Bee Hive Stages: The Life Cycle of a Bee

Bees develop through 4 stages; the egg, larva, pupa, and adult. After hatching, the egg develops into an embryo, which develops an exterior covering and a neurological and digestive system. Then, each embryo matures into an adult throughout various periods. Drones grow to adulthood in under 24 days, while female workers need 21 days for larval and pupal development. Queens reach maturity in about 16 days.

Bee Life Cycle
Image Credit: BeeWiki

The main beehive stages

A bee goes through the following life stages:

1. Egg

Honey bee queens employ a variety of pheromones to further the colony’s interests, and “egg-marking sigĀ­nal” is one. The queen wraps each egg that leaves her body with a substance that identifies it as having been laid exclusively by her. 

Police bees can distinguish between real queen-laid eggs and fake eggs. Once found, the egg police will consume renegade eggs, preserving nutrients within the colony and ensuring that workers – rather than drones – develop in worker cells. 

Additionally, it ensures that any drones raised exclusively inherit the genetic makeup of the queen.

The queen lays one egg per cell, averaging about 3000 daily. The worker bees have constructed suitable cells for the queen because they know what the colony needs to live. 

First, she lays fertilized eggs that will grow into worker bees in most cells. She then lays unfertilized eggs that will develop into drones in slightly bigger cells than the worker cells.

Although honey bee eggs are frequently compared to grains of rice, they are significantly smaller, measuring just 1.2 to 1.8 mm long by 0.4 mm wide and weighing only 0.12 to 0.22 mg. 

As long as your hive isn’t queenless, the healthy queens will always lay eggs for the next generation of bees.

2. Larva

After three days, the egg becomes a tiny white grub-like larva. It is blind and lacks legs. 

Young worker nursing bees that have not yet left the hive or nest feed the larvae. Female workers are given “worker jelly,” male workers are fed “drone jelly,” and the queen is fed “royal jelly” to the larvae.

All worker bee larvae are fed jelly for the first three to four days. Then, workers are given a slightly different jelly with less protein. 

While mature worker bees will eat pollen and honey, a larva that will become a queen will only eat royal jelly and do so for the rest of her life. These are the bees that may follow you outdoors.

Salivary glands produce a material called royal jelly in the mouth and glands in the brain. Royal jelly is produced by young nurse bees and is frequently referred to as “bee milk” (worker bees between 5 and 14 days old).

Water, protein, vitamins, fats (lipids), sugar, and some mineral salts are all included in royal jelly.

The larva will shed its outer skin multiple times as it grows. The worker bees wax over the egg cell after around six days, depending on whether it is a worker, drone, or queen bee. 

The only stage before adulthood where food is consumed from sources other than the body is the larval stage, sometimes known as the eating stage. 

In contrast, the bee survives on nutrients stored in the yolk and fat bodies during the egg and pupal stages, but nothing fresh is brought in from the outside. 

As a result, larvae are better at feeding. A larva’s entire body is built to consume and process enormous amounts of food, like standalone digestive machines. 

A mouth, salivary glands, a mid- and hindgut, and an intestine without an outlet make up their bodies. In addition, they have a few additional components, such as spiracles for breathing and silk glands for cocoon-spinning.

3. Pupa

The amount of growth during the larval stage is impossible to imagine. The bee changes from a barely discernible C-shaped shadow lying in a puddle of royal jelly to a big and hearty grub over the course of around five and a half days. 

Some entomologists have observed a 1500-fold weight increase during the larval stage. 

The developing bee undergoes a series of molts, shedding its skin six times before becoming an adult to suit its quickly increasing girth. The first molt occurs at hatch (eclosion) when the bee absorbs her protective chorion coat.

Drones and queens have five instars and six molts, albeit the instars differ in length from worker bees. While drones mature over 24 days, queens do so on an average of 16 days. 

Worker bee development takes about 20 to 21 days. Time varies depending on genetics, temperature, diet, and other environmental conditions. This is only an average.

4. Adult

The capped larva performs a series of somersaults while secreting silken fibers from its spinneret, a gap between the two larval maxillae, to spin a cocoon. It repeatedly falls till she is enclosed. 

It then stretches out the entire cell length, terminating with the head at the top to position herself for eventual adult emergence.

The bee uses some of the fat she stored during the eating phase to help her develop inside the cocoon, and other than the wings, all of the distinguishable features of an adult bee eventually emerge. 

The worker bee will undergo its fifth molt at around day 11 of the fourth larval instar, at which point it will have fully developed into an adult.

A queen lives for three to four years; drones typically pass away during mating or are ejected from the hive before the winter. Worker bees may live for a few weeks in the summer or several months in regions with long winters.

And the cycle of life continues, keeping the hive running.

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