Honey bee life cycle

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The honey bee life cycle, here referring exclusively to the domesticated Western honey bee, depends greatly on their social structure.

Honey bee swarm pitched on a high limb

Colony life[edit]

Unlike a bumble bee colony or a paper wasp colony, the life of a honey bee colony is perennial. The three types of honey bees in a hive are: queens (egg-producers), workers (non-reproducing females), and drones (males whose main duty is to find and mate with a queen). Thus honey bees have two sexes, male and female, and the female bee has two castes, queen and worker. The queen lays eggs singly in cells of the comb. Larvae hatch from eggs in three to four days. They are then fed by worker bees and develop through several stages in the cells. Cells are capped by worker bees when the larva pupates. Queens and drones are larger than workers, so require larger cells to develop. A colony may typically consist of tens of thousands of individuals.

While some colonies live in hives provided by humans, so-called "wild" colonies (although all honey bees remain wild, even when cultivated and managed by humans) typically prefer a nest site that is clean, dry, protected from the weather, about 20 liters in volume with a 4- to 6-cm2 entrance about 3 m above the ground, and preferably facing south or south-east (in the Northern Hemisphere) or north or north-east (in the Southern Hemisphere).


Stages of development of the drone pupae

Development from egg to emerging bee varies among queens, workers, and drones. Queens emerge from their cells in 15–16 days, workers in 21 days, and drones in 24 days. Only one queen is usually present in a hive. New virgin queens develop in enlarged cells through differential feeding of royal jelly by workers. When the existing queen ages or dies or the colony becomes very large, a new queen is raised by the worker bees. When the hive is too large the old Queen will take half the hive and half the reserves with her in a swarm. This occurs a few days prior to the new queen hatching. If there are several Queen cells that were made then it means war. If several emerge they will begin piping (a high buzzing noise) signaling their location for the other virgin Queens to come fight. Once there is only one, she will go around the hive chewing the sides of any other cells and stinging and killing the would be queens. The virgin queen takes one or several nuptial flights. This is where the drone makes his entrance. They all leave the hive when the Queen is ready and mate, their member gets stuck in the Queen breaks off, then they fall to their death while another drone bee flies up removes the appendage and inserts his to do the same thing. She mates once she is established, and begins laying eggs. A fertile queen is able to lay fertilized or unfertilized eggs. Each unfertilized egg contains a unique combination of 50% of the queen's genes[1] and develops into a haploid drone. The fertilized eggs develop into either diploid workers or virgin queens (but only if exclusively fed royal jelly).

The average lifespan of a queen is three to four years; drones usually die upon mating or are expelled from the hive before the winter; and workers may live for a few weeks in the summer and several months in areas with an extended winter.

Type Egg Larva Cell capped Pupa Average developmental period

(Days until emergence)

Start of fertility Body length Hatching weight
Queen up to day 3 up to day 8½ day 7½ day 8 until emergence 16 days day 23 and up 18–22 mm nearly 200 mg
Worker up to day 3 up to day 9 day 9 day 10 until emergence (day 11 or 12 last moult) 21 days

(range: 18–22 days)

N/A 12–15 mm nearly 100 mg
Drone up to day 3 up to day 9½ day 10 day 10 until emergence 24 days about 38 days 15–17 mm nearly 200 mg

The weight progression of the worker egg, larva:

Worker bee emerging from cell
Days Developmental state Weight Length Food source
1 egg 0.132 mg 1.2mm yolk
2 egg not listed yolk
3 egg 0.09 mg yolk
4 larva not listed royal jelly
5 larva 3.4 mg royal jelly
6 larva 33.3 mg royal jelly/honey and pollen (bee bread)
7 larva 100.1 mg honey and pollen (bee bread)
8 larva 134.5 mg honey and pollen (bee bread)
9 larva 155.2 mg honey and pollen (bee bread)


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