There are so many bees in a hive, it seems impossible to count. But there are reasons beekeepers would want to know their average beehive population. Knowing about how many bees they have can help with hive management and especially if they offer pollination services.
Average Beehive Population
The average beehive population varies depending on the season. In the summer, when there is a strong nectar flow, there can be 40,000 to 80,000 bees in a colony. However, in the winter, resources become scarce and many bees die off. During this time you’ll find as little as 5,000 – 10,000 bees in a hive.
Because of all these variables, it can be difficult to calculate the average beehive population. Despite that, there are some methods to count the amount of bees in a hive.
How to Count Bees in a Hive
Sometimes beekeepers may want to know how many bees are in their hive. Of course it is difficult to get an exact number, but there are ways to get an approximate amount.
It is useful for beekeepers to know how many bees are in their hives so they can have an idea of how much honey they expect to produce. Beekeepers who offer pollination services would also want to know how many bees they have to they know how many hives they need to pollinate a certain area.
Beekeepers also may want to know how many bees they have for monitoring the colony’s health. Especially during swarm season, they would want to know how many bees are being lost and ensure that enough workers are being produced.
The amount of bees in a hive can be counted by weight, or heft. For this method a scale is used to weigh the beehive. Then some calculations are done. One bee weights 0.00022 lbs, or 0.1g. Therefore, for every 1 pound you can estimate about 4,500 bees. For every 1 kg, you can estimate about 10,000 bees.
For this method, the number of bees are counted on a frame. There are different frame sizes, so the amount of bees on each frame can differ. For example, a frame in a deep box can hold about 12,000 bees per side when completely filled. Smaller frames would hold less.
Foragers are the worker bees that leave the colony during foraging time. Using the number of foragers that leave the hive, you can approximate the amount of bees in the hive. Foragers usually account for 1/3 of the population. The amount of foragers leaving the hive is counted for 1 minute, then is plugged into the following formula:
N = 3 x (f/0.0138)
N = number of bees in the hive
f = number of bees seen leaving the nest in one minute
For example, if 35 bees are seen leaving in 1 minute, 35/0.0138 = 2,536 bees foraging per day. That number is multiplied by 3, to account for foragers being 1/3 of the population, so 2,536 x 3 = 7,608 bees in the hive.
Types of Bees in a Colony
A honey bee colony has 3 types of adult bees – workers, drones, and a queen. They all have distinct roles in the hive.
The bee colony is comprised mostly of worker bees. Workers are all non fertile females. They have different jobs, depending on on her age.
The worker’s first job is to remove waste from cells, preparing them for eggs. At about 3 days old, she then becomes a brood nurse. She will care for the brood by feeding larvae honey and pollen, and later by secreting and feeding royal jelly to larvae and the queen.
Another job of nurse bees is to keep the temperature of the brood at a steady 95° F. They do this by huddling together to generate body heat, or by fanning their wings to cool the hive.
The worker bee’s next job is to secrete wax from her abdomen and build hexagonal shaped honey comb. She then will begin guard duties by guarding the entrance of the hive from predators.
Her final, and perhaps most well known job is foraging. The worker bee will leave the hive in search of pollen, nectar, and water. She will spend the rest of her short life foraging, as most foragers die in out in the field.
Drones are male bees, and they have only 1 role in the colony. That is to mate with a virgin queen to reproduce. Drones account for about 15% of the honey bee colony.
You can tell the difference between drones and workers because drones are larger than worker bees. They have no stinger, large eyes, and a large head. Drones are usually only present in the hive around late spring and summer.
Too many drones in a hive can cause stress for the colony, as drones eat 3 times as much food as workers. They also do not forage for food on their own, instead relying on worker bees for food. Once food sources become scares, drones are kicked out of the hive, where they starve.
While they do not do much work around the hive, they are important for the colony to function properly.
In each bee colony, there is only 1 queen. The queen is the only sexually developed female in the hive and will lay both fertilized and unfertilized eggs. Her primary function in the colony is reproduction.
The queen is distinguishable from other bees in the hive because her body is much longer than an other bee. While worker and drone’s wings cover their entire abdomen, the queen’s wings only cover about 2/3rds of hers.
In the spring, the queen can lay 1,500 eggs per day, and around 1 million eggs in her lifetime. She lives longer than any other bee in the colony – usually 2-3 years, but as much as 5.
Another important job the queen has is producing pheromones. Pheromones make her identifiable to all bees in the hive. It also affects the colony’s temperament, social behavior, hive maintenance, mating behavior, and swarming.
The average beehive population varies depending on the season. In the summer, there will be 40,000 – 80,000 bees in a hive. But in the winter, you will find only 5,000 – 10,000 bees. The three types of bees in a hive are workers, drones, and a queen.