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The West Georgia Beekeepers Association does NOT endorse any of the following vendors or recipes on this website nor by its by-laws, links or it's officers.

Honey Bee Egg-by Dr. James Tew

The Honey Bee Egg-by Dr. James Tew

The eggs of the honey bee queen are useful management and decision making tools for the beekeeper. Their presence or absence can give the bee-keeper much information about current conditions within the colony.

The Beginning. The beginning stage of a honey bee's life is the small-est and quietest of any of the four developmental stages - egg, larva, pupa, and adult. In fact, many beekeepers have problems even seeing eggs at all, but that's not a criticism. Even the best eyes can have problems seeing a tiny white egg (looking like a miniature grain of rice) standing on end in a cell of snow-white comb. Eggs are not much longer than a typewritten dash ("-") (1/16 inch) and weighs nearly nothing (0.12-.22mg) which means an egg doesn't weigh much more than a typewritten dash either. Yet the presence or absence of eggs and their quantity, are good measurements of activities going on in the hive.

Looking for Eggs under Field Conditions. Firstly, you need to get your mind right and your glasses adjusted. Think small. With either dark or light comb, hold the comb at a 30-40 degree angle before you - you decide the distance. Have the sunlight coming over one shoulder. Using the top bar as a pivot line, raise and lower the bottom bar about 3-5 inches --- all the while scrutinizing randomly selected cell bottoms. Let your eyes scan the comb bottoms. Eggs tend to be laid in patches of cells. Once you find one egg, you can probably begin to see them all around in surrounding cells. I think eggs are equally difficult to see in either color cell (light or dark). In dark cells, the polished cell bottom can glisten and look much like an egg. Alternatively, the while cell bottoms of new comb cells can camouflage the small white egg. Take heart, what seems impossible at first does get much easier as your train your eye.

Naturally, look for eggs in logical places within the brood nest. The center of the brood nest (normally the center of the hive) is the best place to look for eggs. But suppose you are trying to decide how well a queen is performing or what kind of a future population of bees you will have within the next few weeks. To determine that estimate, you need more than just seeing eggs in the center comb. Work from the center outwardly toward both sides of the colony. Be careful not to damage your queen. Under the crowded conditions of a late spring colony, there is a risk of rolling the queen off the comb if you remove a center comb first. How far out on either side did you see eggs or brood? If it's early spring and you're finding capped brood and eggs on the center three frames and then eggs on the next two frames (3-6 frames of brood), you should have a colony that will build up on a normal build-up sched-ule. Anything more and you are probably going to have a boomer colony while anything less may indicate a failing queen, bad weather, or low honey and pollen stores.

Most beekeepers will accept seeing eggs as a substitute for seeing the queen during a quick inspection. Since the egg stage lasts for three days, seeing eggs means that you had a queen in that colony at least three days ago. It's not a conclusive analysis, but it is quick and will satisfy most inspection needs.

No Eggs are Present. If no eggs are seen, under some conditions panic is in order while in other situations, seeing no eggs at all is normal. In climates having a cold winter, egg/brood production will completely stop during the coldest part of the season. If you're inspecting a colony during a warm day in that period, expect no eggs ergo no brood. But you can assume there is a queen in place in the colony. Unless you happen to see her, you have no other choice but to assume she's there. However, if winter is waning and spring is on the way and you are not finding eggs along with older stages of brood, a failing queen

Most beekeepers will accept seeing eggs as a substitute for seeing the queen during a quick inspection. Since the egg stage lasts for three days, seeing eggs means that you had a queen in that colony at least three days ago. It's not a conclusive analysis, but it is quick and will satisfy most inspection needs.

No Eggs are Present. If no eggs are seen, under some conditions panic is in order while in other situations, seeing no eggs at all is normal. In climates having a cold winter, egg/brood production will completely stop during the coldest part of the season. If you're inspecting a colony during a warm day in that period, expect no eggs ergo no brood. But you can assume there is a queen in place in the colony. Unless you happen to see her, you have no other choice but to assume she's there. However, if winter is waning and spring is on the way and you are not finding eggs along with older stages of brood, a failing queen should be suspected. Any time after mid-winter in most areas, a colony should have varying amounts of brood in all stages.

Larvae and Capped Brood are Present but No Eggs. The larval stage lasts about 5.5 days. You can forensically decide if you killed the queen the last time you were in the colony. Since larvae are present, your colony had a queen about 5-6 days ago. Were you in the colony during those days? If the time of the year is right (anything warm), consider either swarming or supersedure as the reason. If all stages are present except eggs and you have ruled yourself out, the colony could have swarmed or could be replacing its queen. Swarms cells are generally on the bottom edges of the frame (but not always) while supersedure cells are on the "face" of a brood frame (but not always).

Time spent waiting for the new queen to show herself is a difficult period for many beekeepers. May be like a surgeon saying, "We won't know how well the surgery went until the patients awakens." So how do you tell if the queen has shown herself? Look for eggs as described above. Once you see them, get out of the colony. The queen is not in conclusive control of the colony until she has her own open brood present.

Laying Workers. Laying workers are worker bees that have had some ovarian development occur due to the absence of the hormonal effects of a fertile queen. Worker bees can't mate nor store sperm. They're also missing genital structures. Their egg patterns are messy and show multiple eggs per cell. Refer to the section on laying worker behavior. There are other times when a colony with a perfectly good queen can have multiple eggs within single cells. If, at any time, the beekeeper introduces a strong, productive queen into a small, but biologically balanced colony, the queen's egg output may exceed the smaller colony's ability to provide cellular space for all the eggs. In that case, it is common for a queen to place 2 - several eggs per cell. But, in this case, all eggs are fertile and the colony is in no danger of collapse.

