What Is Royal Jelly?

Royal jelly is a protein-rich, glandular secretion – actually from the hypopharyngeal glands, which are a pair of long glands coiled in the sides of the heads of young worker honey bees. 

The hypopharyngeal glands of young worker bees are particularly productive between 6 to 12 days after she has emerged from her cell.

Research shows that workers bees with developed hypopharyngeal glands consume more pollen (1).

Hypopharyngeal glands are less developed in workers poisoned with pesticides(2)(3).  

This substance is used to feed the larvae in a colony, and the amount fed to grubs depends on their future role (or caste).  Grubs destined to become workers are fed bee bread (a substance made from honey, pollen) and just a little royal jelly, whereas queens will be fed only on royal jelly. 

Drones (males) are fed a little more of this special food than workers.  Fully developed Queen honey bees also feed on royal jelly as well as honey.

It is believed by some scientists that substances are passed on to bees via royal jelly, that protect bees from diseases, such as American Foulbrood, because it contains a substance called Bee defensin-1 (4)


(1)Hrassing N, Crailsheim K. (1998) Adaptation of hypopharyngeal gland development to the brood status of honeybee (Apis mellifera L.) colonies. Journal of Insect Physiology 44:929–939.

(2)Heyden K, Gobin B, Arckens L, Huybrechts R, Billen J.(2011) The effects of four crop protection products on the morphology and ultrastructure of the hypopharyngeal gland of the European honeybee, Apis mellifera. Apidologie 42:103–116.

(3)Hatjina F, Papaefthimiou C, Charistos L, Dogaroglu T, Bouga M, Emmanouil C, Arnold G. (2013) Sublethal doses of imidacloprid decreased size of hypopharyngeal glands and respiratory rhythm of honeybees in vivo. Apidologie.

(4) Paulus H. S. Kwakman and Sebastian A. J. Zaat. Antibacterial Components of Honey, IUBMB Life, 64(1): 48–55, January 2012:

 “We recently identified the antimicrobial peptide bee defen-sin-1 in RS honey.

This peptide (also known as royalisin) was previously identified in honeybee hemolymph, the insect equivalent of blood  in honeybee head and thoracic glands and in royal jelly, the major food of queen bee larvae but had never been detected in honey.

Bee defensin-1 has potent activity but only against Gram-positive bacteria including B. subtilis, S. aureus, and Paenibacillus larvae.

The latter species is the causative agent of the devastating bee larval disease American Foulbrood. 

Invertebrates strongly rely on antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) as part of their innate immune system for defence against micro-organisms.

In honeybees, four types of AMPs are produced in the hemolymph after experimental infection with E. coli, that is, hemenoptecin, bee defensin-1, apidaecin and the group of abaecin peptides.

Each of these AMPs has a distinct spectrum of antimicrobial activity, and collectively these peptides cover all major classes of microorganisms.

American foulbrood is a devastating disease that specifically affects bee larvae. Infection with P. larvae occurs via the digestive tract and results in severe mortality among larvae during the first 48 h following egg hatching.

Bee defensin-1, but none of the other honey AMPs, has been identified in royal jelly and honey, the major food sources for bee larvae.”


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