Understanding the Importance of Bee Brood
A honey bee colony contains thousands of individual bees. The workers, drones and the queen all have hive responsibilities. It takes a constant supply of new bees to keep a colony strong. We call this future generation bee brood. Managing brood is an important element of keeping honey bees.
What is Bee Brood?
Honey bees have a 4-stage life cycle. Every bee begins life as an egg. After a few days, the shell of the egg dissolves and we see a tiny white grub. This is the larval stage.
The larvae are well fed by nurse bees. At the proper time, the cell is capped and the larva transforms into a pupa.
Inside the cell, the final stage of development is completed and the adult bee emerges.
When beekeepers are talking about brood, they are referencing the first 3 stages of honey bee development: eggs, larvae and pupae.
A colony will use a section of the hive for the brood nest. This is necessary to keep the young warm and well fed as they develop.
Different Types of Developing Bees
Every new beekeeper needs to learn how to find eggs. Do not worry if it takes you a while.
Eggs often difficult to see because they are very small. You may need to use a magnifying glass to help look for eggs until you have more experience.
A honey bee egg looks like a tiny piece of white rice. You will normally see 1 egg per cell and it stands on end.
The queen bee is especially equipped with a long abdomen. This allows her to secure the egg in the bottom of a cell.
Finding properly placed eggs can tell us a lot about the condition of the colony. It verifies that the queen bee was likely present a short time ago.
This is especially helpful for new beekeepers who are still learning how to find their queen. If you can not find the queen but see a good pattern of eggs, things are probably okay.
Bee Larva – Milk or Uncapped Brood
This larval stage is a time of feeding and fast growth. Starting as a tiny white grub, the larva is often seen floating in a bed of white, milky brood food. This is why larva are often called milk brood.
Larvae are also called “uncapped brood”. Healthy bee larvae are white and shiny. If you see brown, milk brood you may have problems in your hive.
Types of Capped Brood
When the growing stage of the honey bee has ended, the larvae will be ready to transform into pupae. At this point, feeding had ended.
Now, worker bees will cap each cell. The transformation from pupa to adult bee takes place inside the capped cell. Naturally, we call this stage – capped brood.
Because we have 3 different sizes of bees inside a normal hive, you will see different types of capped brood.
Worker brood is smooth and almost level with the comb surface. The cell cap is often a beige color because older wax is used to make the cap.
It is common to see many cells of the same type of brood close together. This is considered a good brood pattern.
Drone bees are the male bees in the hive. Because they are larger than workers, they require a larger brood cell.
Drone brood will protrude from the surface of the honeycomb. They have a characteristic bullet shape and protrude from the face of the comb.
If the colony is making a new queen bee, or preparing to swarm, you may find queen cells.
Queens are larger than workers or drones. They require a much larger cell for development.
A queen cell is built horizontal to the face of the comb. They resemble a large peanut. Each one holds a developing queen pupa inside.
Colonies build queen cells for a variety of reasons. If you find queen cells, keep a close watch on your hive.
Hive Conditions Based on Brood
Learning to recognize the various types of bee brood is an important aspect of beekeeping.
The colony can not tell us what they are planning – and probably wouldn’t want to if they could.
By reading bee frames we can learn a lot about colony conditions. If you have 1 colony with no brood and the others are growing – what’s wrong?
A colony that only has drone brood has a queen problem. Is the queen dead or is she still present but failing? These tips can help us evaluate hive status and plan intervention when needed.
Take notes during hive inspections. During the warm season, most colonies will have all stages of brood: eggs, larva and capped brood.
Learn to identify the different types of bee brood. This helps to increase your skills in hive management.