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Baby Bees : Where do They Come From?

Don’t you just love seeing baby bees flying around outside? No? You can’t remember when you last saw one? In the insect world, newly emerged bees are actually full-sized adults. But inside the hive, the developing bee babies are preparing to take on all the duties of the hive. These young ones have a big responsibility.

Baby bees, eggs and larva in a honey bee colony image.

Baby Honey Bees – Their Importance to the Hive

The honey bee colony needs thousands of individuals to carry on the functions of daily life. And that large work force is necessary in order to store food for Winter survival.

Unlike some insects, honey bee colonies over-Winter as a large family inside the hive. Millions of flowers must be visited to collect nectar and pollen before cold weather arrives. The average hive needs 60# of stored food!

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Foragers can fly several miles from the colony in search of resources. All this hard work wears out wings, muscles and various parts of the bee body. In honey bees, worn out body parts are not replaced.

Summer workers live only 6 weeks – they actually work themselves to death. This means a new population of bee babies must always be in the works during the Summer months.

The queen honey bee is responsible for laying eggs that will develop into the future work force. But, she requires care and proper feeding from her workers.

What are Baby Bees Called ?

In a honey bee colony, baby bees are called brood. Brood (or larvae) most often refers to small white grubs. These larvae are in the growing stage of development.

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For the sake of clarity, I am going to include eggs in this discussion about babies. But, some beekeepers refer to bee eggs separately.

Eggs laid by honey bee queen in wax cells image.

The honey bee life cycle involves 4 stages

  1. egg
  2. larva
  3. pupa
  4. adult

Each adult develops through these stages. The amount of time spent in each stage depends on what type of honey bee (or caste) is involved.

The Queen Bee becomes an adult in 16 days, a worker bee requires 21 days and a male bee or Drone Bee needs 24 days to reach adulthood.

How Baby Bees are Born

Baby honey bees are not really born – see it’s that mammal term again. They emerge.

First, a mated queen honey bee lays eggs in honeycomb cells. If she fertilizes the egg it will develop into workers. Unfertilized eggs develop into drones.

In a few days, the eggs will hatch. Actually, they do not really hatch – the outer shell of the egg dissolves. Now, we have tiny, white larva. Bee larva eat and grow at an amazing rate.

Full grown adult bees emerging from cell image.

What do Baby Bees Look Like?

Bee larvae look like tiny white grubs. Beekeepers call larvae – uncapped brood or “milk brood”. The term “milk brood” is in reference to the brood food that is provided by nurse bees. You can see the tiny bee larva floating in a pool of food.

Over the next few days, the larvae will grow larger and fill the bottom of the cell. Once the larva fills the bottom of the cell is about 6 days old.

Once the larval or feeding stage is completed. The larva stops eating and begins to spin a silky cocoon. The pupal stage is beginning.

Capped brood in bee colony image.

Outside the cell, workers 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 workers re-use older wax to cap brood.

Once a section of brood is covered and sealed, it is called “capped brood”. We can not see what is happening inside but baby bee larva is changing into a bee pupa and then an adult bee.

Exposed bee brood pupae in a hive image.

The Brood Nest

Beekeepers refer to the area of the beehive where young are developing as the “brood nest”.

In the brood nest area of the hive, female workers (called nurses) feed larvae and keep them warm. The young need to be kept at a constant temperature and humidity. Therefore, it makes sense to have all the brood in the same area of the hive.

How Baby Bees Eat

The defenseless bee larvae lie in their cells consuming brood food provided by workers. The nurses make many trips to each brood cell.

In order to feed young, workers must consume large amounts of protein rich pollen. This enables them to produce royal jelly and other types of brood food.

The need for protein is why a colony must collect pollen and store it for future use. Without pollen, they can not raise young.

Do Developing Bees Eat Honey?

Baby bees are unable to leave their cell. They depend on nurse bees to bring them special food. Even if they were to be able to reach a cell of honey, the larvae would not be able to digest it.

Stinger of Young Bees

Can baby bees sting? All females in the colony do have a stinger but they must mature a few days before the stinger functions. So, you have no reason to fear being stung by a very young bee.

Once she is a few days old, things change and she is ready to start her work and able to defend the hive. Male bees of course do not have stingers and therefore are not able to sting at any age.

Baby bee emerging from sealed wax cell in hive image.

Are Bees Born Full Grown?

Yes, bees are born full grown and ready to begin their role in the honey bee colony. The adult bee emerges chewing her way out of her capped cell. This new born is fully formed and looks much like the thousands of other members of the colony.

Over a few days, the cuticle (outside) of her exoskeleton will harden, the wings will firm up. The bee is ready to become a fully functioning member of the colony.

Because honey bees emerge from the cell as a full sized adult bee, you will never see a true baby honey bee-that looks like an miniature adult. Undersized individuals found in the colony are often the result of poor genetics or inadequate nutrition.

Beekeepers strive to learn as much bee biology as possible to help us understand how the colony works. The more we know about all stages of bee life, include bee babies, the better equipped we are to manage our hives.

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