The way in which bees reproduce is very interesting as it is safe to say that bee colonies are female-dominated. Each bee’s life begins from an egg from the Queen bee who lays them in the cells of the honeycomb during the winter season. Fertilized eggs become female worker bees while unfertilized ones become honey male bees or drones. In order for the colony to survive, the Queen must lay enough fertilized ones as they’re the ones who go out and forage for food, which feeds the rest of the colony.
Every colony can have only one Queen at a time. Each Queen goes on one mating flight, in which she collects between five and 100 million sperm in her body, which hopefully allows her to lay eggs for up to five years. Once she is no longer able to do this, in order for the colony to maintain their survival, another Queen must take over and make her mating flight.
The Queen is capable of laying over 1,500 eggs per day. She does so on her own command within a few seconds after examining each cell of the honeycomb. Honeybee eggs measure up to one and a half millimeters long. When the Queen is still young, her eggs are laid within a more organized pattern. This becomes less the case as she ages. The incubation process is only three days and once the larvae hatch, it is usually the youngest female worker bees who feed them.
One reason why bees are female-dominated is that often, the males’ only purpose is to mate with the Queen. It’s not even unusual for the Queen to force the male bees out of the colony before winter arrives. This may be just as well as once a male has mated with the Queen between seven and 10 times, he eventually injuries himself physically by leaving their endophallus (basically the bee equivalent of a penis) in the Queen’s body. When they do, it causes their entire abdomen area to rip open. Then the next male who mates with the Queen removes the endophallus from the previous male before sacrificing his own in the name of reproduction. The Queen usually mates with numerous males during the midair flight.
Once the larvae hatches, they go through basically the same process as the caterpillar does to turn into a butterfly. They eat like there’s no tomorrow while spinning the cocoon. Once the cocoon is complete, they become pupae. Then once they mature, they “hatch” from the cocoon as new adult bees.
The length of a new female worker’s life typically varies depending on the time in which she matures and emerges from her cocoon. The ones who do so in early spring typically have the shortest lives as they take their few weeks of life preparing the cells for other new bees. Otherwise, she has a good chance of living through the winter. Those who live through the winter act as nursemaids to the other new bees and play the role of housekeepers within the colony. She also joins the other workers in making the honey and foraging for food for the whole colony.
When she lays her eggs, the Queen is also in control of the gender of their offspring. Female workers don’t mate but they also lay eggs and these are always the male honey bees, or the drones. Another interesting fact about bees is that everyone knows which larvae are which. The future workers usually receive the royal jelly for food during their first two days while the future Queens receive it during their entire larval phase.
The larval phases of most honeybees takes just short of a month while future Queens take only 16 days.
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