Bee Biology - Anatomy & Honey Bee Development

Anatomy

3 body segments

  • Head
  • Thorax
  • Abdomen
2 pairs of wings = 4 wings total
3 pairs of legs = 6 legs total

The Three Types of Honey Bees

Queen

  • Gender: Female, “Mom bee”
  • Number: Only 1 per hive - if there were ever two in the same hive, they would fight to the death!
  • Appearance: Largest bee in the hive - very long abdomen, as it contains approximately 1 million eggs which she will lay in her lifetime. Also has very short wings, because she only leaves the hive once in her life.
  • Job: Her job is to lay eggs; she lays on average 2,000 eggs a day
  • Lifespan: Has the longest lifespan of any bee in the hive, living 3-5 years
  • Creation of the queen bee

When the old queen bee is dead or dying, the worker bees will release a pheromone, a special smell, which is one of the ways that bees communicate. When they smell this pheromone, the bees will build 6 queen cells, which are extra-large cells of the hive that serve as cocoons for the baby queen bees. Then the worker bees will choose 6 3-day-old larvae and place them into the cells. They will feed these larvae royal jelly, which is a growth hormone, like steroids, which will turn them into queen bees. Whichever queen bee hatches first will go around stinging all the others to death through the wax of their cells. Or if two emerge at the same time, they will fight to the death—because THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE. This ensures that only the strongest bee survives. A strong queen means a strong hive! The queen bee has a smooth stinger, which means she can sting repeatedly without dying—unlike worker bees.

Mating process

About 5 days after she emerges from her cell, the queen bee will leave the hive once—and only once--- in her life. This is called her maiden flight. She will fly through the air releasing pheromones which attract all of the drones in the area. Soon hundreds of drones will be swarming her in midair, trying to mate with her. She will mate with 15-20 different drones, who will die in the process, and fly back to the hive with their sperm stored in her abdomen. Then she will spend the next
3-5 years of her life laying eggs, many of which will have different fathers. However, all her children will be 2/3rds related to the queen, who has 2 chromosomes, and only 1/3rd related to their fathers, which only have 1 chromosome.

Worker

  • Gender: Female
  • Number: Makes up 98-99% of the colony population
  • Appearance: Smallest bees in the hive
  • Job: Do ALL the jobs in the hive, keep the hive running. Their jobs change as they get older, becoming harder and more complex. Different parts of their brains shrink and grow as they age, telling them to do these jobs.
  • 4 main jobs (in order): cleaner, nurse, wax maker, forager
  • Other jobs: guard, undertaker, queen attendant, scout
  • Lifespan: 4-6 weeks
  • Very high brain to body ratio for an insect, meaning they are highly intelligent compared to other types of insects

Drone

  • Gender: Male
  • Number: 1-2% of population
  • Appearance: Large eyes to see the queen with, large thorax because he has to be muscular, long wings because he has to be fast to catch the queen and mate with her, and a short, rounded abdomen with NO STINGER.
  • Job: Does no work in the hive. His only responsibility is to mate with queen from a different hive (dies in the process). In the meantime, he eats 2 or 3x as much honey as worker bees
  • Lifespan: 6 months
  • Least intelligent type of bee

Get kicked out of the hive in the fall by worker bees, where they will starve or freeze to death.

Honey Bee Development

  • Metamorphosis: Bees undergo a process of metamorphosis, like a butterfly!
  • Occurs in the hexagonal cells, which are made of beeswax
  • 1 egg per cell
  • Eggs hatch into larvae
  • Collectively, the larvae are referred to as the brood
  • 10 day old larvae get sealed in the cell with wax cap made by worker (similar to when the caterpillar makes its cocoon)
  • Larvae turn into pupae underneath wax
  • After about 3 weeks, the fully-grown bee eats a hole in wax cap and emerges into hive as adult​

 

This is material is covered in-depth in our Absolute Beginner Course!

Next offered September 26 2020 - Absolute Beginner Beekeeping - 10am - 2pm


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