Metamorphosis of the Honey Bee PDF Print E-mail
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Written by InlandBeemail Admin   
Friday, 01 February 2008 00:00

As a new beekeeper, it is important to know the status of the hive and brood lifecycle. To provide our members and visitors with further information, I have scoured the Internet and borrowed some information from some very helpful sites. Links, acknowledgements and references to these resources are listed at the end of the page.

Metamorphosis of Honey Bees

Development of honey bees is similar to the metamorphosis in butterflies. The stages of development and the duration of each stage for a worker bee are given by the following sequence:

egg (3 days) --> larva & prepupa (8 days) --> pupa (9 days) --> adult

total development time = 19.5 - 20 days

The egg and early larval stages live in uncapped brood cells. The last two days of the larval stage, the pupal stage, and the first half-day of the adult stage occur beneath capped brood cells. The following description of honey-bee metamorphosis contains references of time in days. The reference point is the moment the egg was laid by the queen bee.

Table 1. Moults of the Honey Bee

2 egg egg egg egg egg egg
3 1st Larval 1st Moult 1st Larval 1st Moult 1st Larval 1st Moult
4 2nd Larval 2nd Moult 2nd Larval 2nd Moult 2nd Larval 2nd Moult
5 3rd Larval 3rd Moult 3rd Larval 3rd Moult 3rd Larval 3rd Moult
6 4th Larval 4th Moult 4th Larval 4th Moult(sealed) 4th Larval 4th Moult
8 gorging sealing gorging gorging
11 prepupa 5th Moult prepupa 5th Moult sealing
12 prepupa
13 pupa
14 5th Moult
15 pupa
16 imago 6th Moult (Emergence)
19 pupa
21 imago 6th Moult (emergence)
23 imago 6th Moult
24 Emergence


Steps of Metamorphosis

Queen Laying Egg Queen bee lays the egg.
Only one queen lives within a colony of honey bees. She lays up to 2,500 eggs per day. The worker bees care for the queen and the young brood.
Upright New Egg A single egg is laid in a brood cell.
The life of a worker honey bee begins when the queen lays a fertilized egg onto the base of a worker-sized brood cell.
First Larva Step 2: A larva hatches from egg after three days.
Nurse bees feed brood food to the larva within minutes of hatching. Glands in the head of nurse bees secrete the liquid diet. The nurse bees continue to feed the larva until the cell is capped.
Growing Larva Larva grows large on steady diet of brood food.
The worker larva sheds its skin (or molts) as it grows. The first four molts occur every 24 hours after the larva hatches. The fourth larval molt occurs by the end of day 7 when the larva occupies the entire floor of its brood cell. At 8 days the larva sends out chemicals that signal attendant worker bees to cap the brood cell. The final larval molt occurs on the 11-12th day (see below).

This image is of a larva about 7 days old.
Prepupa stage The bee larva becomes a prepupa.
The bee larva changes into a prepupa within hours of finishing the cocoon. The prepupa lies motionless in the brood cell as it prepares to shed the last larval skin. This stage lasts for nearly two days spanning the 10-11th days of bee development.
Pupa Day 11-12 The prepupa becomes a pupa.
The head of the prepupa enlarges by the end of the 11th day, marking the beginning of the pupal stage of bee development. The tissues of the pupa will continue changing to form the adult insect. The most noticeable changes are an increase in pigmentation of the eyes and body as the pupa ages.
Pupa Day 12-13 The eyes of the pupa begin pigmentation.
Around day 13, the eyes become pigmented before other parts of the bee. There is no movement of legs, antennae or mouthparts during the early pupal stages.
Pupa Day 13-14 Eye pigments darken.
The compound eyes and the ocelli (the three small eyes at the center of the head) appear pink on the 14th day. The pupa still does not move its appendages.
Pupa Day 15-16 Eyes are purple on the 15th day.
The body is still white or slightly yellow, but some brown pigment appears in the antennae and mouthparts at this stage.
Pupa Day 17-18 The bee's body darkens.
The body of the bee has a yellowish tan appearance on the 16-17th day of development. The pigmentation of the antennae, mouthparts and legs increases. Some slight movements of the legs can be seen at this time.
Young adult chewing its way out The adult bee chews away cell cap.
The pupa-to-adult molt occurs about 12-20 hours before the adult bee emerges from the cell. The young bee expands her wings and finishes hardening her exoskeleton during this period of time. Her body movements are frequent and strong.
Emerging Adult Adult bee exits the cell.
The young adult bee leaves her brood cell about 20-21 days after the egg is laid.


This material was put together as an amalgamation of these two sites:(unfortunately, the pages have since expired).

For another kind of metamorphosis follow this link to Franz Kafka's Short Story about an unfortunate Gregor Samsa.

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