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The Beehive Census: Understanding How Many Bees are in a Hive

The bees that live in a specific hive are referred to as a colony and many people wonder how many bees are in a hive. This is a tough question to answer, there are no exact figures to impart because every hive is a little different. We can only deal in generalities, but we will take a closer look at this topic in more detail to help you make an educated guess.

how many bees are in a hiveThe Structure of a Bee Hive:


How many bees in a colony? The first thing to realize is that there are three different types of bees in the colony. They are the queen, the workers, and the drones. Let’s take a closer look at each bee type in more detail:


1.    The Queen Bee


There could be up to 6,000 bees in a hive, but there will only be one queen bee. There are certain rare exceptions when two may be present, but this will only last for a short while. A honey bee colony can only thrive if there is a single queen bee present.


The queen lays all the eggs, she produces pheromones to instruct the worker bees and her productivity determines the health and size of the colony. If the queen becomes old, sick, or frail, the worker bees feed select larvae with royal jelly to create a new queen. When the new queen bee is ready, she will kill her rivals and the old queen to take over the hive.


2.    The Worker Bees


Most bees in any given colony are female and they are known as worker bees. The workers have underdeveloped ovaries and they don’t lay eggs of their own. The connection between the workers and the hive is known as “reproductive self-restraint”.


When the queen bee is healthy and laying sufficient eggs, the workers will perform their duties in accordance with the queen’s pheromone instructions. Because they are busy they are entirely focused on their duties with no drive to lay eggs.


Worker bees carry out a wide variety of tasks including pollen collection, making wax, constructing honeycombs, defending the hive, and caring for eggs and larvae. A strict age-based hierarchy is in place within the worker bees. The youngest workers start at the center of the hive and they slowly move to the outer areas and outside as they age.


3.    The Drones


beekeeper inspecting bee hiveIf workers are super productive, drones are pretty much the exact opposite. On any given day, the drones don’t do much and their only real job is to fertilize the queen. So, every drone is a male and there don’t tend to be too many found in a hive. Although they are lazy, drones are essential for the survival of the colony and a queen cannot lay eggs without them.


Each type of bee has a very specific role within the hive and if they don’t perform, they are ejected from the hive. This is a very complex society and there is another reason why it’s hard to exactly count the number of bees in the hive. Technically, all eggs, pupae, and larvae are bees that have not emerged. Each bee starts life as an egg, the unfertilized eggs become drones and the fertilized eggs become workers.


Methods for Counting Bees in a Hive


So, how can you learn how many bees are in a hive? This is a difficult task, but there are several methods that can be used to obtain an estimate. The accuracy of the count will vary depending on the counting method used and the season. Let’s take a look at three proven methods in more detail:


1.    Weighing the Hive


Weighing is also known as hefting and this method weighs the hive with scales. A bee weighs approximately 0.1g (0.00022 lbs). So, 1lb of weight means that there are around 4,545 bees present.

If you prefer to work in the metric system, 1 kg is equivalent to around 10,000 bees. Simply deduct the weight of the hive from the weight and you have a decent benchmark figure to work with.


2.     Estimating Numbers


It is possible to estimate the number of bees on each frame, but this will vary depending on the frame size. The two most common frames are Dadant and Lanstroth frames with the latter in a standard and deep size.


The following is a rough estimate for each:


Dadant: 1,300 cm2 = 1,400 bees per side.

Langstroth: 880 cm2 = 1,100 bees per side.

Deep Langstroth: 880 cm2 = 1,215 bees per side.


3.    Counting Foraging Worker Bees


During active foraging periods, you can count the number of worker bees. There is a simple formula that can help you to calculate the number of bees in a given hive.


N =  3 x (f/0.0238)


In this formula, N is the number of bees in the hive, and f is the number of bees that can be seen leaving the nest in a single minute of observation. Around ⅓ of the bees leave the hive to forage every day and the formula includes the average number of flights by each worker bee. So, if you see 150 bees leave to forage in a minute there are around 32,600 bees in that hive. There will be variances if the weather is bad or if there is a lack of food in the local area.


The Importance of Beehive Census Data


Is it important to know how many bees in a colony or hive are active? The short answer is yes. There are four main reasons why this hive census data is important. They are:


1.    Providing Pollination Services


Beekeepers can earn extra money from beekeeping if they provide pollination services. A farmer will engage the beekeeper to provide some bees to pollinate crops to increase the health and yield.


This is a win-win for the beekeeper because the workers can gather pollen and nectar for the hive at the same time. But, an accurate count of the bees is necessary to determine the pollination potential of the hive. If there are not enough bees, there is always the option to add extra hives for pollination purposes.

2.    Predicting the Honey Harvest Yield


An accurate estimate of the adult honey bee population in the hive can give the beekeeper a good idea of the amount of honey that can be produced by the colony. If there are more bees, there will be more honey because the production rate will be higher. If there is a lack of active workers, the honey yield is likely to be lower.


3.    Scientific Study


Counting the number of bees leaving hiveIf the colony is under scientific study, it’s important to know the population numbers in the hive. An exact figure is not required, but a good estimate is essential to reach a correct conclusion. Sharing this data with other scientists can help to preserve bee populations that may be under threat in certain areas.


4.    Understanding the Colony Health


If there are a large number of bees this is a sure sign that the colony has been swarmed or it is healthy. If the population is lower than expected, this could indicate that the queen is unhealthy and a replacement is about to occur. The colony can only remain healthy if eggs are regularly laid to produce new worker bees.


Understanding How Many Bees are in a Hive- In Conclusion


As you can see, there are a number of ways to determine how many bees are in a hive and this data can help a beekeeper to evaluate the health of the colony. Under normal circumstances, bees are self correcting when it comes to population and productivity. As long as there is sufficient food and the weather conditions are reasonable, they will find a way to stabilize any problems and become productive again.

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