Eggs, Larvae, Pupae, and the Queen

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Double click on the comb of the honey bee frame in the picture above to see if you can spot eggs in the cells. Double clicking will zoom in to reveal much more detail.

Katie, Rob, and I have started contacting and visiting bee breeders in Northern California to inspect and test colonies of bees from their breeder pools. Inspection requires that we observe the status of the queen in each colony within an operations’ breeder pool. The queen can be elusive and I have had several beekeepers tell me that you should first observe the eggs, larvae, and pupae then find the queen.

A beekeepers ability to intuitively spot eggs in the cell can tell them a lot about the queen before they even see her. Being able to identify the presence or absence of all stages of the brood and interpret their pattern gives clues to the state of the hive as a whole. The proliferation of brood by the queen is a major contributor to the overall health of a colony.

The queen’s decision to lay eggs is rooted in one of the most innate desires in the animal kingdom… The desire to reproduce. She can choose to fertilize an egg and produce a female or decide not to fertilize an egg and make a male. In either case, to the human eye, there are no identifiable differences in the appearance of freshly laid eggs.

Snodgrass describes the egg of the honey bee as elongate oval in shape about one-sixteenth of an inch in length and of pearly white color. The egg is slightly thicker at one end with the thicker end of the egg eventually becoming the head. The queen normally places only one slightly curved egg in each brood cell of the comb attaching it by its smaller end to the inner wall of the cell. The larva will hatch at the end of the three days from the deposition of the egg (Anatomy of the Honey Bee).

Image of Eggs, Larvae, and Pupae taken by Rob Snyder

Observing the eggs:
-Remove a frame from the brood nest and with your back to the sun hold the frame up to the sunlight so that you can see the inner walls of the cells. Begin looking for the eggs in cells at the center of the frame working your way to the out. Normally a queen will begin laying in the center of the comb and work her way to the edges.

-It may take several frames and some practice to spot the eggs, but the more you look the better you will get a seeing them

-The queen will lay fertilized eggs in small cells and unfertilized eggs in larger cells

-A freshly laid egg will be standing straight up in the cell, by day two the egg has tilted slightly toward the bottom of the cell and by the end of the third day a larvae hatches.

-If workers sense that there is something not right with an egg or the queen has laid more than one egg in a cell they will remove them from the cell.

-If there are too many eggs laid in each cell for the workers to remove and little to no larvae and sealed brood in the cells then you may have a laying worker or a hive where some kind of queen event occurred in which the queen is no longer present in the hive and a worker with under developed ovaries tries to take on the queens egg laying duties.

-If all of the eggs are eventually becoming drones then you may have a drone laying queen or a queen that has run out of sperm in her spermatheca and can no longer lay the fertilized eggs required to produce workers.

If you couldn’t find eggs in the picture above before reading try again by double clicking on cells in the picture to zoom in.

In the coming weeks we can take a look at the larvae, pupae, and queen…


Be Involved. Be Included.Bee Informed.