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Learning About Honey Bees

There are three kinds of honey bees that you will find living inside a beehive - the Queen, the Worker and the Drone. Honey bees are highly specialized. A hive needs each of the hive members to perform their job well, or the hive will not prosper. They must work as a unit and be willing to sacrifice themselves if need be to keep the hive alive and thriving.

The Drone is the male bee. He has a very large and thick body. A drone performs no functions inside the hive. In the hive, he rests and is fed by workers. His sole duty is to fly around at an altitude of 40 to up to 200 feet in search of virgin queen bees on their maiden flights. His odds of finding one are slim, but if he is fortunate to meet and mate in flight, the virgin queen retains his endophallus (storing it inside her body for future use) and he falls to the ground and dies.

Newly Laid Egg

Before she will lay an egg, the Queen looks down inside the cell to make sure it has been properly cleaned by the workers. Once satisfied the cell is clean enough, she lowers her abdomen into the cell and lays a single egg.

“Wet” brood—young larvae floating on abundant royal jelly. Such abundant jelly indicates that this colony is enjoying a rich protein intake, and is thus well nourished.

Practical Tip: Well-fed nurse bees will keep the young larvae "swimming" in jelly. Lack of “wet” brood is a sign that the colony is short on protein, and might benefit from being given a pollen supplement.

The queen can lay about 1000 eggs per day during the height of her egg laying season. She begins laying eggs usually in January, depending on the climate in which the hive is located. She needs to build up the work force to be ready when plants begin to blossom. She will stop laying eggs in late fall.

While worker bees are capable of laying an egg to become a drone in an emergency, they are incapable of laying eggs to become a queen or worker. Drone brood is unfertilized; workers can only lay unfertilized eggs.

If the queen is lost or dies, an emergency situation is created inside the hive. It cannot survive without a queen. Should there already be one or more queen cells with an egg inside, the hive may still survive. A queen cell is easily identifiable as it protrudes out from the frame and looks like a peanut shell was cemented in place.

When she first emerges from this cell she will hurry about looking for other rival queens that are still inside their cells. When she finds one she will plunge her barb-less stinger into the side of the cell to kill its occupant.

Adult Worker Bees

The life span of an adult worker bee varies with the time of the year. When the colony is active in spring and summer, worker bee may live as long as 5-6 weeks. During the inactive period in winter a worker bee lives five months or more.

The Life of a Worker Bee

Period of service as house bee

1 – 2 Days cleans cells and warm the brood nest

3 – 5 Days feeds older larvae with honey and pollen

6 – 11 Days feeds young larvae with royal jelly

12 – 17 Days produces wax and constructs comb, ripens honey

18 – 21 Days guard the hive entrance and ventilate the hive

Period of service as field bee

22 + Forage for nectar, pollen, propolis and water

Life Cycle of the Honey Bee

The life stages of a honeybee are egg, larva, pupa and adult. Development from egg to adult takes 21 days. The length of these stages is set out in the table below.

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