- Honeybee hives include one queen, hundreds of drones, and thousands of worker bees.
- Queen bees are in charge of reproducing, worker bees do all of the work of maintaining the hive and producing honey, and drones mate with the queen for reproduction.
- Several factors affect hive numbers including the seasons, hive health, swarming, and beekeeper intervention.
Hive Size: How Many Bees Make Up a Colony?
When you picture a beehive, you likely imagine a buzz of frenzied activity, with bees flying in and out and plenty of honey waiting inside. A hive is a complex ecosystem where every bee plays an important yet unique role.
So, how many bees actually live in a hive? What do they do in a day? What migh impact their numbers? In this article, we dig into everything you need to know.
Bees By the Numbers
The size of each hive can vary, but the typical honeybee hive houses anywhere from 20,000 to 80,000 bees at any given time.
A honeybee colony has three types (also called castes) of bees: the queen, the drones, and the worker bees.
Here’s how the hive numbers land by bee caste:
- Queen: One bee
- Drones: Hundreds of bees
- Workers: The remainder — anywhere from 20,000 to 80,000 bees
As you can see, the majority of each colony comprises of tens of thousands of worker bees. Meanwhile, there’s just one queen.
What's the Point of the Bee Castes in a Hive?
Each honeybee caste has a distinct function. They are interdependent, and work together toward the same goal: Producing enough honey for the colony’s survival.
So, let’s look at each type of bee and their function in the colony.
The queen bee has an independent yet important job. She’s in charge of reproduction and takes that role very seriously, laying as many as 2,000 eggs per day. This allows the colony to expand rapidly during spring and summer, meaning plenty of honey production to prepare for the winter ahead.
The queen typically only leaves the hive once in her lifetime. Early in her life, she takes a mating flight searching for male drones. Once she’s mated, she stores sperm in a special organ called a spermatheca, allowing her to fertilize eggs for the rest of her life.
Fertilized eggs become female worker bees, and unfertilized eggs become male drone bees. After she’s back in the hive from her mating flight, the queen is there for good. The worker bees tend to her every need by feeding, cleaning, and caring for her.
Another interesting feature of the queen bee is that she has a bigger abdomen than the other bees and can use her stinger multiple times without dying. Her stinger is not barbed like the worker bees, so it doesn’t tear off when she uses it.
Female worker bees (yes, they’re all female!) are responsible for all the work that goes into maintaining the hive and producing honey.
They have many important roles, including:
- Foraging for nectar and pollen
- Guarding, cleaning, and heating the hive
- Raising young bees
- Building honeycombs
- Grooming and caring for the queen
- Controlling air traffic around the hive
- Feeding drones and other workers
- Making honey and beeswax
- Storing honey, nectar, and pollen
- Removing dead bees from the hive
- Nursing sick bees
- Scouting for new hive locations
With so much responsibility falling on the workers, it’s not hard to see why people use the phrase “busy as a bee.” Worker bee jobs are often determined by age; most don’t even leave the hive until they’re older.
Like the queen, worker bees can also sting. But sadly, doing so kills them because they have a barbed stinger that burrows into the skin.
Unlike the queen, worker bees can’t fertilize eggs. In fact, most of them don’t have fully formed reproductive systems. However, some workers can produce unfertilized eggs to create drone bees when there’s no queen.
The last type of bee is the male drone. Like the queen, they have the sole purpose of reproduction. They exist to mate with the queen. Drone bees don’t work, can’t sting, and need to be fed and cared for by the worker bees.
It’s no wonder that the worker bees evict drones come winter. Drones are considered a drain on resources when it’s time for winter survival, so once the mating season has ended, they are physically removed from the hive.
Four Key Factors That Impact How Many Bees Are in a Beehive
Depending on the time of year, the bees' health, beekeeper intervention, and more, the number of bees in one hive may vary. Below, we take a closer look at four factors that impact the hive population and why.
1. The Seasons
As the seasons change, so do the hive numbers. At the peak of spring and summer, when there are lots of flowers to forage, hive numbers tend to be higher. During the colder months, honeybee numbers dwindle significantly.
