The Life Cycle of a Honey Bee

Updated April 14, 2017

Honey bees are important insects. Aside from providing us with honey, they also perform the valuable service of pollinating many different types of plants. The domesticated honey bee goes through several stages of transformation before becoming an adult. Though there are three different types of honey bee adults (queen, drone and worker), each goes through the same developmental stages before reaching maturity. In the case of the honey bee, this transformation is known as "complete metamorphosis" because it contains egg, larva, pupa and adult stages.


The honey bee life cycle begins when the queen lays an egg, one of thousands each year. The queen lays the egg in a suitable wax cell of the honeycomb. The bee will remain at the egg stage for three days regardless of the type of honey bee it will eventually become.


After three days in the egg stage, bees will hatch into larvae. At the larval stage, bees lack the features we associate with mature bees: antennae, legs, wings and eyes. Larval bees are small, white and cylindrical. During this stage, bees do have mouths and are fed by "nurse bees" who feed the larvae a mixture of pollen, honey and "bee bread," which is a glandular secretion. This stage can last between 8.5 to 10 days, depending on the type of honey bee. Larval bees will shed their skin five times during this period.


Once the bee has finished its last shedding and can grow no more, it pupates. During this period, the wax cell is sealed off, and the bee continues its maturation. This stage will see the bee change from its white larval colour to the more familiar colouring of the adult honey bee. The pupal stage lasts between eight and 14 days on average, depending on the type of bee that is developing.


After the bee has fully transformed in its sealed cell, it begins to chew its way out. At this point, the bee is completely matured. The entire transformation from egg to adult lasts from about 16 days to about 24.


Not all honey bee types live for the same amount of time. Queens live the longest by far of any bee: usually around three or four years. Drones (males that can mate with the queen) generally die during mating or shortly after. In hives without a queen, drones are usually driven from the hive before hibernation. Workers (bees incapable of reproduction) live a few weeks during the summer and up to a few months during long winters.

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