The life of the bee
What are the stages in the life of a bee ?
The bee is an insect belonging to the order of hymenoptera, (from the Greek hymen: membrane, these insects being provided with translucent and membranous wings), like the wasp and the ant. It lives almost everywhere in the world, except in regions where the winter is too cold. There are many species of bees (about 20,000 different species). But, the one called the honey bee has the scientific name Apis mellifera (or Apis mellifica).
A very organized social life
Like ants, bees are social insects, they cannot have an isolated existence and need to live in a colony. A highly organized colony, always composed of several tens of thousands of workers, a few hundred drones and a single queen.
From the egg to the bee
Depending on the type of cell, the queen will lay a fertilized egg (for a future queen or worker) or an unfertilized egg (for a future drone). In all cases, the egg will give birth to a small white larva on the 4th day.
From there, we can distinguish :
> A queen larva,
> A worker larva,
> A male larva.
Also coming from a fertilized egg, she hatches in a classic hexagonal wax cell. Fed with royal jelly for the first 3 days, her diet then evolves to include a mixture of honey and pollen.
The cell will be capped on the 9th day. The transformations will be slower than for the queen, the adult bee – imago – tearing the wax cover to emerge in the colony on the 21st day after the laying.
The workers, the most numerous in the colony (about 30,000 to 70,000 per hive) have their reproductive system atrophied. In the colony, where they work without respite, they are in charge of numerous tasks inherent to the proper functioning of the hive, which they all perform, successively, during their lives, unlike ants which each perform only one specific task.
The life span of a worker varies according to the season. About 45 days in spring and summer, but a few months for worker bees born in autumn which allows them to last through the winter.
> From the first to the fifth day of life: Maintenance worker.
She cleans the cells before the queen lays a new egg and warms the brood.
> From the fourth to the tenth day of life : Feeder
She can start feeding the young larvae less than 3 days old, then the queen larvae if there are any in the colony with royal jelly. Worker larvae older than 3 days are fed with a mixture of honey and pollen.
> From the eighth to the fifteenth day of life: Architect
She builds and maintains the combs of the hive thanks to the wax glands of her abdomen. It can be said that she is a waxworker.
Did you know that? For a colony to produce 100g of wax cells, it needs to work 8000 hours and consume 1kg of honey.
> From the tenth to the twentieth day of life: Storehouse
Her role is to store pollen and nectar in the cells.
> From the fifteenth to the twenty-second day of life: Air conditioner
She ventilates the hive, by shaking her wings very quickly, in order to maintain a satisfactory temperature and hygrometry.
> From the twentieth to the twenty-fourth day of life : Security guard
She stands guard at the entrance of the hive to chase away all intruders, wasps, butterflies and even false bumblebees from August.
> From the twenty-first day until the end of her life: Forager
She will go from flower to flower collecting nectar, pollen and propolis. In 3 weeks she can travel about 700 km to bring back the delights of nature to the hive.
Did you know that? A forager makes from 10 to more than a hundred trips per day depending on the proximity of the flowers.
The drone (the male)
From an unfertilized egg, the male larva develops in a hexagonal (horizontal) cell, more spacious than that of the workers. Like the other larvae, this one will be fed for 3 days with royal jelly, which will then be replaced by a slurry of honey and pollen, where pollen is much more abundant than in the worker larvae.
This cell will be capped on the 10th day after laying. The adult drone will emerge into the open on the 24th day.
Larger, rounder, hairier than the workers, the drone does not have a stinger.
Unlike the foragers, it is not attached to a specific hive. During its outings from April to July, it tries to impregnate a virgin queen during the nuptial flight, during which it will lose its life. It is not impossible that it contributes to the maintenance of the pheromonal and thermal balance of the hive, but this has not yet been clarified.
From a fertilized egg, the queen develops in a royal cell, vertical and much larger than those of the workers.
The young queen larva is abundantly and exclusively fed with royal jelly. The royal cell is then closed with a wax cover on the 9th day. The adult queen will emerge from her cell after the imaginal molt on the 16th day after the egg is laid.
As soon as she is born, the first queen’s mission is to kill all the larvae in the other queen cells, because in the colony there can only be one queen.
If others are born at the same time, they will fight without mercy thanks to their stinger. Designed to sting several times, their stinger is exclusively reserved for this battle of queens.
The victorious queen flies away a few days after her birth for a unique nuptial flight (when the climatic conditions allow it: calm weather and temperature above 20°C). In order for the fertilization to be properly carried out, the queen must mate with about ten drones until her spermatheca (a kind of sperm reservoir) is full. Once fertilized, she returns to the hive, and will not leave it for the four or five years of her existence, unless there is a swarming.
From there, she begins a life of laying eggs. The queen lays male or female eggs at will, depending on their fertilization: fertilized eggs produce workers, unfertilized eggs produce drones. In the spring, she can lay more than once her weight each day, that is, up to 2,000 eggs per day (about 1 egg per minute)!
In addition, she produces a number of chemical substances called pheromones: substances that induce specific behaviors of the colony (cohesion of the cluster of bees, courtyard behavior) and modify the physiology of the foragers (inhibition of the reproductive system).
Continuously surrounded, protected and fed by the workers, she is the object of all their care.