By Camilla Bee
On the eve before Kelley’s Field Day back in 2012, I had the privilege of hanging outside the hive with Michael Bush. For any newbees unfamiliar with his name, he’s one of the leading voices for natural, practical beekeeping—widely published and quoted.
I asked Bush if there was one thing he wished that newbees understood; is there a single question that comes up repeatedly when he speaks about honeybees?
Turns out there were actually about four things. And, as he explained them, he thought of two more, and then a few more, and, well, there’s really about eight things. Or maybe ten.
That there are about ten things this expert wishes new beekeepers understood (or maybe it’s twelve?) isn’t because Bush can’t prioritize. It’s likely because there’s so much that’s so helpful to understand in the beginning.
The good news is, that’s one of the many reasons people love beekeeping—the constant education and opportunity to learn.
The bad news is, that learning curve can be overwhelming. But there’s good news about that as well! Beekeepers are generally a sharing sort of people; we love to chat about bees and offer our opinions.
One of the items Bush recommends “bee-ginners” understand is the development cycle of honeybees. The next day I posed the same question to Cleo Hogan, who was also speaking at Field Day that year. Cleo also wished beginners understood the stages and timing of development.
While this key information is scattered across the internet and in many bee books, following is a summary. (We like to be one of the main places you go for bee information and bee equipment!)
Honeybee Stages and Development.
Stage 1, eggs: Eggs are challenging to see. Look for a very small structure that looks like a grain of rice at the back of the cell.
Eggs grow for three days before they become larva. If you find eggs, big sigh of relief. You have someone laying.
Stage 2, larva: The egg hatches into a practically microscopic white, gleaming, curved-like-the-letter-C worm. Tough to see initially, they become more obvious with growth.
Key progress check: If you couldn’t find eggs (and don’t feel bad if you cannot, it is challenging), finding larva assures you that you have someone laying eggs. (Hopefully that’s a queen, not a laying worker. More on that in a bit.)
A couple of fun facts: Larva receive 10,000 meals during this stage. All are fed royal jelly for the first two days. After that, only those destined to become royalty continue to receive royal jelly. Worker bees are fed honey, pollen, water, etc.
How quickly larvae turn into pupa depending upon their destiny:
• 5.5 days for queens (fertile females)
• 6 days for workers (sterile females)
• 6.5 days for drones (fertile males)
Stage 3, pupa: This is the transformative stage where bees go from worm-like to bee-like, with three distinct body regions. We can’t witness this as this growth occurs under the wax cap. An excellent resource for photos is http://www.roctronics.com/BEE-BASE.HTM.
Key progress check: You’ll want to see brood, and it should be predominantly flat (worker) brood. There are a few things you can do about this situation, consult with a mentor or research further to decide what you want to do, but you must do something.
How long it takes to go from larva to pupa again varies by the type of bee the organism is destined to, well, “bee-come”:
• 7.5 days for queens
• 12 days for workers
• 14.5 days for drones (fertile males)
Stage 4, adult: If you’re closely enjoying your honeybees, you will, many times, see bees emerging from their capped cells. It is an exciting observation to spot an antenna or leg waving out of the chewed hole in the cap, followed by—usually within minutes—the entire new bee working its way out to see a different world through lots of eyes.
So, along with ensuring progress of a new package, why else is knowing (and applying) this information important? Some situations include:
If you do a walkaway split, keep in mind the long length of time it will take for an egg to become a queen, and the queen to begin laying, and those eggs to turn into worker bees. Are there enough bees in that walk-away split to service the process and maintain the hive? If you’re raising bees for honey, are you OK with this production slow-down/pause.
If you moved a queen cell to a nuc, how long until you should check to see if she’s productive? If you’re using drone comb as a natural mite reducer, when should you remove it?
If you’ve got several frames of wall-to-wall worker brood, how long until that hive “explodes”? (Or in other words, how much time do you have to get the next box on?)
In conclusion, know the timing of honeybee development. Not only can you dazzle people at parties with this information, but it’ll help you better keep bees.