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Bee Brood – Everything You Need to Know

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Importance of Honey Bee Brood

Inside a honey bee colony you will find thousands of individual bees. Each member of the hive- workers, drones and the queen all have jobs to do. However, the most important part of the colony is the future generation. We call these developing baby bees – bee brood. Monitoring the condition of the brood nest of a hive is a very important of keeping honey bees.

picture of bee brood on a frame of honeycomb in a hive

What is Bee Brood?

Bee brood refers to eggs, larvae and bee pupae in the world of beekeeping. These developing bees are part of the 4 stage life cycle of honey bees.

The life span of honey bees is not very long. In fact, worker bees only live about 6 weeks during the Summer. They literally work themselves to death.

This short life explains why the colony must have a continuous supply of new bees coming along. As older bees die, new workers must be ready to replace them – otherwise the colony could not store enough food for Winter.

The Brood Nest or Bee Brood Box

The care of growing bee brood is quite a responsibility. Young adult female bees called “nurse bees” are constantly attending to the needs of each bee larvae.

Worker bees keep the temperature and humidity inside the hive within a certain range. Otherwise, developing brood can die. For this reason, bee brood is normally concentrated in one area of the beehive.

Spread across several frames, honeycomb cells containing eggs, larvae and pupae are concentrated together for ease of care. The term brood nest or brood box refers to the area of the hive containing frames of brood.

picture of different kinds of bee brood in a beehive

Stages of Bee Brood

There are 3 brood stages that every honey bee goes through.

  1. egg
  2. larva
  3. pupa

Members of the honey bee colony have different rates of development. From egg to emerged adult bee takes a worker bee – 21 days, drone bee 24 days and queen bee 16 days.

Honey Bee Eggs are Very Small

A mated queen bee lays a single egg in a wax honeycomb cell that has been polished and prepared by workers. She lays fertilized eggs that develop into workers or unfertilized eggs that become drone bees.

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.

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.

picture of single honey bee eggs laid in comb

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 Larvae or Milk Brood

After 3 days (on average), the shell of the egg dissolves and we see a tiny white bee grub. Now begins the larval stage of honey bee development.

This larval stage is a time of feeding and fast growth. The larva is often seen floating in a bed of white, milky brood food. This is why larva are often called milk brood.

Bee larvae are well fed by nurse bees. Glands inside the head of nurse bees produce brood food. This nutritious substance is deposited into the cells not directly feed to the larvae.

picture of honey comb filled with bee larvae or milk brood

Larvae are also called “uncapped brood”. Healthy bee larvae are white and shiny. If you see brown, dead milk brood you may have problems in your hive.

The larval stage of bee development lasts for different lengths of time depending on the kind of honey bee it is meant to be. On average, bee brood is in the larval stage for 5-7 days.

At the proper time, worker bees cap the cell with a wax coating. Inside this capped cell, the larva transforms into a pupa.

Inside the cell, the final stage of development is completed and the adult bee emerges.

Capped Brood Stage of Bee Development

Once the bee brood is capped, the feeding stage has ended. Inside the cell, the larva transforms into a bee pupae. Now this developing bee is looking for like a real bee.

Again, the time spent capped inside the cell varies depending on the type of bee. Brood is capped for a period between 8 days and 14.5 days.

During this time, the pupal stage is completed and a fully formed adult honey bee will finally emerge.

Different Types of Capped Brood in the Beehive

Because we have 3 different kinds of bees inside a normal hive, you will see different types of capped brood.

  1. Worker Bee
  2. Drone Brood
  3. Capped Queen Cells

Capped Worker Brood

Worker brood is smooth and almost level with the comb surface. Older wax is used to cap brood cells resulting in a beige or tan color.

A good brood pattern consists of many cells of the same type of brood close together with few empty cells.

Capped Drone Brood

Drone brood is not present in the hive year round. The honey bee colony has no need for drones during Winter. It is normal to see some capped drone brood in the hive during Summer.

Drone bees are the male bees in the hive. Because they are larger than workers, they require a larger brood cell.

picture of bullet shaped drone brood on hive frame

Drone brood will protrude from the surface of the honeycomb. They have a characteristic bullet shape. Often found on the edges of the brood nest, drone brood is not as valuable to the colony as worker brood.

Queen Cells Open and Capped

If the colony is making a new queen bee, or preparing to swarm, you may find queen cells. These special cells contain a developing queen bee larva or pupa.

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 inside.

picture of large queen cells on brood frame in hive

As with other types of bee brood, workers cap queen cells once the larval growth stage is finished.

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 with plenty of brood– what’s wrong?

A colony that only has drone brood and no worker brood during the warm season can have a queen problem. Is the queen dead or is she still present but failing?

The presence of queen cells means the colony is making a new queen. Why is this happening? Does the colony think their queen is failing? Perhaps the colony is preparing to swarm.

If you find large amounts of dead brood, this can mean the presence of brood disease in your colony. It’s time to call for help from your area bee specialist.

Final Thoughts on the Importance of Bee Brood

Honey bee brood is the future of the colony. Honeycomb cells containing healthy developing bees is a beautiful thing to see.

Pay close attention during hive inspections, take notes in your beekeeping journal or notebook.

During the warm season, most colonies will have all stages of brood: eggs, larva and capped brood.

Anything that looks out of place or different from what is expected for the time of year, may be evidence of a problem you should address.

Beekeeper Charlotte

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