The Bee Life Cycle

Updated: 30th April 2021

What are the key stages of the bee life cycle?

The short answer is:
All bees, regardless of species, go through the stages of egg, larva, pupa, then adult.

From the time an egg is laid by a female adult bee (called a 'queen' in some species) that emerges from the nest as a fully developed adult,  bees undergo complete metamorphosis - that is, a total transformation in appearance from egg, through to larva, then pupa, and finally adult bee.

The life cycles of bees varies according to species.  Species may be:

  • Univoltine - raising one brood of bees in a year, and therefore with one flight period.

  • Bivoltine - raising two broods of bees in a year, and therefore having two flight periods.

  • Facultatively bivoltine - some bee species may have one or two broods, usually depending on environmental factors.

  • Cleptoparasitic bee species such as nomad bee species lay their eggs in the nests of target host species.  The emerging adult females therefore do not construct a nest of their own.  Another example are the cuckoo bumble bees.
black and yellow wasp-like Female Gooden's nomad bee by the entrance of a target host nest tunnel burrow located in the soil - this is a cleptoparastitic speciesFemale Gooden's nomad bee - a cleptoparasite, by the entrance of a target host nest burrow, usually an Andrena (mining bee) species

Regardless of species however, all bees go through 4 common stages in their development.

4 key stages in the life cycle of bees

adult honey bee visiting pale pink prairie mallow flower

A bee life cycle has 4 key stages, whether they be honey bees, bumble bees or solitary species. There are many variations, but the 4 key stages are:


An egg is laid by a queen or female in a specially prepared cell.   The structure and materials used to make the cell may differ depending on species.  For example, honey bee and bumble bee eggs cells are constructed from wax.  There is significant variation among solitary species which may select flower petals, leaves, mud, or even resin for nest cell construction.

In solitary bee species, each individual egg is provided with a food supply then sealed. Honey bee and bumble bee larvae are fed by adults as they develop in the cell.

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The egg hatches into a larva.  The larvae lack eyes and legs, and typically look like a small, curled up grubs, one in each cell.

Bees are holometabolous, and as such, they have true grub-like larvae rather than nymphs.  The larvae look completely different from the adult which emerges later.  In contrast, nymphs resemble immature adults, but usually lack fully formed wings and sexual organs.

The larva feeds on food stores provided by the queen, egg laying female or workers, depending on species. 

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The larva is fed until it forms a prepupa.  Some solitary bee species, spin a cocoon and may overwinter inside it. The prepupa then becomes a pupa.

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From pupa, new adults emerge.  In solitary species, usually the males emerge first, but in bumble bees and honey bees, the first to emerge are female workers followed by males (drone honey bees).

Adult Bumble bee foraging on blue Eryngium flower headBumble bee on Eryngium.

Adult females mate with males.  Females locate a suitable nest site and build cells in which to lay eggs and rear the next generation.  In honey bees the process is different, with a suitable nest site being located by worker scout bees.  

There is wide variation in life spans of adult colony members and queens.  Generally, honey bee queens may live some years, where as bumble bee queens may survive for 12 months, some of this time spent over-wintering.  Some solitary species may, over-winter as adults, whilst others may over-winter as full-grown larvae, and mature into adult bees the following spring.

bumble bee foraging on pink wild marjoram flowers

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