4 Stage Life Cycle of the Queen Honey Bee
As with any living thing, bees have a life cycle that consists of different stages. Being insects, they have the same development levels as other insects. Understanding the life cycle of the queen honey bee is necessary for successful beekeeping. Her important role in the colony requires an understanding of queen bee development.
How is a queen bee made? What can I do if my bee colony is without a queen? These are management questions that a new beekeeper must learn to answer. It is fascinating to know that a honey bee colony is able to select the makeup of its members. For the queen bee, 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. This is a whole colony effort and the continuation of the colony depends on its success.
It’s Good to Be the Queen….
Is the Queen Bee Really in Charge?
The queen bee is a “celebrity insect”. Everyone knows that a bee colony has a queen. But, how does one bee become the queen ? Where does the queen come from?
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 usually the case. Another queen resource here.
And while the queen bee may be the most important member of a colony, she is not ultimately in charge. Her rule and very existence depends on the work of many individual bees.
Duties of the Queen Honey Bee
How many queens does a bee colony have? A honey bee colony normally has only 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. A queen bee only has a limited number of eggs. When they are gone-that’s it.
Like other insects, the life cycle of the queen honey bee consists of the 4 stages. The time frame from start (egg) to finish (adult) is different for the various types of honey bees inside the hive.
A drone (male honey bee) requires 24 days to mature, a worker bee requires 21. However, a queen bee can move from egg to adult in only 16 days!
Honey Bee Life Cycle -4 Stages To Become Adults
Honey bees 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.
In the beginning, any female larva has a chance to become queen. But the window of opportunity closes quickly. This sometimes causes problems in a colony that loses their queen without having eggs or very young larva.
The Life Cycle of The Queen Honey Bee.
Egg – the first stage of the queen honey bee life cycle
When a colony has decided to raise a new queen, the worker will prepare and clean a special cell called a queen cup. It is noticeably bigger than a regular cell. But we call it a queen cup until an egg is laid. It is normal for some colonies to keep queen cups available – no cause for alarm until you see something in there!
Once a fertilized egg is laid by a queen bee, the process of making a new queen has begun. (Note: the queen can lay “unfertilized eggs too” – these become drones (male bees).
After 3 days, the egg hatches (it doesn’t really hatch like a chicken egg – the shell itself dissolves). It is now called a larva.
Larva – the second stage of the queen honey bee life cycle
The larval stage of queen bee development is where the magic starts to happen. 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. The type and quantity of food fed to larva destined to become queens is different than regular brood food.
Sometimes, worker bees don’t have time to create a special queen cup for egg laying. They must use a fresh larva that is already in place on the comb. (Perhaps the queen died quickly – or a beekeeper squished her? )
To produce a good queen, worker bees choose only the very youngest larva. Older larva do not develop into good queen bees because the nutrition of the first few days is so important.
The only thing larva do – is eat and grow. Nurse worker bees inside the hive feed all the larva a white milky food. (Psst: that’s why we call larva – milk brood.) But you will find a queen cell will always be filled in abundance.
Now we have a size problem that comes into play especially if this is an emergency queen production. Queen larva will develop and grow much larger than regular worker bees. They will not fit into regular honeycomb cells.
Worker bees will build a large peanut shaped cell for the queen larva. This is the easily recognizable queen cell that we watch for. 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 (from egg laying) 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.
What Does The Queen Honey Bee Look Like?
How can we know that our hive has a queen? 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 ? How do I identify the queen? The queen bee is larger than the regular worker bees. Her thorax (mid-section is a little larger). She is longer with a large abdomen. This large abdomen holds a lot of eggs and stored semen (after mating). The queen bee is able to reach way down in a honeycomb cell to place an egg.
Queen Bee Mating Cycle
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). Accompanied by a few workers she may fly a mile or more away from the hive. This helps ensure that she does not mate with her sons.
She can take several mating flights over the next few days. Once the special organ inside her abdomen (Spermatheca) is full, her mating days are over. 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. She also emits pheromones that are chemical messengers inside the hive. The pheromones assure the rest of the colony that a queen is present.
Queen Bees Don’t Live As Long As They Used To
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.
The more you know about how queen bees are raised, the better your chances of colony success.
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