In the fourth and final stage of metamorphosis, called the pupal stage, a developing bee begins to look like a bee. In fact, a “baby bee” emerges from its cell as a fully formed adult that won’t get any bigger.
Since a young bee will soon be exposed to a dangerous world, the exoskeleton (or outer skeleton) is tough. It can protect the adult from microorganisms, other insects, and damage from the environment. Plus, it’s waterproof!
But the sturdy exoskeleton also prevents a bee from getting any larger. The exoskeleton provides a structure for the bee, just as our internal skeleton gives us shape. The difference is that our own skeletons grow as we mature into adults, but a bee’s exoskeleton is nearly complete at emergence.
I say “nearly” complete because if you look carefully, you can identify a newly emerged adult in several ways.
How a newly emerged bee matures
When it is ready to greet the world, a mature bee chews its way out of its brood cell. It cuts around the edge of the capping, and pops out like someone emerging from a manhole in the street.
But this bee spent many days growing inside its brood cell where it is damp, cramped, and dark. When it finally pushes the wax capping aside, the bee crawls out, looking wet and bedraggled.
We call these newborns, teneral or callow bees. Callow means inexperienced, naïve, or tender—a perfect description.
How to identify a callow bee
A callow honey bee can take several hours, perhaps 3-4 to mature. But if you happen to see one during that delicate timeframe, you can identify it in several ways.
Some callow bees are extremely light-colored, which can be confusing if you don’t know what it is. I’ve had panicked beekeepers ask me if these bees were diseased. Some admit to killing them.
It depends on what you mean by baby bee
I suppose you could call these callow bees, baby bees. But the thing to remember is that a small bee won’t grow into a big bee.
This is especially confusing in bumble bee colonies. Some huge bumbles have sisters that are tiny, whereas honey bees are pretty much uniform in size. Small bumble bees often work inside the nest while big ones tend to forage. It works for them.
Bottom line: Don’t kill any callow bees! Just give them a few hours until they look like the rest. It’s hard to admit, but the first time I saw a callow bee, I too thought my colony was in trouble!
Honey Bee Suite