Birth of a Bee

I sometimes take photos when looking in the bee hives. I look for interesting, unusual, disturbing or even normal things. I do this partly to record them and partly because I’ve found I can scrutinise the scene better back at my desk on a big screen with a zoomed photo than I can from behind my bee veil.

Here’s something I captured that I think is very cool: a bee being born. Here she is just popping her antennae out after eating through the cap which covered her honeycomb. This tiny cell has been her incubator for 3 weeks.

Bee eating the cap off its cell

Bee eating the cap off her cell

And here she is popping her body out!

New bee emerging from her cell

New bee emerging from her cell

This miracle of birth happens something like 1500 times a day in the average beehive. Honestly the scale of all-things-bee really blows my mind.

Though these photos show the birth of a bee (which I maintain is very cool), they don’t really show the reproductive process of bees. When you think about bees you have to think in terms of a colony – more an organism than a collection of individuals. Each bee is reasonably insignificant and so one more or less in a colony doesn’t really matter. Sure the colony needs new bees (lots of them) in order to thrive or even survive, but replacing bees in a hive does nothing to ensure the survival of the species. A colony can go on forever in the same hive with new bees, even a new queen, until disease or famine or fire or flood or predator or any number of disasters kills it. In order to truly reproduce, a new colony has to be created, not just a bee (or even a thousand bees). Bees do this via a swarm.

Which does nothing to diminish the coolness of these birthing photos in my mind.

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About Laura Rittenhouse

I'm an American-Australian author, gardener and traveller. Go to my writing website: www.laurarittenhouse.com for more. If you're trying to find my gardening blog, it's here.
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10 Responses to Birth of a Bee

  1. Very cool indeed. And great picture. What/who was holding the frame while you were wielding the camera?
    We observed bee birth once when the beek from whom we were buying a nuc was checking that it was still queenright before letting us take it. We felt as if we had seen a wondrous, rare thing although at 1500 per day why don’t we see it all the time?

    • My husband holds the frame and waves it about grumbling whenever I lift up the camera. He tells me to look at the bees, not to photograph them! Then he’s always keen to come into the office and see the detailed photos 🙂

      The reason I don’t see a bee being more often is I rarely look at brood frames. We’re terrified that we’ll injure the queen and we don’t want the brood to lose any heat so we’re reluctant to lift out a brood frame without good reason. A quick inpsection of 1 or 2 frames to make sure there’s not chalk brood or similar is enough for us. Then the queen excluder is back in place and the super is on top and the brood is left alone for another month or so. Not the ideal conditions for watching babies being born.

  2. That is really cool! Thanks for sharing those pictures.

  3. Emily Heath says:

    Lovely. It makes me giggle sometimes how the new bees are trying to haul themselves out and meanwhile their sisters are walking all over their heads!

    • It kind of freaks me out to watch bees too closely for too long – they are constantly stepping onto each other or flying on top of each other. It’s like they’re invisible to each other.

      Supposedly a new bee is almost immediately greeted and fed by a nurse bee but I haven’t seen that. She probably steps on her new sister before feeding her just for fun 🙂

  4. Now I must say I am confused – I thought that it was just the queen bee that was female and that all the others were here “workers”. seems as though I might need a bit more bee-education.

    • They’re almost all femails. Workers are females, they just can’t (or don’t very often anyway) reproduce. In fact, a queen egg is just a worker egg fed on lots of extra Royal Jelly to make her so big and fertile. If the queen dies, the workers will pick a worker egg and feed it up to make their own new queen. Very neat trick.

      Drones are the only males in a hive (only a few percent of bees). They hatch from an unfertilised egg and the only purpose that humans know they have is to mate. I suspect they do something else as well (back rubs after a hard day’s flying?) but we don’t see it so we think they don’t matter. Poor hen-pecked boys 😦

  5. Great photographs! It is really worth taking photographs as frequently you see something on a photograph you haven’t noticed while taking it. For us we get the pleasure of sharing your bees with you.:)

    • I agree it’s worth taking them. About 80% of what I take around the hives is fuzzy and worthless – no time to get the settings right and my bee gloves are actually welding gloves and I’m a real clutz. Plus the camera is swinging around my neck out of its case so I can lift and shoot. The whole thing is far less than professional – but then I come into my office and see shots like these and it’s all worth it.

      Hooray for digital cameras!

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