Honey Bee Life Cycle

The 4 stages of the life cycle of Apis mellifera from egg to adult

Updated: 17th February 2020



The life cycle of the honey bee begins firstly with the mating of the queen honey bee with drones (males).  To do this, the queen will leave the hive or nest on a mating flight, where she will mate mid air up to 24 times. 

Here is a very short video for you to watch this amazing spectacle:


The impregnated queen returns to join the rest of the colony in the nest or hive, where she will lay the eggs that will develop into adult bees.

The 4 Stages Of The Honey Bee Life Cycle From Egg To Adult

Honey bee - Apis mellifera on geranium flower.Honey bee - Apis mellifera on geranium flower.


The honey bee life cycle has 4 basic stages between egg and adult bee, whether it's a worker, drone or queen, although there will be slight variations in the time it takes for each to emerge from the egg cell.

Average time taken for an egg to
develop into an adult bee
Worker 18 - 22 days
Queen 16 days
Drone 24 days


The key stages are:

  1. Egg 
  2. Larva
  3. Pupa
  4. Adult


Let's go into this in a little more detail:

Egg

An egg is laid by the honey bee queen in an hexagonal egg cell.  The egg is about the size of a grain of rice.An egg is laid by the honey bee queen in an hexagonal egg cell. The egg is about the size of a grain of rice.

An egg is laid by the honey bee queen in a wax, hexagonal egg cell.  The egg is about the size of a grain of rice and initially stands upright in the cell, but falls onto its side by the third day.  The honey bee queen may lay between to 2000 and 3000 eggs per day (1).

Fertilized eggs will become females (workers or potential queens).  Unfertilized eggs will become drones (male honey bees) and are laid in 'drone cells' which are larger cells than  those of worker bees.

A potential future queen honey bee is laid in a special cell, called a 'queen cell'.

Larva

Honey bee larva inside a cell.Honey bee larva inside a cell.

After 3 days, the egg develops into a larva, which looks like a small white grub.  It has no legs and is blind.  

The larvae are fed by young worker bees that have not yet left the hive or nest.  Initially, all the larvae are fed royal jelly for three days, and after this they are fed bee bread, which is a mixture of honey and pollen.

A larva destined to be a queen is fed only on royal jelly, which is a special substance made in special glands in the head, and the salivary glands in the mouth.  Royal jelly is sometimes called 'bee milk' and is produced by young nurse bees (worker bees of between 5 and 14 days old).  Royal jelly contains protein, vitamins, fats (lipids), and sugar.

As the larva grows, it will moult (shed its outer skin) several times.  After about 6 days (depending on whether the bee is a worker, drone or queen), the egg cell is covered with a layer of wax by the worker bees.

Pupa

Inside the sealed egg cell, the larva begins to spin a cocoon around itself and pupate.  During this phase, the larva develops into a recognisable bee, with wings, legs, head, thorax and abdomen.


Adult

Honey bee worker - <I>Apis mellifera</I> on Daphne.Honey bee worker - Apis mellifera on Daphne.

Eventually, a young adult bee will emerge from the egg cell, by chewing its way through the wax capping.

All in all, from the time the egg was laid, it takes new queens about 16 days to emerge from the egg cell, whereas workers require between 18 and 22 days to fully develop, and drones need 24 days.


Now for a video...

Here is a wonderful video from National Geographic showing the development of the eggs through to the stages of larvae, pupae and finally the emerging adult honey bees:




What happens to the honey bee colony?


Unlike bumble bee colonies, honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies can survive the winter, provided they have enough food resources, are able to keep sufficiently warm, and are free of diseases and predators. However, in the winter, colonies are smaller than in the summer: there are no drones, and perhaps part of the colony left the hive (in a swarm) to form a new nest elsewhere.

Honey bees at the entrance of a bee hive.Honey bees at the entrance of a bee hive.


Some of the workers will also die naturally during the winter months, however, there may be up to 20,000 workers left, and a queen.

The queen and the rest of the colony will form a winter cluster to keep warm during the cold months. There will be no brood to tend to, and no eggs are laid during this time. However, as the days begin to warm up, and the flowers begin to bloom, honey bees will begin to go out foraging again, and the queen honey bee will begin to lay eggs.



