bee biology

Baby bees are like baby gnats: full size

So-called baby bees mingle with mature bees on a brood frame.

While there is no such thing as a baby bee, for a few hours you can distinguish between a newborn and a mature adult.

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.

Callow bees are usually lighter in color than mature bees. They may look off-white or tan.
Callow bees may look wet and matted like newborn kittens.
Their wings may be stuck to their bodies, adhering until they dry out.
These “baby bees” may appear dazed, and they probably are. After all, this whole life thing is a huge surprise.
This callow bee just emerged from its brood cell. Notice the dazed look, the matted hair on head and thorax, and the generally light color. Some "baby bees" are even lighter, appearing almost white. Image by Christopher Wren.
This callow bee just emerged from its brood cell. Notice the dazed look, the matted hair on head and thorax, and the generally light color. Some “baby bees” are even lighter, appearing almost white. Image by Christopher Wren.

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


  • When I think “baby” bee I think of larvae. Fresh out of their capped stage I think of as “young” bees.
    I, too, have seen bees that looked like that “callow bee” photo and thought they were sick and worried about the whole colony. So this was a very much appreciated post.

    • Joanna,

      Yes, I agree with you on eclose and I discussed it in a recent article for the American Bee Journal. (See it here in the third paragraph under “Does it hatch or emerge?”)

      However, I find that if I use too much technical jargon with beginners, it tends to turn them off. I would rather they learn a concept first, and then attach the term. It’s more important to me that the new beekeeper understands what is happening in the hive. Saying it properly will come with time.

  • Rusty: Oh I LOVE LOVE LOVE that article you sent – especially the part about Africanized bees or hot hives and grouchy bees – I’ve had grouchy bees due to stormy weather or something else – the bees seem hot one day and then are as sweet as pie the rest of the time – kind of like me 🙂 and it’s extremely disturbing to find out how many people say Africanized when just describing defensive/hot bees, because nothing sends fear into people’s minds like the word Africanized…. there also other reasons for grouchy bees – other than stormy weather, could have beetles, moths, even varroa mites – and even if they are always hot, then swapping out the queen to a gentle queen is a great solution – no need to freak out and destroy an entire colony if they seem defensive – there are other solutions – may take several weeks for the entire hive to become more gentle but it’s definitely doable. This “vocabulary” article is the best I’ve seen – reminds me of how irritated I get when people say “so and so did a complete 360.” or “He hung himself.” etc. But I digress 🙂

      • I just want to say that I have done a complete 360 in my car. Yes, I wound up facing the way I’d been driving before it happened, but meanwhile a previously nearby mailbox was propelled so far across the field that I couldn’t even see it, and I may have been not quite so much on the pavement as when the 360 started.

        • Roberta,

          That reminds me that I was a passenger in a car that did a 360 on wet pavement. The driver braked hard for a traffic light and the car spun completely around, stopping at the light in exactly the right place. It was terrifying.

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