Four year old Cian’s fascination with life cycles is still going strong. With our caterpillars still chrysalides, and the frogs still tadpoles, he asked to look at the bee life cycle, having seen two bees mating on our nature walk.

Day 0-3: The queen bee lays an egg.

Cici showed me the real honeycomb and his pretend comb cells. These are made by worker bees, non-breeding females, with many jobs including cleaning and guarding the hive, foraging and making honey. They have a life span of about 40 days.

The queen bee will mate with a drone bee (male). Drone bees are needed in the summer to mate with a queen from another colony. A hive typically has hundreds of males over the summer, then pushes them out of the hive in autumn. Drones usually live for just a few weeks.

After their mating flight, the queen bee lays the eggs in comb cells, this gives each egg its own space to grow in to a bee.

Worker bees (also called nurse bees) fill the comb cells with royal jelly to prevent larvae from falling, then seal up the cells.

There are thousands of worker bees in a hive, but only one queen. The queen’s job is to populate the colony by laying eggs that will hatch into the next generation of bees. As the mother to most of the bees in a hive, she can lay 2,000 eggs every day.

The life span of a queen is about 5 years. When a new queen is needed, the old queen lays an egg in a big cell called a queen cup. A queen needs more room to grow than the other eggs, and plenty of royal jelly.

Day 4-10: The egg hatches into a larva

Up until this point, the nurse bees have fed all the larvae royal jelly, pollen and honey. From Day 4, only the future queen bee is fed royal jelly, because any larva that is fed royal jelly throughout the entire larval period, will grow into a queen bee.

Cici showed me what happens in this period. A larva looks like a tiny, white worm. Larvae need lots of food to grow, so nurse bees give them all the pollen and honey they need.

Day 11-20: The larva spins a cocoon, becoming a pupa

When a larva has grown big enough, it spins a silk cocoon for protection whilst it becomes a pupa. A pupa starts to grow the body parts it needs to become an adult bee.

Day 21: The pupa grows into an adult bee

When it’s fully grown, the adult bee bites it’s way out of the comb cell.

Cics had the idea of using a felt tip pen to push the play dough from the back, so it looked like the queen bee was biting it’s way out of the queen cup.

N.B. I decided to stick with 21 days being the time at which all honey bees are fully grown, but technically the development of each member of a colony differs depending on caste. Male honey bees (drones) need 24 days for proper growth from eggs to adult, while workers need 21 days and queens require only 16.

DfES Early Learning Goals (2017)

ELG 14 – The world:

Children know about similarities and differences in relation to places, objects, materials and living things. They talk about the features of their own immediate environment and how environments might vary from one another. They make observations of animals and plants and explain why some things occur, and talk about changes.