Bee Basics

An introduction by Dr. Richard Iacobucci

Bee egg The life of all honeybees starts as an egg, about the size of a comma "," which is laid by the queen in the bottom of a wax cell in the brood area of a hive. A worker egg hatches after 3 days into a larva. Nurse bees feed it royal jelly at first, then pollen & honey for 6 days. It then becomes an inactive pupa.

The honey comb has hexagon cells on both sides of a vertical central wall. As shown in the photo, these cells are inclined upward, primarily to retain liquid nectar and honey.

Bee pupa During its 14 days as a pupa, sealed in a capped cell, it grows into a worker (female) bee, emerging on the 20th day. Workers do everything but lay eggs and mate.

They build the comb from wax extruded from glands under their abdomen. They clean, defend, & repair the hive. They feed the larva, the queen, and the drones. They gather nectar, pollen, water, and propolis. They ventilate, cool & heat the hive.

Male bees are called drones. They emerge in 24 days, larger than the female workers. They have large eyes and no stinger. They lead a life of leisure, doing no work while being fed by the workers. Their sole purpose is to mate with a queen from any hive, thereby transfering the genetic traits of their mother. They die upon mating, or are expelled from the hive as winter approaches. Drone bee
Queen cell Before an old queen dies, or departs to start another hive, she lays an egg in a large queen cell. The nurse bees feed the larva a diet of only royal jelley, or bee's milk, made from a gland on their heads. In only 16 days a new queen emerges. She seeks out and destroys any rival queens, because there can be only one queen per colony.
Queen bee When 10 days old, a new queen takes a high maiden flight, pursued by drones from nearby hives. In about 13 minutes, she mates with 7 or more of them, storing their sperm for the rest of her life of 2 years.

She produces chemical scents which regulate hive activity.

Egg laying queen The queen lays about 1200 eggs per day, about 200,000 per season. This is necessary since worker bees only live 6 weeks in the summertime; and a colony needs to have 40 to 50 thousand bees at its peak. She is cared for by the worker bees. This queen has been marked with a red dot for easy identification.
Worker bees gather pollen which they stick to their back legs, to carry back to the hive where it is used as food. Pollen from the stamens of one flower, stick to their bodies, and is carried to another flower where it rubs off onto the pistil, resulting in cross pollination. Mankind's food supply depends greatly on crop pollination by honeybees.

Nectar is sucked up through the proboscis, mixed with enzymes in the stomach, and carried back to the hive, where it is stored in wax cells and evaporated into honey.

Bee colleting pollen
Worker bees must maintain the hive's brood chamber at 94 degrees F to incubate the eggs. If it is too hot, they collect water and deposit it around the hive, then fan air through with their wings causing cooling by evaporation. If it is too cold, they cluster together to generate body heat.

Propolis, or tree resin, is used to seal any openings in the hive against drafts or invaders.

Bee fanning

Photos above by Dr. Edward S. Ross, California Academy of Sciences, courtesy Dadant Bee Co.

Head & thorax abdomen
Above is pictured the head and thorax of the honeybee. Black is the nervous system. Green the digestive system.

Chart by Institut Royal des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique.

Pictured above is the abdomen of the bee. In green, left to right, is the stomach, intestine, and rectum. Blue is the respiratory system. Red are muscles.

To learn much more about these fascinating creatures, view the Beekeeping Video Contents. It includes a listing of publications for additional learning. (Copyright 1997 Dr. Iacobucci)

Also see Advantages to Beekeeping

Copyright Sept. 1997

Dr. R. Iacobucci