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Life Cycle Of The Honey Bee

The honey bee's life cycle can be broken down into eight stages:

  1. An egg is laid.

  2. The egg hatches.

  3. The larva is fed.

  4. The cell is sealed.

  5. The larva spins a cocoon.

  6. The larva transforms.

  7. The adult bee emerges.

  8. The new bee assumes its role.

The Eight Life Cycle Stages

In a normally functioning hive, a queen will lay one egg per cell in the brood chamber. Queens are able to choose whether to lay fertilized or unfertilized eggs. Due to the haploid/diploid nature of honey bee reproduction, unfertilized eggs result in male (drone) bees, while all fertilized eggs become female bees--either workers or virgin queens.

Workers in the hive will produce a number of drone cells, slightly larger in diameter than worker cells, usually around the edges of brood frames. The queen "measures" the cell and most of the time lays the appropriate egg in the corresponding cell. If she gets it wrong, the workers will eat the "mistake." At her peak of egg production, she may lay up to 1,500 eggs per day!

Brood comb with one carefully laid egg in each cell

2. The egg hatches.

On average, the egg will hatch on the third day after it is laid, but that time can vary depending on temperature. The creature that emerges from the egg is a tiny, white, glistening, wormlike larva.

The "egg shell," called a chorion, simply dissolves.

3. The larva is fed. For the first 2 days of life, all female larvae are fed "royal jelly," a special food secreted from mandibular and hypopharyngeal glands located in the heads of nurse bees. Larvae that will become queens receive large amounts of royal jelly for their entire larval development period of 4.5 days. After the second day, worker larvae receive brood food. After 5.5 days of feeding, the worker larva has completed its larval development and begins to pupate. Drone larvae are fed a similar diet for 6 days before their larval development phase is complete.

4. The cell is sealed. After feeding, a larva is ready to pupate, or transform into a bee. At this time, workers in the hive will cap the cell of the mature larva to protect it while it undergoes its transformation. A comb of recently capped brood cells with some brood still uncapped

5. The larva spins a cocoon.

After its cell is sealed, the larva spins a cocoon around itself.  It may not be apparent that honey bee larvae spin cocoons before they transform into pupae, because their cells are capped before the spinning begins and because the emerging pupae leave the cocoons behind.

6. The larva transforms.

Inside the sealed cell, wrapped in a cocoon, the smooth, wormlike larva undergoes an amazing transformation in which its body changes into an insect with three distinct body parts, six legs, four wings, and fully functional compound eyes.

A fully transformed drone chews its way out of its cell. 7. The adult bee emerges. On the twenty-first day, a newly transformed worker bee will chew its way out of its cell and climb onto the comb surface. Drones emerge after about 24 days, while queens take only 16 days. Even though queens are larger and in some ways more developed than workers or drones, they complete their transformation more quickly because of the richer diet they receive as larvae and because they are  urgently needed in the colony.

8. The new bee assumes its role.

If the new bee is a queen, it will immediately seek out other competing queens and queen cells and attempt to kill them until only one remains. If the bee is a worker, it will begin to clean cells. If the bee is a drone, it will be fed by workers until it is able to feed itself and does very little else until it reaches full maturity, after about a week.

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