For How Long Do Honey Bees Live?  

What is the lifespan of the different members of the honey bee colony (drones, worker and queen honey bees)?


The life spans of honey bees differ depending on their function in the colony, and when they emerged in the season.


I have written a page comparing the lifespans of the different types of bees, called How Long Do Bees Live?

Drones

The average lifespan of a drone is 55 days. Drones that mate with new honey bee queens, will die immediately after mating. However, there are reports of drones living to about 90 days - or about 12 - 13 weeks (2).

By the end of the summer, they will no longer be needed by the colony. Honey bees need reasonable weather to forage, and of course, during the winter time, there is far less nectar and pollen available.

Drones do not collect pollen or nectar, and those still alive will be elbowed out by the workers, so that winter food resources are not drained! Learn more about drones.


Workers

Honey bee - Apis mellifera on sedum.Honey bee - Apis mellifera on sedum.


Workers raised in the spring and summer have shorter, busier lives than those raised later in the season, and may live 6 or 7 weeks. This is the most productive time for the colony, with larvae to be fed, nectar and pollen to be gathered, and honeycomb to be built.

Those raised in the autumn will have far less to do, with no brood to care for. Their main concern will be to survive the cold until the following spring. However, they may live 4 to 6 months.

Whereas the queen honey bee life cycle revolves primarily around mating and laying eggs, the life of worker honey bees also progresses through various stages of functions within the colony.

Queen honey bees

A productive queen, favoured by the colony and free from disease should certainly live for about 2 yrs, but could live for up to 3 or 4 years or even longer, partly depending on whether the beekeeper decides to get rid of the queen, or whether the colony decides  to replace her. The act of deposing the queen by the colony is called ‘supersedure’. Learn more about the role of the Honey Bee Queen.

The honey bee queen is larger than the workers and drones, but may be difficult to spot within the colony. Beekeepers often use a special paint to mark her thorax, making identification easier.The honey bee queen is larger than the workers and drones, but in a hive among thousands of honey bees, she may be difficult to spot. Beekeepers will often use a special paint to mark her thorax to make identification easier.


Queens are difficult for beekeepers to identify among the thousands of workers, and so they are marked with a special type of paint, as can be seen by the dot of white paint on the photograph above.

Size of honey bee drone, queen, and worker

Average size (length) of a honey bee
by colony member
Worker 0.4 inches / 1 cm
Queen 0.8 inches / 2 cm
Drone 0.6 inches / 1.5 cm


The diagram below give you an idea about the relative size of the honey bee drone, queen and worker.  





Are all bee life cycles the same?

All bee life cycles go through the stages of egg, larva, pupa then adult, although there are great variations between the life cycles of solitary, honey and bumble bees, (as explained elsewhere on my site - see links.

Summary


I hope you enjoyed reading about the honey bee life cycle, but you can learn a lot more about some of the specific stages, such as swarming, by exploring the site further.

Refs:

(1) Fratini et al:  Royal Jelly: An ancient remedy with remarkable antibacterial properties; Microbiological Research Volume 192, November 2016, Pages 130-141.
(2) Fukuda H, Ohtani T. Survival and lifespan of drone honeybees. Res. Popul. Ecol. 1977;19:51–68.



You might like these

  • How Do Bees Taste?

    Bees use taste sensors like tiny hairs, which are located on the antennae, mouth parts and front feet. Bees are especially sensitive to sweet & salty tastes.

  • Honey Bee Facts - 50 Things You Never Knew About Honey Bees!

    Honey bee facts: quick, fun snippets of information about amazing honey bees with links to further information.

  • Honey Recipes

    Honey Recipes: from delicious glazes and dressings to scrumptious cakes and honey butters - some classic recipes, and some with a twist!



How do bees make honey?

Click here

How do bees make honey?




Car Stickers And More

Save the bees plant flowers car bumper sticker
Don't worry bee happy car bumper sticker
Bee kind bee-themed car bumper sticker




Ad - Paid Link:




Return from Honey Bee Life Cycle to Home page






COPYRIGHT 2010 - 2020: WWW.BUZZABOUTBEES.NET
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.