How many bees in a hive? Honey bees are social insects that live in colonies. Honey bee colonies consist of a single queen, hundreds of male drones and 20,000 to 80,000 female worker bees. Each honey bee colony also consists of developing eggs, larvae and pupae.
The number of individuals within a honey bee colony depends largely upon seasonal changes. A colony could reach up to 80,000 individuals during the active season, when workers forage for food, store honey for winter and build combs. However, this population will decrease dramatically during colder seasons.
Honey bee colonies depend upon diversity of population for survival, as each caste of bee performs specific tasks. Thus, while queens are extremely powerful within their societies, they cannot establish new colonies without the help of drones and workers, who provide fertilization, food and wax to construct the hive.
All members of a honey bee colony undergo complete metamorphosis, passing through the egg, larval and pupal stages before becoming adults. Honey bee larvae are legless grubs that eat honey, nectar or pollen. Larvae shed their skin and molt several times before they enter the pupal stage. After another molt, these pupae will emerge as adult honey bees and begin to perform specialized tasks for the colony.
Queens are the only members of a colony able to lay fertilized eggs. An egg-laying queen is important in establishing a strong honey bee colony, and is capable of producing up to 2,000 eggs within a single day. Queens mate early in life and store up millions of sperm within their bodies. While they are capable of living up to five years, they only often only live two to three years producing eggs.
Worker honey bees are the largest population within a colony. Worker bees are entirely female, but they are unable to produce fertilized eggs. If there is no queen they do sometimes lay unfertilized eggs, which become male drones. Worker bees use their barbed stingers to defend the colony, but after attacking, the barbs attach to the victim’s skin, tearing the stinging bee’s abdomen, resulting in death.
Workers are essential members of honey bee colonies. They forage for pollen and nectar, tend to queens and drones, feed larvae, ventilate the hive, defend the nest and perform other tasks to preserve the survival of the colony. The average life span of worker bees is approximately six weeks.
Drones, or male honey bees, have only one task: to fertilize new queens. Drones mate outdoors usually in midair and die soon after mating. Some honey bee colonies will eject surviving drones during fall when food for the colony becomes limited.
Honey bee swarming is a natural part of a developing their colony. Honey bees swarm as a result of overcrowding within a hive. To create a swarm, an old honey bee queen leaves the hive with about half of the hive’s worker bees, while a new queen remains in the old hive with the rest of the workers. In the wild, honey bees swarm most in late spring and early summer, at humid times of the day. While swarming is part of the healthy life cycle of every honey bee colony, beekeepers often attempt to reduce the incidence of swarming in domesticated bees.
A honey bee swarm may contain hundreds or thousands of worker bees and a single queen. Swarming honey bees fly temporarily, and then cluster on shrubs and tree branches. The clusters rest there for several hours to a few days, depending on weather conditions and the amount of time needed to search for a new nesting site. When a scout honey bee locates a good location for the new colony, the cluster immediately flies to the new site.
Generally, honey bee swarms do not harm people. Swarming honey bees do not have young or a nest to defend during the swarm, and as such, their incentive to sting is reduced.
However, a swarm of bees will attack when provoked, as workers attempt to protect their queen. Should a persistent swarm of bees appear near your home or garden, it may be necessary to contact a pest control expert to assist in relocating or exterminating the swarm. Honey bees are a protected species in some areas, so check with a professional pest control expert before taking any action yourself.
How do you know how old a queen is?
Many beekeepers and queen breeders use an international marking system where a small dot is painted on the back of the thorax (the middle part between the head and abdomen). There are five colours, one for each year in a five year cycle starting with blue in years ending in 0 or 5 the working through white for years ending in 1 and 6; yellow for years 2 and 7; red for 3 and 8; and green for years ending in 4 or 9. If you see a queen that has a red dot on her back you would know she was born in 2003 or 2008 etc.
What is Brood?
Brood is the baby bees. They start as eggs laid by the queen and after about three days they “hatch” and become larvae and begin to feed on the sweet energy rich food the nurse bees have placed in their cell for them. They grow for about six days then the nurse bees put a cap on their cell and they spin a cocoon around themselves.
They are now pupae and in their warm cocoon change into a bee like a caterpillar changes into a butterfly. When they are a fully developed bee about 12 days after they were closed into the cell, or about 21 days after they were laid as an egg, they chew their way out of the cocoon and cell and join the rest of their sisters in the work of the hive. Queens develop faster than workers taking only 14 days to mature from egg to hatching, while drone bees take the longest at around 24 days.
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