As beekeepers, the ability to monitor our hives comes in short bursts of activity usually in the form of regular hive inspections. For the most part, unless you have an observation hive, this time spent deep in the nitty gritty of the bee’s daily life is only for a few short moments. As we remove the frames, glance over the thousands of busy bees, check for brood, check for capped honey, maybe spot the queen… then the frames go back in their slots and the hive is sealed up again.
But in the hours spent away from our hives, thousands of tiny miracles are happening everyday. Within the hexagonal wax cells little lives are hatching out and joining the hive family.
Let’s take a closer look at that miracle and explore how a baby bee is born.
1. The Queen Lays the Egg
The whole process from egg to adult worker bee takes around 18 days. For a queen bee, it’s around 24 days.
During the laying season (late spring to summer) the Queen bee is capable of laying over 1500 eggs per day. Her worker bees help direct her to the best prepared comb and she lays a single egg in each hexagon shaped cell.
The size of the cell prepared determines the type of egg she lays. If the worker bees have prepared a worker size cell, she will lay a fertilized egg. This egg will produce a female worker bee.
If the worker bees have prepared a slightly larger cell, the queen will recognize this as a drone cell and lay an unfertilized egg. This will produce a male drone bee.
It is the workers and not the queen that determine the ratio of workers to drones within the hive.
2. The Larva Hatches
In three days the egg hatches and a larva emerges. It looks very similar to a small maggot. In the beginning the young, nurse bees feed the larva royal jelly to help them grow quickly. Royal jelly is a nutritionally dense secretion that worker bees produce and feed to the larva. After three days they stop feeding royal jelly, (unless that bee is to become a queen) and switch to honey. Queen bees are fed royal jelly throughout the entire larva stage.
3. Sealed with Wax
On the fifth day the worker bees seal the cell with a wax cap. The larva is now 1500 times the size it was when it hatched. The larva then surrounds itself with a cocoon inside the cell, similar to a butterfly.
Much like the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly, the larva spends the rest of its time in the cocoon cell growing wings, legs, eyes and all the other parts of an adult bee. This process takes approximately 12 days.
5. The Birth of a Bee
On the 18th day the baby bee is fully developed chews through the wax cap. It is now a productive member of the hive.