Searching for Baby Bees
Don’t you just love seeing baby bees flying around outside? No? You can’t remember when you last saw one? Same for me, let’s see where the baby bees are hiding.
We know the bees have an end of life and a beginning. Where is the middle? Why do we not see baby honey bees near the hives?
Bees are insects that do not have a long life span. The honey bee colony can exist for years. Alas, except for the Queen, individual honey bees do not live very long.
This is true for Bumble Bees too. For Bumbles, the queen may live over Winter – but not the individuals. Unlike honey bees, Bumble Bees do not overwinter as a colony only the queen.
Honey bees in particular must work hard during Summer. Survival over Winter depends on the bees making honey and storing it for later use. All this hard work wears out parts of the bee body.
The Queen Honey Bee lays eggs that develop into adult bees. Open any healthy hive and you will see eggs, larvae and lots of bees, where are the bee babies? All of them look the same size!
What is Bee Brood?
Brood is the term used to describe baby bees. For the sake of clarity, I am going to include bee eggs in this discussion. But technically, eggs are just that, eggs.
Brood is very important to beekeepers. The hard working bee colony needs a constant supply of young worker bees. A honey bee colony consisting of thousands of individuals is a good example of bee reproduction.
If you want to learn more about how bees reproduce, check out my article: How do Bees Reproduce.
The honey bee life cycle involves 4 stages.
Each adult bee develops through these stages. The amount of time spent in each stage depends on what type of honey bee (or caste) is involved.
The Brood Nest
Beekeepers refer to the area of the beehive where young are developing as the “brood nest”. The young bees need to be kept at a constant temperature and humidity. Therefore, it makes sense to have all the baby bees in the same area.
Types of Brood or Baby Bees
Again, technically bee eggs are eggs but many beekeepers lump them in with the term brood. I will do the same here.
How Baby Bees are Born
The mated queen honey bee lays eggs. In a few days, the egg will hatch. Actually, it does not really hatch – the shell dissolves.
Now we have a tiny larva. The bee larva has started on its journey to being an adult member of the colony.
What do Baby Bees Look Like?
Bee larvae look like tiny white grubs. Beekeepers call larvae – uncapped brood or “milk brood”.
More often that not, when beekeepers talk about baby bees, they usually mean larvae.
The term “milk brood” is in reference to the brood food that is provided by nurse bees. It looks white in the bottom of the cell.
The bee larvae bear no resemblance to a grown honey bee. These little white worms focus on 2 things: eating and growing.
Over the next 8-9 days, the larvae will grow larger and fill the bottom of the cell. A larva that fills the bottom of the cell is about 6 days old.
How do Baby Bees Eat?
The defenseless bee larvae lie in their cells consuming brood food provided by nurse bees. Nurse bees are well fed worker bees.
They consume large amounts of protein rich pollen. This enables them to produce royal jelly and other types of brood food.
Special glands inside the mouth of nurse bees secrete food for the larva. And, the nurse bees make many trips to each brood cell.
Nurse bees are young adults. It is their job to care for the brood. They do not fly outside the hive until their term as nurse bee is over . Then, they perform another task for the colony.
Do Baby Bees Eat Honey?
No, developing larvae are unable to leave their cell. They depend on nurse bees to bring them special food.
Transformation Towards Adulthood
Once the larval or feeding stage of the baby bees had completed. It is time to transform into a stage that will become more recognizable.
The larva stops eating and begins to spin a silky cocoon. The pupal stage is beginning.
Outside the cell, worker bees are closing the top of the honeycomb cell. The developing pupa inside will not require food.
Wax used to seal brood cells looks different than capped cells of honey. This is because worker bees re-use older wax to cap brood.
Wax production is costly for a bee colony. Older wax does well for brood caps. This top will protect the developing bee during transformation.
Once a section of brood is covered and sealed, it is called “capped brood”. We can not see what is happening inside but it is a remarkable transformation.
The white grub is changing into a bee pupa. And ultimately an adult bee.
A New Bee is Born
Now, we come to the big moment. An adult bee emerges from the capped cell. She chews her way out of her chamber.
This new born bee is fully formed and looks much like the thousands of other bees in the colony.
Over a few days, the cuticle (outside) of the bee will harden, the bee wings will firm up. And the bee will become a fully functioning member of the colony.
She is not a baby bee any longer and she does have a stinger. A few days of maturing is required before the stinger functions.
Wait a Minute – Where is Our Baby Bee?
Well, that’s the remarkable things about honey bees. They are not born small and then grow to full size. These insects emerge from the cell as a full sized adult.
This is why you will never see a true baby honey bee that looks like an miniature adult. They are born full-sized.
Beekeeping is an interesting hobby that enables a close look inside the world of the honey bee. While, you may hear beekeepers talking about baby bees (I do it to!), we are really referring to “brood”.
Our hives depend heavily on a constant workforce of young adults to do the many tasks required by a colony. We need to maintain healthy queen bees in our colonies at all times.