Drone Congregation area to get impregnated by 3-4 up to 20-28 drones. Then she goes back to the hive and starts laying eggs in the center of the cells. One egg to a cell. The egg is standing up on end. By day 3 the egg has laid down in a bed of royal jelly.

Day 4 the egg has hatched into a larva. From that day through day 6 all the larvae are fed royal jelly then on day 8, all male and female larvae, except the female larvae that have been designated to be the new queens, are fed beebread which is a form of baby food. It is made of pollen and nectar (honey). At this point in life, the baby larvae eat 90% pollen and 10% honey. Later, the adult bees will eat 10% pollen and 90% nector.

The worker bee will be in the larval stage for 6 days. On day 10 through day 21, she will be in the pupal stage metamorphosing into a full adult. On days 10 and 11 the nurse/house bees will top the worker cell with a flat cap or roof on her cell. On the 21-22 day she will eat her way out of the cell as a full grown adult and will then slurp up some honey and then get to work on cleaning up her cell so it will be ready for the next egg. Thus begins the workers work life until she dies which is about 40-45 days in the spring and summer. For those bees that live in the northern part of the U.S. and southern Canada, the workers have a shorter spring period in which to work with a longer winter period in which they can rest so the bees can live for a much longer period of time.

The drone will be in the larva stage for 7 days, and on the 11th day will elongate and start his transference into an adult. On days 11 and 12, the workers will build a dome-like cap on the cells that will look like a rack of bullets standing up ready to be boxed or loaded in a gun. The reason for the high roof on the cell is because the drones are so much longer than the worker bees. On the 24th day the drone will start chewing his way out of the cell and will then start begging the workers to feed him as he cannot feed himself.

The drones are the only bees that can go to any bee hive with impunity and get something to eat. If a worker goes to another hive, she will either needs to be bringing food (nectar or pollen) to be able to enter, or she will be treated as a robber and either killed or driven away.

Now the drones will live until they mate with the new queen at which time they die from an explosive ejuclation and fall to the ground dead, or the workers will kick them out during the winter so the food will last longer. Side note: The drones don’t like the idea that they will either freeze or starve to death, so they try to get back into a hive. This is when the workers decide to gang up on the drones and drag them back outside (kicking and screaming???), rips their wings off, pulls their legs off, throws them on the ground and says,”Now, you will stay put!”

The queen cells are also a special type of cell. The queens are so much longer than the workers and even longer than the drones, that the cells will be drawn out and folded down atop of comb some cells to the extent that it looks like some peanuts hanging down the side of the comb. On day 10, the larva will start elongating and will fill up the longer cell as she turns into a pupa. Day 11-12, the bees will close the end of the cell for the remainder of the pupa stage.

Just about an hour before starting to chew her way out of the cell, the new virgin queen will start singing or “piping” as some of the older beekeepers would say. This lets the workers know that she may need help chewing the end off the cell. Also, it lets the other potential queens know that the fight to the death is imminent.

When the queen emerges, she goes around to the other queen cells and enlisting help from the workers in the area, to start chewing the side of the queen cell so she can stick her stinger into the side of the trapped queen before she can get her stinger out to sting in self defense. If a queen gets out of her cell before she is stung to death, then may the best, quickest, luckiest queen win. Sometimes they will sting each other and both will die. That is another story.

The location of the queen cells is important to the bees and beekeeper. If the cells are at the bottom of the frame or comb, then this signifies to all that the bees are getting ready to swarm. This means that the old queen is getting ready to leave the parent hive and take approximately 50-60% of the population with her. When they hear the first piping, then all heck breaks loose and the exodus begins.

Another side note: At this time the bees will either die for lack of finding a shelter, or they will either find a suitable location or they will start an open air hive. Again, another story.

If they make the right decisions and live, then usually, the bees will make some supersedure queen cells in the center of the beeswax sheet or frame and the same formula as above applies with the exception that the bees are not going anywhere. They are simply replacing a queen that has been injured, got sick and is dying, or has stopped being proliferate by not being able to lay fertile eggs.

These are some of the things you need to know if you are going to breed queens for sale or raise them for your own use.

Check your supers and add as necessary. Until the next time, keep your veil handy, your smoker lit, and your hive tool sharp.

 

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