Life Cycle of a Honeybee

My recent visit to our province of Bohol Island (The Philippines) turned out to be an unexpected informative experience when I decided to visit The Bohol Bee Farm. The farm, which produces its own brand of delectable pure honey and other organic products, have well-informed and engaging staff that revealed some interesting facts regarding the life cycle of the honeybee.

There are three types of honeybees; the queen, workers and drones. An ordinary colony has around 60,000 bees with only one queen. The queen lays the eggs that produce all the other bees. Within her 5 to 6 year lifetime she would have laid as many as 3000 eggs a day (per season) and mated at least 17 times. What is interesting however, is the fact that all the worker bees that do the hard labor in the entire colony are female. Within their short lived life (up to 45 days!) they cycle through a series of different tasks until they ultimately die.

First they are “nurse bees” that feed the larvae emerging from the eggs. These worker bees are also responsible for feeding the queen. They produce “royal jelly” in their bodies which is secreted on top of their head. This is the only food that the queen and larvae will eat. Then they become “janitor bees” in charge with all the cleaning. They keep the “honeycomb chambers” clean because the queen will not lay an egg in a dirty chamber. They also dispose of the sick and dead bees by tossing them out before they infect other bees. Then they become “guard bees” in charge of protecting and defending the colony. They will not let bees inside the hive returning without any nectar.

Then they become “scout bees” who find the best sources of nectar. When a scout finds a source, he returns to the hive and performs a dance. This dance involves moving its body around, side to side or waggling. This describes the exact location of the source of nectar using the sun as its compass. (Bees can detect polarizes light) The scout can go as far as 3 kilometers in its search and they do not collect nectar. Then finally they become “field bees” in charge of collecting the nectar needed to produce honey.

The “drones” or male bees (live for 89 days) do nothing. A little bit larger than the worker bees, their only responsibility is to mate with the queen. When the queen is ready to mate she flies off into the sky followed by the drones. Mating occurs in the sky. You might think that the drones have it made! However, when they mate with the queen their organ detaches and they wither and die.

Did you know that it takes 12 bees to make a teaspoon of honey? That means that 12 bees have to work tirelessly collecting nectar back and forth for 45 days just to produce just that amount! To produce a queen only requires a larger chamber and any egg can become one. When a colony has two queens they will kill one, possibly murdering their own mother.

Bees are the best pollinators. They are responsible for the myriad of plant diversities that we have today. The next time I do see a bee, I will surely look at it in a different light!

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