How Do Bees Mate?

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The Colony

  • The reproductive cycle of bees is unique, and is fundamentally interconnected with the caste system of bee colonies. Within any colony, there are three types of adult bees: the queen, male drones and female workers. A colony will typically have only one queen who lays all the eggs. Female workers are sterile and do not reproduce. Male drones mate with the queen to produce offspring.

Mating and Laying

  • The actual mating process usually occurs above ground in mid-flight, and results in the death of the drone as he expends semen. Bees practice internal fertilization and penetrative mating. When the queen lays her eggs, she lays them in the cells of a wax honeycomb built by workers. Eggs are laid one to a cell, and may be fertilized or unfertilized. Unfertilized eggs develop into male drones (yes, this is a highly unusual form of reproduction!) while fertilized eggs develop into females. Fertilized eggs are produced through mating with drones, which may or may not come from the same hive.

Hatchlings and Genetics

  • Within a few days, eggs hatch. At this point, the hatchling is in larvae form and resembles a tiny white worm. After about a week, the larvae enter the immobile pupae stage and their comb cells are capped by the workers. After another 8 to 10 days or so, a mature bee will emerge from the cell.
    There is no genetic difference between a queen bee and a female worker bee. The difference is developmental. When a new queen is needed, workers will feed a single new female bee a substance called royal jelly while she develops in a specially enlarged comb cell.

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