Reproduction of Honey Bees
Only the queen bee and the drones have a fully developed reproductive system. The worker bees have an atrophic reproductive system. Seven days after her incubation the queen bee flies outside the beehive, where drones gather, and she mates usually with 8-12 drones in mid-air and in approximately a 25-meter height, in temperatures higher than 20°C, with wind speed lower than 28 km/h and during afternoon hours. During mating, the drone’s genitals are reversed and come out of his body, and with his abdominal muscles contracting, he ejaculates. Later, his genitals are being cut from his body causing his death. Parts of his genitals remain inside the queen’s vagina – called the “mating sign” – and are removed by the next drone. Mating lasts 5-18 minutes. The queen stores the entire spermatozoon in the spermatheca and her gland excretes nutrients for the survival of almost 7,000,000 spermatozoa, which are adequate for the rest of her life. Therefore, during the egg-laying the queen bee chooses whether she will fertilize every egg that passes through her oviduct.
Determination of gender and caste
The queen bee lays two kinds of eggs –fertilized and non-fertilized eggs. The non-fertilized eggs will develop into drones, while the fertilized will grow into female individuals (Winston, 1987). This determination is called gender determination. Afterwards, the female individuals can develop into queens or workers, depending on their nutrition during their larva stage.
Larvae that grow to become queen bees are fed exclusively with copious amounts of royal jelly during the entire nourishment period, whereas larvae that develop into workers during the first three days are fed with very small amounts of royal jelly and the rest of the days with royal jelly, pollen and honey. This determination is called caste determination.
Life cycle of a bee
In order for a bee to complete its development it goes through three stages; egg, larva and pupa. All eggs come from the queen bee of the apiary and they are large, long and narrow and they have a special place inside the cell. After three days, eggs are ready for the incubation of the larva. The developing larvae are fed by the worker bees with royal jelly, pollen and honey until the day the cells are sealed with beeswax. After the cells are sealed, the larvae spin a cocoon around themselves and they enter the pupa stage. The development time into an insect is different for each individual. To develop into a queen bee, 16 days from the day the egg is laid are needed; to develop into a worker 21 days are required and to become a drone 24 days have to pass.