Beekeeping is rapidly becoming a popular hobby for urban dwellers and homesteaders alike. Time commitment is a major component of beekeeping, and not just for the actual tending of the hives; educating oneself about bees and troubleshooting is imperative to do the hobby. As a beekeeper, you will be responsible for your hive and its inhabitants beginning with the egg and bee larvae stage. Understanding the life cycle of the bee is just one crucial step in beekeeping. 

 


What Is Bee Larvae?

Bee larvae is the second out of four life stages of the honeybee. The larva is born of the egg and then turns into a pupa and, finally, an adult. 

 

Honeybee Castles

Three types, or castes, of honeybees exist: queens, workers, and drones. Each bee hive or colony is composed of all three castes. There is one queen per colony, and her responsibility is to lay eggs; she is the largest bee in the hive and can lay up to 2,000 eggs per day. The queen can live up to three years.

Worker bees are sexually underdeveloped female bees and the smallest-sized bee within the colony. These bees make up the bulk of the hive population. Workers can live between four and 10 weeks; they spend the first three weeks caring for in-hive responsibilities, and they focus the remaining weeks on honeycomb construction and collecting pollen and water.

bee  hive

Worker bees can be broken up into various jobs, including nurse bees, who care for the eggs and larvae, guard bees that protect the hive, cleaning bees that care for the hive and its maintenance, worker bees that forage for pollen and nectar, and even mortician bees that remove the corpses of their nest-mates from within the hive.

Drones are male bees and exist only to impregnate young queen bees. Drones are tolerated by the rest of the colony only during the breeding season and then forced out of the hive to die. Drones live approximately 57 days, depending on colony health, mating, or the approach of winter.


The Larvae Stage

The larvae stage is the second part of the life cycle. Development time varies by the caste of honeybee; however, each bee larvae goes through the same care and attention for optimum growth. Within just five days, the larvae are 1500 times larger than the egg size. Larvae shed their skins five times as they grow to fill the egg cell. Queen bees remain as larvae just 8 1/2 days; worker bees spend nine days in the larvae stage, and drones are larvae for 10 days. This time period can vary based on environmental and controllable factors.

Appearance Of Bee Larvae

Bee larvae should be white and glistening as if the larvae were wet. The larvae look similar to grubs, legless and featureless, and are curled until they stretch to fit their cell. Larvae grow until they fill their special cell which is constructed based on what type of bee the queen designates: future queens, worker bees, or drones.

bee larvae

Feeding The Bee Larvae

Bee larvae should be white and glistening as if the larvae were wet. The larvae look similar to grubs, legless and featureless, and are curled until they stretch to fit their cell. Larvae grow until they fill their special cell which is constructed based on what type of bee the queen designates: future queens, worker bees, or drones.

Worker bees feed the larvae royal jelly when they first hatch. Royal jelly is a special secretion formed from honeybee glands. All larvae, regardless of caste, are fed royal jelly. For the bee larvae chosen to become a queen, worker bees feed the larvae large amounts of royal jelly in special queen cells. They feed the workers and drone larvae pollen, nectar, and honey as they develop as well as a special food called bee bread.

bee on the top of hive

Worker bees are responsible for feeding the larvae. Larvae eat constantly, sometimes up to 1,300 meals a day. Bee larvae are fed royal jelly for the first few days of the larvae stage and then are fed honey and pollen. Only the future queen continues to be fed royal jelly. At the end of the larvae stage, the worker bees cap the egg cell in which the larvae are housed, and then, the larvae spins a cocoon around itself. Thus begins the pupa stage.


Edible Larvae

Larvae and pupae of honey bees are, in fact, edible for humans and various animal predators. Researchers state that the larvae and pupae have a high nutritional value and protein quality similar to beef. The larvae and pupae, known collectively as bee brood, are eaten as a delicacy in many countries such as Mexico and Thailand.

Bee brood is comprised of various proteins, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals and can be used as an alternative food source considering food shortages and the expected boom in human population. Beekeeping may be used to farm broods as well as honey in the future. Whereas honey can be stored indefinitely, bee brood has a shorter shelf life due to the high fat content.


