Often when you think of bees, you might just think of how they buzz around or how they make that delicious honeycomb you like to snack on? Beehives are really incredible if you think about it. How do those small bugs buzzing around make their own entire shelter that is so intricate and well structured? Even today, scientists, and quite frankly everyone, are questioning how the bee population is capable of creating such geometric masterpieces. How bees make their nests is an extraordinary achievement for an insect.
What Exactly is a Beehive?
A hive is an artificial structure to house a bee nest. Bees typically make their hives in straw, pottery, or wood. The structure is a densely packed group of hexagon shaped cells made of honeycomb and propolis. (Propolis is a substance collected by bees from tree buds.) They then use propolis to fill crevices and seal parts of the honeycomb. It is also used at the entrance of their hives to keep bees from bringing in harmful microbes by disinfecting the base of their legs. Bees also collect propolis to use for embalming parasites and invaders into their beehives. When small predators enter and bees find it too difficult to remove them on their own, they will use the propolis after killing the predator by stinging them. This prevents decomposition, which is a health risk to the entire colony.
In the cells of the beehive, these tiny creatures like to store what they eat such as honey and pollen from the pollination process, as well as the offspring of the queen in the egg, larvae, and pupae stages.
How Do Bees Make Hives?
Beehives are made of six-sided tubes, shaped for optimal and efficient honey production; as such, beehives require less wax and can hold more honey. Hives that are built out in the open are not sustainable. However, hives built in the heat that form junctions where combs meet will melt. So what are bees to do? They must strategically plan and find the perfect location for their colony and beehive.
Bees are smart in choosing a location to create and build their nests, and will usually settle down anywhere that offers protection from nature’s elements. Once the location is settled, the construction begins from the top down. Worker bees prepare the space by covering the beehive’s wall with a thin layer of propolis. Bees will use propolis inside the hive at various stages of construction to help protect the colony from harmful germs and intruders. The wax that has been secreted is then chewed by the bees until it becomes softer and can form individual cells, which are used to store pollen, nectar, honey, eggs, water, and larvae. The walls inside a beehive can support thirty times their own weight. It also will contain honey in the uppermost sections. Following the construction of the uppermost sections, the pollen is in the rows are below that, followed by worker brood cells, and drone bees cells. The queen bee’s cells are at the bottom of the structure. Once built, the hive only has one single entrance and will last the colony for several years.
Why and How Do Beehives Look the Way They Do?
Bees are brilliant mathematicians. I'm sure you have noticed beehives are perfectly shaped in a hexagonal pattern. Why? Because mathematically, a circle shape would be impossible to hold the amount of honey that they do. Bees are efficient and want to store the maximum volume of honey possible. Further, the “curved” shape of the hexagon allows for no spaces and for each cell to be placed right next to each other. It's a perfect solution to this problem without wasting space.
Research shows the heat generated by the bees during the construction process causes the comb to melt, which then causes the cells walls to flatten together and form hexagons. The research does not show if this is done on purpose by the bees or if it’s an accident. However, the research did, in fact, show that the bees measure the depth of the cell with their bodies to prevent contents from dropping off. That is truly something amazing!
Life Inside the Hive
Just like humans have in their life and culture, the bee population has a hierarchy inside the hive. Worker bees (female) and drones (male) are the two main types of bees that live within the hive, along with the one queen bee. A worker bee tends to occupy smaller cells, which are usually all neatly lined up and in good shape. However, they only live for about six weeks and spend their days doing tasks that benefit their colony as a whole. Drones usually get the cells at the bottom of the hive, and they do the least amount of work. The main job of the queen bee is to lay eggs and ensure the working cycle and the survival of the hive.
Queen bees are chosen by the worker bees and are selected most often by size. When the queen bee is considered in “adulthood," she will begin mating with other drone bees. Unfortunately, after this, the drone bees die and the queen stores millions of sperm in her body that will last the rest of her lifespan. When the queen eventually slows down in producing eggs, the worker bees will raise more queen larvae and a new queen emerges. This leaves the former queen bee to find a new hive or die. Harsh. This new queen bee will take over the former’s duties and spread her pheromones throughout the hive to let the other bees know that she is alive.
Next time you see a beehive, you may find a deeper appreciation for it! Bees are incredible insects that are a vital part of our ecosystem, and their complex ways of living continue to surprise. Us being able to harvest honey that they make is just one of many great things about bees! Check out more of our blogs so you can continue to learn more about the importance of bees and all that these little guys can do!