A colony is the community of bees that live in a hive. But just how many honey bees are in a hive? This is a question that isn’t so easy to answer in exact figures. There are statistically accurate estimates that vary with the size of the hive. So, without talking about specifics, let’s look at how many honey bees typically live in a hive.
A single honey bee colony could consist of anywhere from 10,000 to well over 60,000 bees.
The hive often functions as a single organism with the majority of members being female worker bees who are all often offspring of the same queen bee. Determining the exact number of bees in any given hive is quite difficult because that number often depends on a variety of factors such as seasonal variations and swarming tendencies.
The Identity and Roles of Honey Bee Colony Members
All bees are not created equal. In every hive, there are three main types of bees:
- The queen bee
- The worker bees
- The drones
Each one of these types of bees has a specific role to play in the hive, and when one member doesn’t pull enough of their own weight, they are cast out of the hive. Honey bees have rather complex societies with every member performing a highly specific role. Here are the various roles performed by the different types of bees.
The Queen Bee
While it’s possible to have more than 60,000 bees in a given hive, there can only ever bee one queen bee in each hive. There are certain situations where two queen bees could coexist in a single hive, but those situations are very rare and only ever last for a very short period of time. In honey bee societies, there can only be one queen bee per hive.
The queen bee has a highly specific and rather important role: she is the only one who lays eggs in the colony. Basically, she is the mother of the colony and the health, size, and often productivity of the colony fully depends on her ability to lay as many eggs as possible. For a hive to thrive, the queen bee must be healthy and fit enough to perform her duties. When she begins to get frail or doesn’t do enough to produce eggs, she is killed off and/or replaced.
The queen bee produces pheromones that send a signal to the worker bees who do her bidding. Should she die or fail to perform her duties well, the worker bees groom a new queen by feeding a select number of larva with royal jelly. The first one of these larvae to emerge will be the new queen bee.
The Worker Bees
The vast majority of bees in a colony are female bees who are referred to as worker bees. Although these female worker bees have ovaries, their reproductive organs are not fully developed (in many cases) and as such do not lay eggs. This phenomenon is referred to as “reproductive self-restraint,” and it occurs because of the connection the worker bees have with the queen bee.
At any given time, they are aware that they have a healthy queen bee and that it’s her duty and her duty alone to produce eggs for the colony. The queen ensures that the worker bees are fully aware of her presence at all times by producing a specific pheromone that tells them so. That way, the worker bees remain focused on their duties without worrying about egg production.
Worker bees do pretty much everything else in the hive, including:
- Gathering pollen
- Taking care of the eggs and larvae produced by the queen bee
- Making wax
- Cleaning the hive
- Building honeycombs
- Defending the hive when they have to
There is a strict hierarchy within the worker bee society that is dependent on age. They often start by carrying out various tasks within the hive when they are younger and then slowly grow outwards as they get older. When they near the end of their lives, they start performing tasks that require them to venture outside.
The drones are very much the lay-abouts of the colony. They don’t perform any meaningful labor on a day to day basis, and their only role is to fertilize the queen. Drones are all male, and you don’t often find very many of them in a hive. Despite being lazy, their role in the hive is quite vital for, without the drones, the queen bee wouldn’t be able to produce eggs that can give her offspring.
Another reason why it’s so difficult to determine the exact number of how many honey bees in a hive is because the offspring (eggs, larvae, and pupae) are all technically bees within the hive that just haven’t emerged yet. Every bee starts its life as an egg. Worker bees tend to these eggs, and fertilized eggs grow into worker bees while unfertilized eggs become the drones.
A queen bee is also born from any one of these fertilized eggs, but the difference is that a queen bees’ life, even from the egg stage is deliberately determined. The worker bees exclusively feed the selected eggs with royal nectar for them to become queen bees.
Beekeeping Supplies and Sources of Information
When it comes to beekeeping, the quality of your information and supplies matter a lot. Bees tend to be rather fussy, and if they don’t like the beehive provided, they tend to swarm away to find a new home. Here is a short list of some of the most useful resources and sources of information for those who are interested in beekeeping:
- The best langstroth beehives
- Guides on everything you need to know as a beginner beekeeper
- The Beekeeper’s Bible
- Beekeeper suits and kits for adults and children
Beekeeping can be fun and highly profitable. With the right kind of information, passion, and knowledge on how a honey bee society works, you can ensure that you are providing the best home for your queen bee, worker bees and drones to thrive.