Drone Larvae

Larvae and pupae of honey bees are, in fact, edible for humans and various animal predators. Researchers state that the larvae and pupae have a high nutritional value and protein quality similar to beef. The larvae and pupae, known collectively as bee brood, are eaten as a delicacy in many countries such as Mexico and Thailand.

Drone larvae can be selectively removed by beekeepers as part of routine hive maintenance. Removing the drone larvae can assist in managing the dangerous varroa mite, which is the most harmful parasite to honey bees across the world. Keeping in mind that drones are only useful for inseminating queen bees, excess drone larvae can be removed to make room for additional worker bees or even farmed out for edible purposes.

Farming excess larvae can make drone brood a by-product of the hive, similar to the production of honey, and may become an additional source of income for beekeepers alongside honey sales and consumption.


Is There Honey In Bee Larvae?

Honey is separate from bee larvae. Honey is a byproduct of the pollination process. It is stored in special combs, separate from the egg cell combs, and used as supplemental food for the bee colony in the winter.

hive and the bee

Honey Formation

Worker bees that go outside the hive forage for pollen and nectar. The bee will collect flower nectar through its proboscis and retain the nectar in the "honey stomach." The honey stomach can hold almost 50% of the bee's weight and requires over a thousand flowers to fill. When the worker bees return to the hive, they regurgitate the nectar to the in-hive worker bees. These worker bees then ingest and regurgitate the nectar until it reaches honeycomb quality.

Important To The Hive

Honey is often considered a benefit strictly for human or animal consumption; however, the bee colonies, themselves, need it to survive. Worker bees collect pollen as well as nectar to bring back to the hive. Not only does the pollen assist in the pollination of flowers, plants, and vegetables, but it's also necessary for larvae development.

Bees create an important substance called bee bread for the worker bees and larvae. Bee bread is a combination of pollen, honey, and gland secretions that all ferments together in combs. The worker bees tasked with the job of caring for the bee larvae, eggs, and pupae are called nurse bees; these bees produce the royal jelly that is fed to the developing larvae and queen bees. Nurse bees also feed the bee bread to the older larvae who are not becoming queens, such as the various worker larvae and drone larvae.


Tips For Larvae Maintenance

Beekeeping can be a fulfilling hobby, but it will require special attention to the larvae. Follow these tips to keep tabs on your larvae.

spring the bee of water

Spring

After gently smoking the hive, open the hive and observe the activity of the bees. They should be attending to their jobs. Look carefully through the comb to identify the eggs or larvae; an absence of eggs and larvae means the queen is dead. If the queen is dead, and there are no larvae, you may have to purchase a new queen from a beekeeping supplier so that the future of the hive is not compromised.

Fall

After gently smoking the hive, open the hive and observe the activity of the bees. They should be attending to their jobs. Look carefully through the comb to identify the eggs or larvae; an absence of eggs and larvae means the queen is dead. If the queen is dead, and there are no larvae, you may have to purchase a new queen from a beekeeping supplier so that the future of the hive is not compromised.

Smoke hive and open for inspection. Confirm the existence of the queen, either by sight or by the fresh eggs and healthy larvae. If there is no queen and no eggs, you will have to provide a new queen to guide the colony through the coming winter.


Routine Maintenace

Always observe the habits of the bees. Are they acting normal and leaving and entering the hive or are they fighting and stumbling around? Open the hive to check all frames.

Look for the queen; if you cannot find her, look for new egg cells. If there are no new eggs, you will need to order a new queen. Observe the uncapped larvae. They should be bright white and wet-looking. not tan and dull. The egg cells (brood pattern) should be compact, have few empty cells, and fill most of the hive frame.


Conclusion

The bee larvae is just one step in the amazing life cycle of the honeybee. Larvae become workers, drones, and new queens to continue the necessary impact within the world. Without bees, there would be no pollination and none of the foods we rely on. Bee larvae is considered a viable food source for predatory animals and even humans, especially in parts of the world where food is scarce or there is less of a stigma towards eating insects. It is an important source, not just for food, but for the continuation of the bee life cycle.

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