A bee community in a hive is referred to as a colony. If you have ever moved close to a hive, you must have realized that there are many such creatures. They function as an organism, but it is not easy to tell the number of bees living in a hive. Knowing the number of bees in the hive helps with the proper care of the hive.
A bee hive typically has one queen, hundreds of male drones, and between 20,000 to 80,000 female worker bees. Each of these bee types has its own role with the queen tasked with laying eggs, the drones fertilizing her, and the workers running and protecting the hive. Bee numbers change with seasons.
How many bees live in a hive?
Determining the actual number of bees in a hive is challenging. The number of bees in hives varies with the season. Typically, a bee colony consists of between 10,000 bees and 80,000 bees, or sometimes a higher number.
Female bees are the majority of bees in a hive and are mainly the queen’s offspring. Also, the queen, worker bees, and a few hundred drones make up the colony.
The number of bees changes depending on the season. For example, bee fall management shows that the number of bees in a hive goes down significantly in the winter.
Types of Bees in a Hive
Here are the different types of bees that you will find in every hive:
1. Queen Bee
Every beekeeper should understand the role of the queen and her interactions with other bees in the colony. While there are over 60,000 bees in a hive, there is only one queen bee in the colony. Situations may arise where two queens exist in a hive, but such cases are rare and only last for a short time.
A queen bee has a significant and specific role in a hive which is laying eggs for the new bees. When the queen bee dies or fails to perform her duties, worker bees groom a new queen by feeding some larva with royal jelly. Like all other bees, queen bees have specific bee anatomy to enable them to carry out their roles.
- Laying eggs in the colony: She is the colony’s mother, and other things such as size, health, and productivity of the hive depend on her ability to lay many eggs.
- Communicates to worker bees: She produces pheromones that signal worker bees to do her bidding.
A hive is only as good as the health of the queen bee.
Number in a hive
There is only one queen in a hive. Although queens may co-exist, they last for a limited duration.
Size and weight
Queen bees are the largest bees in the hive. Mostly, queen bees are 20 to 25 millimeters in size. Since they do not fly for long distances, queen bees have small wings. Also, she has a large abdomen where she keeps her legs.
Queen bees are of three sizes namely light, medium and heavy. Light queen bees weigh approximately 0.185 grams. Medium weight is around 0.185 grams, and heavy weighs over 0.2 grams.
2. Worker Bees
The majority of bees in a hive are worker bees who are female. Although worker bees have ovaries, they are not fully developed and they do not lay eggs. This condition, known as reproductive self-restraint, occurs due to the connection of worker bees with the queen.
All through, the queen bee’s main role is to lay eggs. She always ensures that the worker bees know her presence by producing the pheromone that signals them. Therefore, worker bees remain always focused on their duties without having eggs.
- Cleaning the hive.
- Gathering nectar.
- Taking care of eggs and larvae produced by the larvae bee.
- Building honeycombs.
- Protecting the queen.
- Making wax.
The worker bee society has a strict hierarchy based on age. Young worker bees carry out tasks within the hive and move out as they grow older. When they are of age enough, they start performing tasks that require them to be outside.
Number in a Hive
A hive has an average of 20,000 to 80,000 female worker bees.
Size and Weight
The worker bee is the smallest in the hive. It is around 15 millimeters long. Since worker bees perform most tasks in the hive, they need to be lighter. They weigh approximately 0.11 grams.
Drones are male honey bees. Their main task is to fertilize the queen. They usually mate outdoor in midair and die after mating. Therefore, they do not perform any meaningful labor daily. Also, drone bees do not sting.
There are few drones in a hive. Despite performing fewer tasks, drones are important in the hive since, without them, the queen would not be able to bear offspring since the male bee does not fertilize her eggs.
The drones’ main task is to mate with the queen. After mating, they will not work, make honey or sting.
Size and Weight
Drones are almost similar in size to queen bees; they are about 20 to 25 millimeters long. However, there are various ways to differentiate them; drones have larger eyes and a thicker abdomen than the queen.
Since drone bees’ main purpose is to mate with the queen to produce fertilized eggs, they need to be stronger. Therefore, they typically weigh twice the worker bee, ranging at 0.2 grams.
How to Count Bees in a Hive
Given that beehives have thousands of bees in them, counting to the exact figure is not possible. More are born each day with others dying as well. However, there are methods you can use to find an estimate of the bees in the hive. They include the following:
Weighting or hefting
The weighing method is one of the easiest since one bee weighs about 0.1g or 0.00022 pounds. As such, 1 kg of the beehive’s weight means that the hive has approximately 10,000 bees. For a pound of the hive, there could be as many as 4,545 bees.
For this method, however, you need to have weighed the other parts of the hive (without the need) before you calculate the weight of the bees.
You can also estimate the number of bees in a hive by counting the number of bees leaving the hive during foraging time. With this method, it’s estimated that about a third of the bees actively forage in a single day.
The formula for finding the total number of bees with this method is as follows:
N = 3 x (f/0.0138)
N = number of bees in a hive
f = number of bees seen leaving the hive in one minute.
If, for example, you observe 100 bees leaving the hive per minute, then the estimated number of bees in the hive is as follows:
N = 3 x (100/0.0138)
N = 21,739 bees.
This method is based on the number of bees in the hive (N), the average number of flights by a single bee in a day, and the time spent foraging per bee (0.0138).
Estimating the number of bees per frame
If you know the size of the frame in your hive, you can also estimate the number of bees on each frame and then multiply it by the number of frames.
With the Langstroth and Dadant hives being the most popular ones, you can estimate the number of bees in the hive as follows:
|Type of frame||Surface per side of frame (cm2)||Number of bees per side (fully occupied)||Bees per cm2|
Make sure you choose the right time of day to inspect the hive since disturbing the hive in cold weather can lead to bees’ deaths.
Other Things You Need to Know About the Hive
Besides the number and size of bees in a hive, other important aspects to take note of include:
All the colony members of the honey bee undergo complete metamorphosis as they pass the egg, larvae, and pupa stage before becoming adults. Honey bee larvae do not have legs and they eat honey, pollen, or nectar.
Larvae molt several times and shed their skin before entering the pupal stage. After one molt, the larvae emerge as adult honey bees and begin performing specialized tasks in the colony.
Swarming is a natural response of bees to the hive being overcrowded. This is the process of forming a new colony. When the hive is overcrowded, the worker bees sense and set out to raise a new queen, they achieve this by creating large cells around eggs laid by the queen. The worker bees feed eggs at the larvae stage with a royal jelly that grows into queen bees.
The worker bee seals the cell with wax when the larva is ready to turn to the pupa stage that later turns into an adult queen. At this stage, the old queen leaves the hive. This is because two queens can’t live in a hive.
The new queen will kill the old queen when present. A proportion of the colony leaves with the old queen. The old queen leaves with 20,000 bees that form a swarm. These bees go to build a new hive and start a new colony.
Different types of bees live in a hive namely the queen, worker bee, and drone. As discussed, each has a different number, size, and role. Also, they work together to ensure a running colony. Their roles are organism in nature such that each type of bee must be present for the colony to run.
Importantly, all these bees are about twenty thousand to eight thousand. When more than that, they will be overcrowded necessitating swarming. This may lead to a new colony altogether.
Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium. The Colony and its Organization.
Arizona State University. Colony Life of a Honey Bee.
Arizona State University. Honey Bees and Their Homes.