Lesson Two: The Birds and the Bees

Now that you know a little about the bees, let’s learn about how they get there and their life.

Life Cycle

All bees start as an egg. As I stated in the previous post, the main layer of eggs is the queen bee, but there are times when, after being queenless for a certain amount of time, one or more of the (female) workers will decide next woman up and start laying. A laying worker can only produce a unfertilized drone egg, as they have never mates. Queen bees can lay both workers or drones. That’s right, within her body she is able to take her stored sperm (I’ll get to that later), mix it with an egg, and make a worker, or just send out an egg and make a drone. She does this based on the size of the comb cell she is laying in. Normal comb is worker, slightly larger comb is drone. I’ll get to how to make a queen in a bit.

All eggs are fed something called royal jelly, which is secreted from the heads of worker bees. The difference between workers and drones and the queens is the queen bee is given a lot more royal jelly. From there, this is the best chart…

All eggs turn to larva and are capped (a this layer of wax to protect them). For workers and drones, this stage is called brood and looks like this.

All capped brood is raised off the comb kinda like a dome. The worker brood is smaller while the drone is puffed up more like popcorn.

When workers need a new queen, they will take a normal egg, give it a lot more royal jelly, and build out the comb even more to make something like this, called a queen cup.

They will make between one and ten of these to increase the likelihood that they end up with a queen. There is more to the location of the queen cups, but I’ll get to that some other day.

Queens, although they are the largest of the bees, only need about 16 days to adulthood, while workers need about 21 and drones 24. Once they are mature, they chew/break their way out and join the hive. Most queens will then go destroy any other queen cups who would be their competition. The upcoming posts about my summer will be all about this queen raising process.


In the last post I mentioned the role of the drones. This is where he shines.

When a queen hatches from her queen cup, she will soon take her mating flights. During this process, she flys about 20 feet into the air to join the drones. I could get into the scientific terms for his parts and hers, but the basic idea is, she finds a drone, they mate while flying, his male parts fall off inside her (plugging her up so the sperm doesn’t come out) while he falls to his death. She does this a few more times until she has enough sperm to last the rest of her life, then heads back inside the hive where she may stay for the next 3-5 years. Somehow someone caught this process on video and I’m glad to share it!

I’m not sure how they took the video of that flight, but it’s a pretty awesome visual.

Did you know? The location of the queen cups on the frame can tell the beekeeper a lot of information. If the cup is on the bottom of the frame, it is called a swarm cup and means the hive will soon swarm (leave the hive to find a new home). If the cup is in the middle of the frame, it’s a supercedure cell (the bees aren’t happy with the queen and are going to get rid of her) or an emergency cell (they need a new queen quickly because something happened suddenly). 

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