How Many Bees Live in a Hive

How Many Bees Live in a Hive?

The assumption that all bees in the world build and live in hives is as old as time. That picture of the honeybee hive hanging peacefully in a tree is something we’ve all imagined at some point. This is, however, not very realistic.

There are approximately 20,000 bee species in the world, and even more are being discovered as time goes by. Of these, less than 10 percent actually build and live in hives. Let’s take a look at some different species that construct and live in hives.

Bee Species That Build Hives

Bee species are generally divided into eusocial and solitary types. It’s only the eusocial bees that live in colonies, and of these, only a few build hives.

If we look at the bumblebee, for example, these are considered social insects. The colony lives together with a single queen, attending to her every need. They don’t build hives, rather they build nests underground or in burrows, or even in old birdhouses. Digger bees are also not too dissimilar to this. 

bumble bee ground nest

Solitary bees, such as carpenter bees, live in individual nests, in this case, inside wood. Other solitary bees, like most sweat bee species, live underground by digging tunnels. Solitary bees don’t have ranks, and females tend to their own nest and offspring.

wood bee (carpenter) in nest
Carpenter Bee

Therefore, the few species that live in hives include honeybees, African honeybees (killer bees), and stingless bees. These three species share their common behavior of being social insects, who build hives to fulfill their duties.

These, as you can guess, are all different variants of the European honeybee we have at home in the U.S.

Why Do Bees Live in Hives?

The hive is like a house for bees—it’s where they store their food and honey, raise their offspring and protect their queen. Honeybees, killer bees, and stingless bees all work hard for their hive—without it, they can’t function.

A honeybee colony, for example, is like its own little organism. There are no individual bees and if one part lacks, the whole colony suffers.

This also works the opposite way, for instance, when the colony is strong, it will initiate a swarm. Swarming means that a large percentage of the worker bees and drones leave the hive, alongside the queen. They will venture out to spread the roots of the colony elsewhere and build a new hive.

A hive also provides protection for the colonies. Inside they keep every family member safe from the perils of the outside world. Hives can even survive the winter.

During spring, summer, and late autumn, the forager bees gather as much pollen and nectar as possible. They store this inside the hive, where it will help the bees survive during the winter. To keep the hive warm, the worker bees cluster around the queen, vibrating their wings.

The vibrations in their wings increases their body temperature and then warms the queen. The worker bees consume a lot of honey during the winter. This is to keep their energy levels up so they can stay warm.

How Do Bees Build Hives?

Bees may build hives in almost any place, ranging from hollow trees, rock crevices, and sometimes attached to an unfortunate house. It’s the worker bees who are the constructors of the hive.

After a swarm, scout bees will search nearby areas for potential locations. Once they find it, the worker bees begin their construction.

They do this by chewing wax to make it soft and pliable. Once it’s soft enough, they bind it together with other pieces of wax and eventually place it inside the honeycomb cells.

bee and honeycomb

The older worker bees produce wax from the honey. As a worker bee turns around 10 days old, her body develops a new gland, located inside her abdomen, that produces wax. As the foragers gather pollen and nectar, it mixes with an enzyme which they transfer to the worker bees.

This mixture then becomes honey. The new gland quickly begins to work and converts the sugar in the honey to wax. The wax then seeps from several small pores on the bee and comes out as tiny flakes.

The worker quickly gathers the wax flakes and begins to chew. Eventually, the hive is complete, with hexagonal cells for the brood and storage.

To control the wax and preserve a good texture, the bees cluster together. This, again, creates just enough heat so that the wax remains at a temperature which allows the bees to keep constructing.

Bee Hive Shapes

Wild beehives come in all shapes and sizes. The general shape is sort of oval with each honeycomb level forming horizontal lines. There is, however, one social bee who builds a little differently.

The stingless Carbonaria bee native to Australia builds its hive in a spiral shape. At first glance, it’s hard to tell that this is actually a beehive. Instead of building the classic horizontal shapes, it works clockwise.

Level after level, the hive forms a spiral. It’s not exactly sure why it does this, but some suggest it’s so the queen can better navigate the hive.

As the builders’ work, the queen walks behind them, laying eggs in the cells. The workers then go back, seals up the cell and continue to the next phase.

How Many Bees Live Inside the Hive?

Honeybees, killer bees, and stingless bees are renowned for being social and their hives can house an impressive number. The queen bee inside the hive can lay as many as 1,500 eggs per day. These eggs take approximately 21 days to fully develop into workers, and the average worker lives up to 50 days.

With these numbers in mind, it doesn’t seem too surprising that a beehive can host as many as 60,000 bees. These are mostly female workers who tend to the queen and brood.

The hive will continue to thrive as long as the workers are there. Even if a whole generation of workers died, new generations are being produced each day to replace them.

Summary

Not all bees live in hives—there are thousands of species in the world but only a small percentage actually build hives. Among these are honeybees, killer bees, and stingless bees. Although a hive may look small from the outside, you would be amazed at the number of occupants that are hiding within— can you believe it’s up to sixty thousand?

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