There are four stages of the honey bee’s life cycle: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. There are also three different castes of honey bee, so how long each honey bee live depends on their caste. The queen bee can live for up to five years, while the worker bees live for about six weeks. Male drones die after mating with the queen.
The Stages of Development
The only role of the male drones is to mate with the queen bee, which occurs during mating flights. During a mating flight, the queen will mate in mid-air with up to twenty-four drones. Soon after releasing its sperm, the drone will die.
Once impregnated, the queen will return to the hive to lay eggs which is the first stage of the development of the honey bee.
Honey bee eggs are tiny (similar in size to a grain of rice) and are laid by the queen in cells within the comb. The queen can lay up to three thousand eggs in a day, and it is she that “chooses” whether to lay fertilized or unfertilized eggs. Fertilized eggs will hatch into female worker bees while unfertilized eggs will always be male drones. When laying unfertilized eggs, the queen will place them in larger “drone” cells. The queen may also lay potential future queens in special queen cells.
During the first stage of development, the nervous system, digestive system, and outer covering is formed.
After three days, the honey bee eggs hatch and larvae emerge. The larvae are white in color and look like tiny grubs. The larvae are blind and have no legs although they grow very quickly and will shed their outer skin five times.
Nurse bees will come and feed the larvae; they can eat over a thousand meals a day. In the first few days, all larvae are fed royal jelly but only those marked as potential queens will continue to be fed this exclusively. All other worker and drone bees are moved on to a mixture of pollen and honey, which is referred to as bee bread.
The larvae grow rapidly and after five days are more than 1,500 times the size that they were upon first hatching. They will then be sealed in their cells by the worker bees, who will cap the cell with beeswax. The larvae will then spin themselves into a cocoon and become pupae.
The cocooned larva becomes a pupa, at which stage starts becoming what we recognize as a honey bee. The eyes, legs, wings, thorax, abdomen, and head will all develop in the capped cell. The bee’s eyes become pink first before turning purple and then the familiar black.
It takes around twelve days for the pupa to become an adult bee. Once it does, it will chew through the beeswax and emerge into the hive or nest to join the rest of the colony.
Regardless of their caste, all honey bees go through the four stages of development, although the development from egg to adult will vary in length, depending on caste. Queen bees become adults after just sixteen days. It takes the worker bees eighteen to twenty-one days to mature, and it takes drones twenty-four days.
The honey bee lifecycle is divided into four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. How long it takes a honey bee to reach the adult stage depends on whether it is a queen, worker, or drone. Queen bees live the longest, with some living for up to five years. Male drones are bred to mate with the queen and die shortly after releasing their sperm. Worker bees typically live for five to six weeks.