Royal Jelly: The Honeybee’s Birth To Death Life Path Coach

Everybody knows that Royal Jelly is made by honeybees. And everyone says how important Royal Jelly is to a honeybee colony.

So I was just curious, how important is Royal Jelly to honey bees? I did a deep dive into this question and this is what I learned.

What is importance of Royal Jelly in a honey bee’s life?

Royal Jelly is the dominant factor determining if a honey bee larva will become Queen, worker, or drone.
Every adult honey bee also consumes Royal Jelly daily dispersed by nurse bees. The amount received is a feedback metric to inform all bees of the hive condition.

Bees treat their babies just like a human treats a newborn human baby. Neither nurse honeybees or human mothers feed their babies raw food.

The human mothers eat the raw food and then feed their human babies a secretion from the mother’s own bodies. For humans it is breast milk.

Bee babies are not fed by their mother, the Queen bee. She is too busy laying up to 2,500 eggs a day to raise more babies. Bee babies are reared by a class of hive bees called nurse bees.

Nurse bees ingest incoming pollen (protein) and process it into Royal Jelly, the only food fed to the developing bee larva.

So for humans, babies are fed breast milk. For bees, babies are fed Royal Jelly, the carrier mechanism for protein to be digested by the larvae.

How is Royal Jelly made?

Royal Jelly is only made by sterile female honeybees between 2 and 15 days old, the so called nurse bees.
During this period of
life the nurse bee’s body manufactures a secretion which is mixed with fresh pollen to produce Royal Jelly.

Female bees in the hive (except the Queen) can not get pregnant. But, during the age span (2 days to 15 days old) when they should be able to get pregnant (but can’t), their bodies still produce the hormones that would be needed to get pregnant. These are the designated nurse bees.

The only bees in the hive that can digest pollen are the nurse bees between the ages of 2 days old to about 15 days old, their faux-fertile period of life. After 15 days of age (give or take a couple days) the nurse bees shift there job duties to being a foraging bee out in the field gathering the pollen (and nectar) and lose the ability to make Royal Jelly or even to digest pollen them may have eaten.

During the nurse bee’s life, this faux-fertile period of time, the nurse bee can eat and digest the incoming pollen (protein) and, with her special hormonal chemistry during this period of time, she can produce Royal Jelly which she will feed to the developing larva for 6 days.

Nurse bees also feed the Queen, who only eats Royal Jelly for her entire life.

Does Royal Jelly tell foraging bees to gather pollen or nectar?

Nurse bees feed Royal Jelly to the foraging bees as they return to the hive to drop off their harvest from the flowers. When there is not enough pollen coming into the hive the nurse bees will feed the forging bees less of the Royal Jelly.

There is a “normal” amount of royal Jelly nurse bees fed to the foraging bees. If that quantity is decreased, it communicates to the foraging bee to work harder at gathering pollen. If the foraging bee is getting the “right amount” of Royal Jelly after each foraging trip, that signals the forager to concentrate on gathering nectar instead of pollen.

What happens if there is not enough Royal Jelly being produced?

If the nurse honey bees don’t produce enough Royal Jelly (because there is not enough pollen coming into the hive), they will decrease the number of days they feed the new honey bee larva to only 5 days instead of 6 days.
Everybody in the hive gets less

This decrease of even one-day reduction of feeding the larva Royal Jelly will result in a weaker worker bee and in the overall decline of health in the hive.
Learn more about reading a brood frame…..

The nurse bees will cut back on feeding Royal Jelly to the honey bee larva anytime this is a disruption in pollen coming into the hive, even with just one day of rain. During the rain the foraging bees can’t gather pollen and the lack of incoming pollen, even for one day, will alter the nurse bee’s feeding routine.

The foraging bees will get the message that nurse bees need more pollen coming into the hive because the foraging bee will get less Royal Jelly reward from the nurse bees when the foragers bring their harvest of nectar and pollen home to the hive.

The moral of the story:
Consider feeding your bees pollen patties during rainy days, or any days that the bees can’t fly.
But be careful; pollen patties are not a substitute for pollen collection, and like most of us, foraging bees would like to work less, not more! It’s a fine line between helping the bees through a tough time and enabling them to be lazy.

What happens to a nurse bee when she can’t make Royal Jelly?

A nurse bee, at about 15 days old, stops produce hormones to make Royal Jelly from pollen. The nurse bee then becomes a foraging bee, bring nectar and pollen to the hive for processing by the hive bees.

Interestingly, with this shift into being a foraging bee, the previously nurse bees lose their ability to digest the protein they are now gathering. But like all other foraging bees, they get a little Royal Jelly to eat from the nurse bees upon returning to the hive with more raw materials to be processed.

Also, interestingly, if a package of foraging bees are purchased (or otherwise obtained) to start a new hive, some of the foraging bees will reverse their metamorphosis from foraging bees back to nurse bees.

Can the lack of Royal Jelly be responsible for Colony Collapse?

Honey bee larva that develops from a diet of less than the normal 6 days of Royal Jelly will be more vulnerable to disease and sickness. This sets the hive up for possible colony collapse.
Once sick, they will leave the hive to die.

Honey bees are altruistic. It is built into their DNA. Once they begin to feel sick they will leave the hive to die in solitude to protect the hive. Once this scenario begins, all the bees in the hive can disappear in just a couple days.

If a hive has a lot of bees that were undernourished as a larva (and susceptible to disease and parasites), there could be a pandemic that causes a great number of bees to become sick, leave the hive, and die. All in a very short period of time.

All this destruction could be set in motion just by feeding larva Royal Jelly for 1 day less than the 6 day optimal protocol.

If there are more bees dying than are being born, the hive will become very weak, just from attrition.

What are honey bees made of? How does Royal Jelly play a role?

Honey bees are primarily made of protein.
Royal Jelly is the transport mechanisms of protein to the larva.
maintenance requires 1 to 2 pounds of pollen (protein) be processed into Royal Jelly weekly just to replace the attrition rate.
expansion requires more pollen.

There is a complete hive turn-over of summer bees every 42 days. That 1-2 pounds of pollen collection per week is just for hive maintenance of its current population numbers, For the hive to grow, the foraging bees need to bring in more than 1-2 pounds of pollen weekly.

So when the hive needs to grow, the nurse bees simply reward the foraging bees with less Royal Jelly on their return to the hive. This communicates to the foraging bee to concentrate more on pollen gathering than on nectar gathering activity.

Do nurse bees feed Royal Jelly to every egg a Queen lays?

During the pollen poor periods of time, when the Queen is laying more eggs than can be reared because of the decreased Royal Jelly production, the nurse bees solve this dilemma by simply following the Queen around and eating the newly laid eggs.

During an extreme environmental condition the nurse bees will also eat the developing larva in their Royal Jelly bath, but the nurse bees will not eat the sealed birthing cells because these pupae do not need anymore feeding and the hive will need all these new workers once environmental conditions return to normal.

Related Topics

Can humans eat Royal Jelly?

Humans can and do consume Royal Jelly, both in the raw and prepackaged. In some counties it is considered a delicacy.
Many humans consume Royal Jelly for its many health benefit claims although most benefit claims are antipodal.

Happy Beekeeping

Paying It Forward

Robert Donaldson

I am Elizabeth's father, a physical therapist, and someone who has completely landscaped our family home's nearly 1/2 acre lot after losing our home and landscape to the Thomas wildfire in 2017. All landscaping was done to accommodate our wildlife friends, especially the birds and bees.

Recent Posts