Extra eggs within single cells are probably eaten by nurse bees, though not necessarily very quickly. It may take several hours even to a couple of days for nurse bees to remove either dead or misplaced eggs. If fact when grafting larvae for queen production, I've frequently seen two eggs, and later two larvae, occupying the same cell. I've wondered, given the tremendous growth rate of larvae, if occasionally one larvae eats the other or is it always the nurse bees that remove the extra larvae. I don't know.

Egg Biology and Behavior. The egg is a hardy developmental stage of the bee's growth. It is attached with a secreted glue-like substance by its small end. It's an iridescent white with a gentle bend. The egg is positioned with the head-end up. After about three days, the egg gradually leans over until it lies on its side on the cell base. The egg's outer membranous covering (the chorion) slowly dissolves as the larva emerges. It's a slow, quiet process. Nurse bees soon begin to place hypopharyngeal gland secretions (brood food) around and under the larva which has a voracious appetite. Beekeepers frequently say that an egg hatches when referring to a larva emerging. As such, the bee egg does not "hatch" though the word transfers the concept. However, due to the membrane dissolution, don't ever expect to see tiny bee-egg shells drop from cells containing new larvae.

Though the egg normally develops within three days, its reported devel-opment range is 2 - 6 days. Temperature appears to play a role in the duration of the egg's development. Eggs can commonly withstand room temperature for several hours without the ill effects shown by larvae and pupae held under the same conditions.

Haploid (Drone) Eggs Compared to Diploid (Female) Eggs. The egg is filled with cytoplasm, a nucleus, and a yolk. The nucleus is near the big end of the egg and plays a major role in the development of a future bee. A newly ferti-lized honey bee queen will have nearly 7 million sperm stored in a special pouch - the spermatheca. Sperm can be stored there, apparently in somewhat of a suspended animated state, for several years. Adult female worker bees can't do all this hence a major difference between the anatomy and physiology of workers and queens. The adult, fertile queen has a muscular valve and pump which are used to withdraw a small amount of sperm from the spermatheca, pump it down the duct to an opening in the vagina where a vaginal valvefold forces the egg's micropyle (an opening in the larger end of the egg) against the opening of the vaginal sperm duct. The connection made, one or more sperm is passed into the egg. The newly fertilized egg becomes diploid (a full chromosomal content) and develops into a female. Shut down the entire sperm-releasing mechanism and the egg remains sperm-free, resulting in a haploid egg (one half of the chromosomal number). The unfertilized egg becomes a drone. A queen can seemingly tell a worker cell from a drone cell by measuring the cell diameter with her front legs and will deposit the appropriate egg. However, mistakes are occasionally made. Nurse bees, ever alert to errors, clean up the mistake by eating the errant egg.

The Egg Output of a Good Queen.

How many eggs a good queen should produce is still not answered conclusively, though many re-spectable estimates have been made. The most accepted estimate is 3000 eggs per day during the height of the egg-producing season. This is about twice the weight of the queen and is about 1,500,000 eggs for her entire career (a little less than three years). This estimate is dependent on many factors - temperature, food availability (including pollen), and inherited characteristics.

Ironically, our view of the queen as a regal monarch is not a good one. The queen literally has food stuffed in one end while eggs are pushed from her other end - probably about one egg per minute. Nurse bees can control the egg flow by controlling the queen's food input. Slow the food input and the egg rate drops. Other house bees are responsible for preparing cells for receiving eggs. Incoming nectar and pollen may also affect the egg flow by directly affecting the nurse bees that care for the developing brood. So the queen systematically (if she is a good one by our beekeeper standards) searches for prepared cells. Upon finding one, she puts the appropriate egg (drone or female) egg in the appropriate-sized cell. If she's not fed well or if clean and polished cells are not ready, she decreases egg laying proportionally. But apparently it was not her decision to do so. If the queen can't produce enough eggs when pushed to do so, she will be superseded by the same nurse bees or replaced by the bee-keeper.

Though sometimes a challenge to see, honey bee eggs are useful indicators in many ways. The question, "Do you see any eggs?" is a common one in the bee business.

Used by permission:

Dr. James E. Tew tewbee2@gmail.com

State Specialist, Beekeeping http://www.onetew.com

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Auburn University

Homemade Honey-B-Healthy


  • 5 Cups Boiling Water

    2 ½ LBS Cane Sugar (5-6 Cups)

    7-8 Drops Wintergreen Oil*

    15 Drops Lemongrass Oil

    7-8 Drops Spearmint Oil*

    ½ Teaspoon liquid Lecithin (emulsifier)

    Mix emulsifier with the oils. Add sugar to boiling water and stir until dissolved, add oil mixture.

    Stir until mixed well, let cool. Shake well before using.

    Add 1 TSP of Homemade Honey-B-Healthy to 1 quart of sugar syrup or 1/3 cup to 5 gallons

    You can use wintergreen oil in the bottom of your hives. Mites die almost instantly when they come in contact with wintergreen oil; bees carry the food throughout the colony and kill the mites also.

Local Resources

Allen Brad - http://sweetwatercreekhoneyfarm.com/

Buster - http://www.bustersbees.com/

Buzz Factor - Bees - Call 770-949-6640

Sam Elrod - http://elrodsgardencenter.com/


Note:

The West Georgia Beekeepers Association does NOT endorse any of the following vendors or recipes on this website nor by its by-laws, links or it's officers.