Bee larvae are the centre of the bee life cycle. Once a colony is established, the queen must lay eggs directly into honeycomb cells. Those cells host the egg for a short period and give way to bee larvae. The worker bees must feed bee larvae directly since the larvae are blind, legless, and unable to feed themselves.
Bee larvae are the stage between egg and pupa in the development cycle, and no bee colony can be healthy without copious amounts of larvae.
What Is a Bee Brood?
A bee brood consists of three stages of development. It starts with the egg stage, where the queen leaves a tiny egg in a single cell. Each cell is either for a worker or a drone. The drone cells have to have unfertilized eggs, and the queen will remove the egg for destruction by the worker bees.
The egg stage is only three days long and concludes when the egg hatches and a larva is formed. The larva’s only job, then, is to eat. It is a time of rapid growth where adult bees focus on the growing larvae. Larvae turn into pupa after a little under a week.
Pupae start looking like the adult bees they’ll become, which means their features are beginning to take shape.
What Is Larva?
Larva is a name we give to the stage where the bee hatches from the egg. It’s an important stage of development, as the larvae have to consume a lot of food over a short time to grow.
What Do Bee Larvae Look Like?
Bee larvae are long white grubs with no legs. They cannot leave the egg cell until they get bigger, and their job in the larva stage is to consume as much food as they can so that they will grow and move on to the next stage. Whether worker larvae or drone larvae, both have an important role in the colony.
What Does a Larva Do?
Unlike other insects, bee larvae tasks are very specific and watched over by the worker bees:
- Since larvae are blind, worker bees have to bring them plenty of food. They don’t have legs to go get food for themselves.
- As larvae develop, they shed skin over and over as they expand towards their adult size.
- The larva has to build itself a protective shell that will allow it to move to the next stage in the bee life cycle.
Larvae go through an immense wave of changes; they must shed their outer skin multiple times to build the cocoon they will need for later stages of development (pupal).
What Is Metamorphosis?
Metamorphosis is the development of the bee from an egg up to an adult. The bee starts as a simple egg in a honeycomb cell and moves on to the larval stage, pupae stage, and finally, an adult bee. The bee’s lifespan depends on what caste the bee belongs to, as queens live the longest while worker bees can die after a particularly busy summer.
How Big Does the Larva Grow From Its Original Size During Metamorphosis?
The larval stage is a huge time of growth, and the bee can grow 1500 times larger than when it was just an egg. This rapid growth is due to the protein-rich food the larvae eat while moving deeper through the bee life cycle.
Who Takes Care of the Larvae in the Colony?
Worker bees have the responsibility of bringing food to the hive. A colony of bees can grow up to 80,000 in number, so worker bees are constantly foraging for food.
When it comes to the colony’s larvae, worker bees make sure to bring food to the larvae, including plenty of honey and pollen to keep the larvae growing. They also handle the maintenance of the larvae until they become adult bees.
Worker bees can visit the growing larvae up to 10,000 times before they reach adult status.
What Do Larvae Feed On?
Larvae have to eat continuously in order to go through the metamorphosis necessary to transform into adult bees:
|Saliva and honey||Worker bees have to mix the honey with their saliva to dilute it enough for the larvae.|
|Pollen||This is brought to the larvae by the worker bees as a source of protein.|
|Royal jelly||In lower levels, as the high diet of royal jelly is saved for the queen larvae.|
Bee larvae diets have to be plentiful in order for the full life cycle to complete, letting the bees go from eggs to adult bees in just a few short weeks in total.
What Do Drone Bee Larvae Feed On?
The drone bee larvae feed on a blend of pollen and honey, similar to the blend that is also fed to worker bees. It is only the queens that get the highest level of nutrients. The current queen bee needs an enormous amount of nutrients in order to lay quality eggs, and the future queens also have to be in good shape to take over once the current queen bee can no longer produce eggs.
Drones are designed to mate with virgin queens; once they have mated, their job is done, and they die. This is why so many drone cells have to be present in a healthy colony to ensure that there will be enough drones for future mating cycles.
What Do Queen Bee Larvae Feed On?
The larvae that are specially selected to become future queens receive royal jelly. Royal jelly is a secretion blended with pollen, chemicals from other worker bees, and proteins. Royal jelly even has fertility stimulants that the future queens will need later. Queen bees are unique in the sense that they eat royal jelly for the rest of their lives.
What Do Worker Bee Larvae Feed On?
Bee larvae feast on a mixture of pollen and honey, a combo that’s referred to as “bee bread.” This bee bread is nourishing to larvae and helps speed up the growth process. This is the food mixture for worker bees; future queens eat something very different.
For bee larvae destined to become worker bees, this bee bread is rich in everything the bee needs to grow properly: vitamins, minerals, sugar, and protein. There are a few days where all bee larvae receive royal jelly in order to bolster their chances of survival.
How Long Are Bees in the Larval Stage?
Unlike other insects, bees do not remain in the larval stage for very long. The average larval time for bees is six days. The larval stage length depends on a few factors, including temperature, species, and environment.
How Does Diet Determine the Length of the Larval Stage?
Like other factors, diet does play a role in terms of the length of the larval stage:
- The better the diet, the faster the growth of the larvae will become.
- Given that quality food triggers faster growth, queens develop faster than workers or drones. They simply have better food in larger quantities.
- Worker bees get a higher volume of food which helps them grow, but the quality is reduced compared to the diet of queen bees.
Diet is connected to larval development, but it is not the only factor in healthy bee life cycle growth.
How Does Temperature Determine the Length of the Larval Stage?
Temperature plays a big role in terms of how long the length of the larval stage is. Bees are generally sensitive to cold temperatures. Not only do bees move slower in the cold, but the larval stage also takes longer. The egg is placed in the cell as usual, but cold weather can delay the egg’s development.
Bees are a diverse species; not all of them gather together in hives. More solitary bees still go through the larval stage, but they are much more exposed to the elements. This means that they are more sensitive to extreme heat or cold.
How Can a Honeycomb Cell Impact the Size of the Larva?
If eggs are laid in a honeycomb cell that’s older and already used, the larva will be smaller compared to when the larva are laid in fresh honeycomb cells. Why? When eggs are placed into a honeycomb cell previously occupied by other larvae, the egg has less room to grow and expand.
This is because the former larvae moulted several times, shedding old skin and growing with each moult. These last bits of debris aren’t cleaned out of the cell, keeping future generations from growing to their full potential.
Everything Starts With the Larvae
For an individual bee, everything starts with the larvae. From this stage of development, the bee will grow into an adult responsible for specific tasks required for the survival of the colony. Cultivating healthy larvae is key to a colony’s long-term success.