Earlier this week, I received a list of questions about bees from a preschool class. Since some of their questions were so good, I decided to post the answers here as well. If you want to read them all, check out my last post “Honey Bee Q and A – Honey, Nectar, and Pollen”. This time, we’ll focus on all the things bees feed their young, and answer a few questions about royal jelly and queen cells. Here we go!
How do bees make bee bread?
I am so impressed that this preschool class even knew what bee bread was! What a smart group of kids! For those of you who haven’t heard of it, bee bread is the main food that adult bees eat. To make bee bread, the bees mix honey and pollen together and let them ferment for a little while.
How do bees make royal jelly?
This is a really good question, I actually had to look it up to make sure I had it right. How bees produce food for their young is a really fascinating topic, and there’s a lot to it. There are even things that science can’t explain yet (I like to call those mysteries “Bee voodoo” ).
Basically, worker bees have two special glands that produce food for their young; the mandibular gland, and the hypopharyngeal gland. A small amount of pollen is also included in the diet of larval bees. Honey bees use these three components to feed all their young, whether queen, worker or drone. The ratios of these components differs depending on the caste. Larval workers and drones (usually called brood) are fed “brood food” which contains mostly secretions from the hypopharyngeal gland, with small amounts of mandibular secretions and pollen.
Larval queens are fed “royal jelly” which is extremely nutrient rich, to help her develop into a queen. Royal jelly contains almost ten times as much of the mandibular gland secretions as normal brood food. The other factor that causes the queen to grow into a queen is that she is fed considerably more food in general, so she grows big and strong.
How does the Queen bee make the royal cell?
The queen doesn’t make the royal cell (we call them “queen cells”). It’s actually the worker bees who build the cell for the queen, and they’re the ones who decide to raise a new queen in the first place. It can happen in one of two ways. If the workers are planning ahead of time, they will build a queen cup – a small bowl-shaped cell that sticks out a lot more than a normal cell. Once the honey bees build the queen cup, they leave it there until the current queen lays an egg in it.
Once the queen lays an egg in the queen cup, the workers care for the young queen by feeding her royal jelly and building her a proper queen cell. They build the queen cell extra-large, to accommodate the developing queen, who will grow larger than worker brood. They tend to have a funny, peanuty texture, and really do look a lot like a weird peanut stuck on the comb.
If the queen dies unexpectedly, the workers can’t very well sit around and hope an egg lands in their queen cup. Instead, they can rear an emergency queen by either moving an egg into the queen cup themselves, or by skipping the cup altogether, and modifying a regular cell that already has an egg into a queen cell. These queen cells often come out looking a bit odd, but the queens turn out just fine.
I’ve really enjoyed answering these fun questions. Tune in next week for another installment of Q&A, where we’ll be discussing the sleep habits of the honey bee, and I’ll tell you all about how they sting (and why it hurts so much!)
If you’ve got any questions of your own, don’t be shy about sending them my way! You can comment below or e-mail me at Sarah@sarahplusbees.com!