The life cycle of a honey bee is perennial. Each colony contains three adult castes: egg-laying queens, sperm-producing male drones and nonreproductive female workers. The only job of the drone is to mate with the queen during seasonal mating flights, and soon after discharging their sperm, drones die. Worker honey bees are able to live for six weeks, while queens can survive up to five years.
The life cycle of honey bees begins when an egg hatches. During the first stage of its development, the offspring form a digestive system, nervous system and outer covering. Each member of a colony develops as an adult over varying durations. Queens become full-grown adults within 16 days; drones develop in under 24 days and female workers require 21 days during larval and pupal development.
Within each colony, a single queen rules her workers and drones. Future queens develop inside larger cells by constant consumption of royal jelly, while workers and drones are fed only royal jelly during the first few days of their lives.
When an existing queen dies or becomes incapable of laying eggs, worker honey bees raise a new queen. As the new queen becomes a young adult, she attends a nuptial flight, mating with several drones. With sperm stored from the mating flight, she begins to lay eggs inside the hive. Honey bee queens are able to lay unfertilized eggs, which will become male drones, and fertilized eggs, which become female workers or a new generation of queens.
In order for a colony to survive, the honey bee queen needs to lay a plentitude of fertilized eggs. These workers will forage for food, build a strong and well-insulated hive, take care of larvae and defend the colony from enemies. The queen examines each egg carefully before placing it into a cell. Laying an egg takes only a few seconds, and a queen can place up to 2,000 eggs within a single day.
When a young and healthy queen lays eggs, she packs them closely together within the cells. As a queen ages, her sperm stores decrease. In turn, she produces fewer eggs, and the pattern of the eggs within each cell begins to appear less orderly.