Bee Brood (Basic Bee Biology for Beekeepers)

There are three development stages in bees which collectively are known as brood. Bees begin their life in the tiny white egg stage. A queen will deposit one egg in each worker or drone cell. The eggs are about the diameter of a pin and stand on end in their cells. They are very difficult to see. The eggs that will develop into workers are fertilized, while the eggs that will yield drones are not. We cannot tell …

Basic Bee Biology for Beekeepers


Some of the major biological features that beekeepers need to understand are: basic bee nest ecology, the bee caste system, bee anatomy, the development of bee brood, worker bee sequence of duties, caste brood rearing/adult population seasonality, communication as a “key” to maintaining the social cohesion of the colony, queen and colony reproduction/replacement, and how to read/understand bee behavior/biology.

This page and the menu below is the online version of MAAREC’s fact sheet, “Basic Bee Biology for Beekeepers”. To …

The Bee Nest (Basic Bee Biology for Beekeepers)

Apis mellifera is a cavity nester. Understanding the basic nest ecology has led to an effective and efficient, man-made hive . the Langstroth hive. The natural or feral nest (and beekeeper hive) has these five features:

  • Sheltered, darkened enclosure
  • Small, defensible entrance
  • Size of adequate volume
  • Hexagonal beeswax cells molded into parallel comb separated by bee space
  • Separation of brood (a central sphere) and food (to the top and sides).

A tree cavity is a common nest site in the …

Sequence of Duties of Worker (Basic Bee Biology for Beekeepers)

Workers do the work in the bee society. The figure below summarizes the phases of life of a worker bee. It is possible to identify a .rule of three,. such as three brood stages, three days as an egg, 2 X 3 days as larva, 3 X 4 days as pupa, three weeks as hive bees, three weeks as a field bee before death, etc. Workers generally start with hive duties like cleaning, feeding developing larva once hypopharyngeal glands develop, …

Adult Bee Anatomy (Basic Bee Biology for Beekeepers)

Understanding worker bee anatomy can help beekeepers understand bee biology. They are well equipped for life as social animals and to be successful in the environment.

Closeup of hairs on the thorax of a worker bee. Notice that each hair is branched (plumose), enabling it to trap pollen grains more effectively. Photo courtesy of Zachary Huang.
Closeup of hairs on the thorax of a worker bee. Notice that each hair is branched (plumose), enabling it to trap pollen grains more effectively. Photo courtesy of Zachary Huang.

Bees are well covered by branched (plumose) body hairs. They also have thousands of unbranched hairs covering their body which are for sensory purposes. …

Queen Replacement (Basic Bee Biology for Beekeepers)

Since there is only a single female reproductive in a bee colony, there is a special procedure to replace her when it becomes necessary to do so. Replacement of a queen by another queen is a process termed supersedure. Replacement of the queen and production of another colony is another behavior which is called swarming. A third means of replacing a queen, emergency queen rearing, is necessary if the queen dies suddenly, is removed by a beekeeper, …

Seasonality of Brood and Adult Populations (Basic Bee Biology for Beekeepers)

The population of a bee hive fluctuates during the year according to the seasons and food resources. The queen usually lives for a couple of years (in temperate areas at least) and is replaced only during favorable resource [forage] conditions. The numbers of workers fluctuate considerably during the season. Drones are produced when resources improve in the spring and then eliminated in the fall — a seasonal pattern determined by resource availability.

In January and February, the worker adult population …

Nest Occupants (Basic Bee Biology for Beekeepers)

When one looks into a bee nest, three different and distinct adult bees and three immature stages can be seen. The three adult stages present in a bee colony are the queen, the worker and the drone. Queen and workers are females, the two members of the caste system characteristic of eusocial insects. They have different tasks – termed division of labor. The male bee adult is called a drone.


The queen is a fully-developed female whose two functions are …

Worker-Queen Differentiation (Basic Bee Biology for Beekeepers)


An important difference leading to worker-queen differentiation for the bees is the size and orientation of the cell of developing larva (see figure to left from Sammataro and Avitabile). Worker bees develop horizontally in hexagonal cells of approximately 0.2 inch (5 mm) diameter (5 cells/inch). The queen measures the cell opening with her front legs as she inspects each cell prior to laying her egg. Drones develop in slightly larger horizontal cells.

The female queen however develops in a vertically-oriented …

Communication (Basic Bee Biology for Beekeepers)

The honey bee society cannot function without effective communication. Most honey bee communication occurs by smell and taste. The intricate system of chemical messengers are termed hormones and pheromones. A pheromone is a chemical secreted outside by an individual that when received by another individual of the same species results in a specific response such as a behavior. A pheromone differs from a hormone in that it passes from one individual to another.