After hatching from the egg, the first stage a bee passes through on its way to adulthood is larval. In this article, I’ll cover all you need to know about bee larvae. Regardless of the species, every bee starts out his or her life as a larva.
You’ll discover what bee larvae look like and what they eat. I’ll tell you where bee larvae live, and how long they spend as larvae.
What Do Bee Larvae Look Like?
Bees are holometabolous insects in the order Hymenoptera. This means that these insects pass through a metamorphosis on their way to adulthood.
Bee larvae are unrecognizable compared to adult bees. They look more like small maggots than anything else.
The larvae are born blind. All they are capable of doing is eating and excreting until they pupate. The larvae can wriggle around, but that’s about it.
The size of the larvae varies depending on the species. The worm-like larvae are typically creamy white in color.
All larvae grow larger over time after they hatch from their eggs. Some species of bee hatch larvae that molt or shed their skins.
During this stage, the bee larva can grow up to 1500 times its original size.
Honeybee larvae who are destined to grow into workers molt repeatedly. They molt five times during the larval stage. Eventually, bee larvae form pupae, also known as cocoons. Inside, they will transform into adult bees and emerge when ready.
Where Do Bee Larvae Live?
It’s not likely you’ll see bee larvae out in the open. During this stage of their lives, bees are vulnerable. A larva can’t defend itself against predators or forage for food. As with most insects, bees are protective of their young. Larvae are kept sheltered inside nests or hives.
Where the larvae live is dictated by the species and type of bee. The females of each species of bee have preferences as to where they lay their eggs.
Social bee species live in colonies. The larvae are cared for by worker bees. There are species in this category that construct hives, such as honeybees.
Larvae hatch in honeycomb cells. Interestingly, where an egg is laid can impact the size of the larva. Eggs laid in older honeycomb cells result in smaller larvae. This is likely because older cells accumulate debris over time. This includes larval feces and shed skin from molts.
Certain species of bumblebee prefer to make their nests underground. There are other variations of bumblebees that like to make Bird boxes their homes. Stingless bees set up their homes inside hollowed out logs.
Solitary bees are a different story. These bees don’t congregate together in big groups of hundreds or thousands. Their nesting sites are diverse, ranging from holes in trees to cracks in a wall.
Certain types of solitary bees share a nesting area, but not the nest. For example, a few females may use the same tunnel to get underground. However, each female will construct her own private chamber. The living space is not shared.
These independently built nests are where solitary bees lay their eggs. The mother bee provides caches of stored food and then leaves. This ensures that when the larvae hatch, they have something to eat.
Carpenter bee females lay their eggs inside wood. They prefer rotting wood but can target manmade structures if the opportunity presents itself.
What Do Bee Larvae Feed On?
Adult bees subsist off plant nectar and pollen. Honey-producing bees also consume their own honey when the need arises. Bee larvae have a similar diet.
Honey-producing bees store honey for many reasons, one of them being to feed the larvae. Honeybees add water to the stored honey to dilute it before feeding it to larvae.
Bumblebees keep honey in nectar pots in their nests. They dip into these nectar pots to feed larvae.
In many social species, bee larvae eat bee bread. This is a substance that is made from pollen and modified by the bee itself.
Worker bees forage far from the hive or nest to collect pollen. The pollen is then carried back home to be processed.
Once back at the hive or nest, the worker chews the pollen. As it mixes with the saliva, it undergoes a transformation. The worker then deposits the chewed pollen into a honeycomb cell for the larva to feed on.
The packed bee bread ferments over time. When needed, workers will use these stores of bee bread to feed hungry larvae. Bee bread is a primary protein source for the bee colony.
Most social bees feed the larvae bee bread directly. Worker bees pass the bee bread to the larvae mouth-to-mouth.
Certain solitary female bees collect pollen for their larvae. Carpenter bees are one such example.
The female will gather pollen from flowers and return to her wood-based nest. She rolls the pollen into a tight ball and lays an egg in it. She will repeat this process until the chamber is full of eggs. Once the larvae hatch, the pollen balls nourish them.
Royal jelly, or bee’s milk, is made only by social bees. Worker bees secrete royal jelly from glands in their throats.
Bee’s milk is rich in protein. This nutrient-packed substance is necessary for the healthy maturation of bee larvae into adults.
All larvae enjoy royal jelly when they are first hatched. Shortly after, they will eat only bee bread or honey. Only larvae that are destined to grow into queens will eat royal jelly until they pupate.
How Long Are Bees in the Larval Stage For?
Bee larvae mature at different rates. How quickly a bee becomes an adult is influenced by several factors.
First, species plays a major role. Secondly, temperature also determines how long a bee remains a larva. If the temperature drops after an egg is laid, the process may take a little longer.
Finally, caste is a determinant. Larvae that are given the queen’s diet of royal jelly mature faster. They spend approximately six days as larvae before pupating. Worker bees take a little longer to pupate, with drones taking the longest time.
At the end of the larval stage, worker bees will seal the larva’s cell with wax and the larva begins to spin a cocoon, entering the pupal stage.
When a bee lays its eggs, the caste is already pre-determined. After hatching, the larval phase is the beginning of the bee’s life, and how the larva is fed and cared for depends upon its future role as either queen, worker or drone.
Bee larvae may not be attractive, resembling maggots or slugs, but they are important. They mature into the honey-producing pollinators we know and appreciate.