Then the work of the nursing bees begins. In two or three days each egg has become a tiny maggot or larva, and the nursing bees put into its cell a mixture of pollen and honey which they have prepared in their own mouths, thus making a kind of sweet bath in which the larva lies. In five or six days the larva grows so fat upon this that it nearly fills the cell, and then the bees seal up the mouth of the cell with a thin cover of wax, made of little rings and with a tiny hole in the centre.
As soon as the larva is covered in, it begins to give out from its under-lip a whitish, silken film, made of two threads of silk glued together, and with this it spins a covering or cocoon all round itself, and so it remains for about ten days more. At last, just twenty-one days after the egg was laid, the young bee is quite perfect, lying in the cell as in Fig. 57, and she begins to eat her way through the cocoon and through the waxen lid, and scrambles out of her cell. Then the nurses come again to her, stroke her wings and feed her for twenty-four hours, and after that she is quite ready to begin work, and flies out to gather honey and pollen like the rest of the workers.
By this time the number of working bees in the hive is becoming very great, and the storing of honey and pollen-dust goes on very quickly. Even the empty cells which the young bees have left are cleaned out by the nurses and filled with honey; and this honey is darker than that stored in clean cells, and which we always call “virgin honey” because it is so pure and clear.
At last, after six weeks, the queen leaves off laying worker-eggs, and begins to lay, in some rather larger cells, eggs from which drones, or male bees, will grow up in about twenty days. Meanwhile the worker-bees have been building on the edge of the cones some very curious cells (q, Fig. 57) which look like thimbles hanging with the open side upwards, and about every three days the queen stops in laying drone-eggs and goes to put an egg in one of these cells. Notice that she waits three days between each of these peculiar layings, because we shall see presently that there is a good reason for her doing so.
The nursing bees take great care of these eggs, and instead of putting ordinary food into the cell, they fill it with a sweet, pungent jelly, for this larva is to become a princess and a future queen bee. Curiously enough, it seems to be the peculiar food and the size of the cell which makes the larva grow into a mother-bee which can lay eggs, for if a hive has the misfortune to lose its queen, they take one of the ordinary worker-larvae and put it into a royal cell and feed it with jelly, and it becomes a queen-bee. As soon as the princess is shut in like the others, she begins to spin her cocoon, but she does not quite close it as the other bees do, but leaves a hole at the top.