How Many Bees Live in a Hive?

How Many Bees Live in a Hive?

Executive Summary:

  • 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.

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. 

But how many bees actually live in a hive? What do they do all day? And what exactly affects their numbers? Here’s what 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, most of each colony comprises 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.

Let’s look at each type of bee and their function in the colony. 


Queen Bee 

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.  


Worker Bees

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 bee type 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 Major Factors That Can Affect Hive Numbers

1. The Seasons

Hive numbers do change with the seasons. 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 winter survival. 


2. Health

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

Here 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. 


3. Swarming

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 percent 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 percent 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 old queen leaves the hive, a new queen is installed. Once the bees sense the hive becoming overcrowded, they raise a new queen to take the old queen’s place. 

Manukora keeps low hive numbers at each site to avoid overcrowding, which helps ensure the bees have access to plenty of pollen and nectar sources to sustain the colony. This avoids the risk of overcrowding the hive and 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

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.

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. 

Looking to learn more? Check out our blog for more articles on everything bees and honey, and all things ethical beekeeping. 


The honeybee hive - Curious | Science

Colony Collapse Disorder | US EPA

Beekeeping By the Numbers | American Bee Journal

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