Sunday, March 1, 2015

How Honeybees Grow and Why the Queen is Different

The queen bee is the mother of the hive. All the other bees in the hive are her children, and the hive needs a lot of children because each bee can only produce 1/12 a teaspoon of honey in her entire lifetime! Luckily, since the queen can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day, there are a lot of bees in the hive working together to make honey. But what needs to happen before the egg laid by the queen is ready to help in the hive?

Tiny white eggs waiting to hatch in their cells

When the queen is ready to lay an egg, she looks for a clean, empty cell. A cell is a small wax structure honeybees use to store eggs, honey, and pollen. Once the queen finds a cell that is unoccupied, she dips her behind into the cell and lays a tiny, white egg. The egg is only about one to one and a half millimeters long. That’s smaller than a grain of rice! After the queen lays the egg, her job in creating that specific bee is over. Other bees, called worker bees, do the rest of the work to raise the young bee.

Larvae are curled up at the bottom of the cells

About three days after being laid, the egg hatches, but the bee is not yet ready to work. It is still very small and white. At this time, the growing bee is called a larva. Immediately after hatching, the larva begins receiving meals from special worker bees called nurse bees. The larva has a huge appetite and consumes small meals almost constantly over the course of about five days. After the fifth day of feeding, the larva has grown to its full size. However, the bee is still white and not fully developed. For example, it does not yet have wings. It must remain in its cell and continue to develop.

A full grown worker bee
After the larvae has finished eating, worker bees seal it in its cell with a wax cap. It takes the workers about six hours to create the cap, and they must visit the bee over 100 times to finish the project. You can think of the bee capped in its cell as similar to a caterpillar being in a cocoon. Inside the capped cell, the larvae transforms into a pupa and then into an adult bee. If the bee is a queen, she will emerge from her cell about 16 days after the egg was first laid. If the bee is a worker, she will stay in her cell slightly longer and emerge about 21 days after the egg was laid. If the bee is a drone, a boy bee, he will emerge approximately 24 days after being laid.

A full grown drone bee
When the bees emerge, they are golden brown in color with small hairs on their bodies. As they are insects, their bodies are separated into three parts: the head, the thorax, and the abdomen. In addition, they each have six legs and two sets of wings. The different types of bees take different amounts of time to finish developing and emerge because of different body sizes and diets. For instance, the drone is larger than the worker, and therefore takes longer to finish growing. The queen bee takes less time to emerge because she is fed a different diet than the worker and drone bees.

A full grown queen bee
So what is a queen bee exactly? The queen bee is a female bee just like the workers. However, the way she is raised is slightly different from her sisters. During the first few days of life, a larva who is to become a worker bee is fed the exact same diet as one who is to become the queen bee. The food the young bees receive is a special substance made by nurse bees called royal jelly. Later, the food given to the developing worker bees is diluted with honey and pollen, but the food given to the developing queen is unchanged. The queen is fed so much of the important food that is builds up in her extra-large cell. The huge quantities of the special food given to the queen is what makes her able to lay eggs.

It takes a lot of honeybees to make even enough honey to spread across your slice of toast. Fortunately, countless new bees are born every day to help with the task. As they develop in their cells, they become ready for their adult life, and as soon as they emerge, they begin working. 

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