As winter approaches, worker bees evict the male drones from the colony, and the queen stops reproducing young. This is to conserve food stores and resources for the hive's survival through the winter.
Overall, health can play a significant role in a hive’s numbers. When a colony is sick, numbers dwindle. Sometimes, entire colonies collapse.
Here are a few causes of poor bee health that can significantly reduce hive numbers:
- Varroa mites (a common yet serious bee parasite)
- Pesticide poisoning
- Stress from hives being moved by beekeepers
- Changes in the environment or habitat
- Poor nutrition
- Lack of adequate pollen and nectar sources
- New and emerging diseases that affect bees
At Manukora, we take the health of our bees very seriously. We’re committed to ethical beekeeping, meaning we don’t move or disrupt our hives, which are located in remote forests where they’re free from environmental toxins and pesticides, and they have plenty of natural food resources to keep the hive healthy.
For good measure, we test each batch of our Manuka honey for pesticides. Plus, every Manukora honey product includes a unique QR code that, when scanned with a smartphone camera, allows you to learn about the exact hive your honey came from, the potency of your specific batch of honey, and even a little bio on the beekeeper who harvested that liquid gold.
When a hive becomes overcrowded, a large group of bees and the queen may leave to start a new hive. This is called swarming. A swarm can include 40 to 60% of the adult bees in a colony, dramatically changing the hive’s numbers overnight.
For example, say a hive houses 80,000 bees, and it’s starting to get crowded. One day, the queen takes 40% of the bees with her in a swarm as they seek a new home. Now the hive has just 48,000 honeybees left.
Once the bees sense the hive becoming overcrowded, they raise a new queen to take the old queen’s place. Then, once the old queen leaves the hive, a new queen is installed.
At Manukora, we keep low hive numbers at each site to avoid overcrowding. This helps ensure the bees have access to plenty of pollen and nectar sources to sustain the colony. This also keeps the colony healthier overall.
4. Beekeeper Intervention
Occasionally, beekeepers will purposely intervene and effectively change hive numbers. They may increase bee numbers to produce more honey, or to take advantage of an incoming abundance of forage.
Another reason beekeepers intervene is when they notice a colony is preparing to swarm. In that case, they may split the colony into two hives so they don’t lose their bees to another location.
In Summary: Understanding Hive Populations
Honeybee hives can house anywhere from 20,000 to 80,000 bees at any time. This includes one queen, hundreds of male drones, and tens of thousands of female worker bees.
To better appreciate this complex ecosystem, exploring the trending products can deepen our understanding of how different types of honey, like the potent Manuka Honey MGO1000 or the versatile Manuka Honey MGO 200, are derived from such a dynamic environment.
Delving into educational resources like Back to the Source: Traceability, What is MGO, Plants for Honey Bees, and learning about Manuka Honey as a Superfood can enhance our appreciation for the bees’ hard work and the delightful honey they produce.
The exact number of bees in a hive can depend on a range of factors, including the seasons, swarming, beekeeper intervention, and overall colony health. All in all, the bees have complex systems and roles within their colony so that they can continue to thrive and make plenty of delicious honey!
Looking to learn more? Check out our blog for more articles on everything bees and honey, and all things ethical beekeeping.
How many bees live in a hive on average?
A typical honeybee hive houses anywhere from 20,000 to 80,000 bees at any given time.
Are there multiple queen bees in each hive?
No, there's typically just one queen bee in each hive. She's in charge of reproduction and lays up to 2,000 eggs per day.
How do different factors like seasons, health, swarming, and beekeeper intervention affect how many bees are in a hive?
These factors significantly impact the number of bees in a hive. For instance, hive numbers are typically higher in spring and summer. A sick colony may see dwindling numbers. Swarming can dramatically decrease the hive population, and beekeepers may intervene to manage numbers.
How does the breakdown of bee types contribute to the total number of bees in a beehive?
A beehive comprises one queen bee, hundreds of drones, and thousands of worker bees. The worker bees make up the majority of the hive's population.