How Do Bees Produce Eggs?
Reproduction occurs a little differently, depending on the species, and if it’s a social bee or solitary. In social bee colonies, it’s the queens who are responsible for mating and producing eggs.
The virgin queens fly out to find a mate, or mates, in order to collect sperm.
Honeybee queens will typically mate anywhere from 15 to 25 times during a mating flight. Inside her abdomen, she has a small pouch called a spermatheca, where she can store enough sperm to last her a lifetime.
Bumblebee queens also have a spermatheca, but these queens will only mate once or twice. Only a few species are known to mate any more than this. Bumblebee queens only live for about a year, where up to nine months can be spent in hibernation. Her lifespan is significantly shorter than the honeybee queen, who’ll often live more than three years.
The workers in social colonies are all females, but they can’t produce fertilized eggs. Workers rarely lay eggs since it would cause trouble with the queen. It’s typically only in times where the queen is missing or sick that the workers lay eggs.
Solitary bees are somewhat different since all the females will mate and produce eggs. The single females will venture out to find a mate, collect enough sperm, and proceed to establish their nest. The female will act as a single mother, foraging and taking care of her offspring alone.
Where Do Bees Lay Their Eggs?
Queen bees and solitary females can lay two types of eggs—fertilized and unfertilized. Fertilized eggs will become females (workers or queens) whereas unfertilized eggs evolve as males. The process differs between species, so let’s take a closer look at the three most common species.
As her ovaries are ready, the bumblebee queen will search for a nesting site. This may be an abandoned rodent burrow, a compost pile, moss, or another hidden place.
To lay her eggs, she’ll build a small honey pot made from wax. Inside this honey pot, she places a ball of pollen mixed with saliva and nectar. This is where she’ll lay between four and 16 eggs and then cover them with a layer of honey and wax.
The bumblebee eggs are approximately 0.1 inches to 0.15 inches long. They’re white and shiny and have a sausage-like shape. They’ll hatch within four days’ time, starting the larval stage of development.
After mating, honeybee queens generally return to the hive they emerged from, where they’ll take over from the old queen. The new queen will walk across the honeycomb to the nursery where she’ll find cells ready for her first batch of eggs.
The queen will lay her eggs in organized patterns, where each egg is carefully placed next to the other. The egg will attach to the bottom of the cell using a mucus strand. Honeybee eggs are also pearly white, but they measure about 0.03 to 0.05 inches.
The honeybee queen can lay up to 2,000 eggs per day. These are mostly fertilized eggs that will develop into workers. A honeybee egg will take up to three days to hatch into larva, where workers then proceed to feed it depending on its role (worker, drone or queen). Potential queens will be fed and supplemented with royal jelly.
About 90 percent of bee species are solitary, so we’ll just give you a general idea, as they differ. A single solitary female bee will only lay about 20 to 30 eggs during her lifetime. Most solitary bees will mine tunnels, either underground or in wood, where they place their eggs.
The female will first create a pollen ball using nectar and pollen. She’ll then place the ball in one of her tunnels, where she’ll lay the egg on top. The pollen ball will serve as nourishment for the developing egg, as it evolves from larva to adult.
She’ll then seal the egg in its own chamber with a wall. She repeats the process with more eggs until the tunnel is full.
Like the honeybee and bumblebee, the solitary female chooses if the eggs are female or male. She’ll lay the male eggs last, since they develop faster and will then have easy access to the exit.
What Happens Inside a Bee Egg
What happens inside a bee egg is pretty amazing. It’s smaller than a grain of rice, yet the inner workings are astonishing.
During the egg stage, the organism inside develops and grows. The bee’s nervous system and digestive system form and its outer coat hardens.
For the first few days, the egg will lay straight in its cell, concentrating on growing. Once it approaches the larval stage, it bends, which makes a crack in the eggshell. The outer covering then simply dissolves, leaving a banana-shaped larva.
Bees emerge from eggs during their first stage of development. Bee eggs are usually pearly white, sometimes shiny, with a sausage-like shape—it generally takes them three to four days to hatch. Once they hatch, they enter their larval stage where they’ll receive their first food.