Inside the hive

In Europe and the US a bee hive is home to a colony of Western or European honeybees (Apis mellifera). Other species may be kept in Asia such as the Asian honeybee (Apis cerana). European and British beekeepers used straw baskets (skeps) in the past to house their honeybee colonies, but today hives are usually made from cedar or ply wood boxes and frames.

Honeybees are social insects, like ants, bumble bees and wasps, because they live in colonies that include workers, drones and a single queen. A single honeybee, even a queen, would not survive by itself. The colony forms a super organism.

What goes on inside a hive? 

Honeybees build an interlocking hexagonal array from beeswax, which is called honeycomb. The cells in the comb are used by the queen to lay eggs and by the workers to store food (honey and pollen). The colony stores away food in summer for the queen and her workers to survive the winter, because they are unlikely to fly out and find anything to forage in the cold. Only the queen and her workers live through winter. The drones (males) are evicted from the hive by the workers (females) at the end of autumn.

How many honeybees are in a colony? 

In summer, a bee hive could contain up to 50,000 workers, 2,000 drones and one queen. In winter, a hive will usually have around 10,000 workers and the queen. In a good year, a hive may produce a surplus 50kg of honey for the beekeeper to harvest. In fact, the colony produces more honey than this, but the bees need to eat much of it themselves during summer and store the rest for winter. The average-sized colony needs around 20kg of stored honey just to survive the winter.

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