Life Cycle of the Queen Honey Bee
The life cycle of the queen honey bee is a story of genuine interest to all beekeepers. A journey that begins with an egg (smaller than a grain of rice) results in producing the most important bee in the colony!
During the life cycle of the queen honey bee, female workers contribute time and energy to make the transformation process occur. How does one bee become the queen ? Where does the queen come from? It is not just beekeepers who are interested in the queen honey bee! She is the most popular bee in the hive.
Even elementary school children know that a honey bee colony has a queen bee. It would be a great story if the life cycle of the queen honey bee covered a span of many peaceful years. Alas, that is not the case. A queen bee may be the most important member of a colony. However, her rule and very existence depends on the work of many individual bees.
It’s Good To Be The Queen – Honey Bee
A honey bee colony normally has one queen bee. This sexually mature reproductive female is responsible for laying all the eggs. This means she is the mother of all the bees in the beehive. Sometimes a colony needs a new queen bee. There can be several reasons that a new queen is needed. Perhaps the old queen has died or she may be failing to produce enough eggs for the colony. Like other insects, the life cycle of the queen honey bee consists of the 4 stages . The time frame from start to finish is different. A drone (male honey bee) requires 24 days to mature, a worker bee requires 21. However, a queen bee can become an adult in only 16 days!
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All Honeybees -4 Stages To Become Adults
Honeybees like many insects go through a process called Complete Metamorphosis. The journey to adulthood consists of 4 stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The process of making a queen bee begins early in the development process.
The Life Cycle of The Queen Honey Bee.
Egg – the first stage of the queen honey bee life cycle
A fertilized egg is laid by a queen bee, this is considered day 1.
Larva – the second stage of the queen honey bee life cycle
On day 3, the egg hatches (it doesn’t really hatch like a chicken egg – the shell dissolves). It is now called a larva. Nurse bees feed the larva a special solution produced from glands in their mouths. Larva destined to become royalty (a queen), are fed an abundance of special food – including royal jelly. To produce a new queen bee, worker bees choose only the very youngest larva. Older larva do not develop into good queen bees.
The only thing honey bee larva do is eat and grow. Queen larva will develop and grow much larger than regular worker bees. They will not fit into regular honeycomb cells. The worker bees will build a large peanut shaped cell for the queen larva. We call this structure a queen cell. It is normal to have more than one queen cell at a time.
Pupa – the third stage of the life cycle of the queen honey bee
Around day 7 ½ the queen larva is finished feeding and ready to transform to the next stage. Worker bees cap the cells with wax. On day 8, the larva becomes a pupa. The transformation from pupa to adult takes place inside the capped cell. A new queen will emerge on day 16.
ADULT – the fourth stage of the life cycle of the queen honey bee (development)
Day 16 – the adult queen emerges from the queen cell. The new queen will search the honeycomb for other queen cells. When she finds them, she will chew into the cell and kill the queen inside. Being royal is messy business, this is a real Game of Thrones happening inside the beehive. The rivalry is about genetics, the queen wants to be the mother of the hive.
What does the queen honey bee look like?
How can we know that our data about the queen honey bee is correct ? We have to be able to find her. Being able to locate the queen honey bee in a beehive is an vital skill for any beekeeper. What does she look like ? The queen bee is larger than the regular worker bees. She is longer with a large abdomen. This large abdomen holds a lot of eggs. The queen bee is able to reach way down in a honeycomb cell to place an egg.
Queen Bees Rule – For a while
After emerging from her queen cell, the new virgin queen will mature for a few days. Then she will leave the hive to mate in the air with male bees (drones). She can take several mating flights over the next few days. After that time, she will never leave the colony again. (Unless the colony swarms).
The life cycle of the queen honey bee completes with her hard at work in the colony. She lays eggs during the warm months. Her workers attend to her every need. They feed her, groom her and remove her wastes. She has a simple life at this point and her only duty is to lay eggs.
Though a queen bee might be able to live 5 or 6 years, that rarely happens. Living under normal colony conditions, worker bees replace the queen much more often. In my colonies, I rarely have a queen last more than 2 years. It is often a much shorter reign. Some colonies replace queens after only a few months. This is one of the challenges facing beekeepers. Queen bees don’t seem to last as long as they once did.
We don’t know why. Beekeeper Charlotte