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The fascinating dynamic of a bee hive

bee hive
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A bee hive, how does it function?

There is still a great mystery around the facts of how a bee hive actually functions. Scientists have spent countless years trying to analyse bee behaviour and their social constructs. They always find new things and often it debunks the previous theory.

Most of us know that a beehive has a queen and worker bees. Less people know that there are drones, in the bee world, these are the males.

The bees having anything to do with building comb, collecting nectar, cleaning out the hive and all the other chores involving running a hive are female.

A drone cannot sting, it is not able to collect nectar or pollen and it does not contribute to any useful hive work. His only purpose is to eat, sleep and mate with a virgin queen. Drones are the only bees that develop from an unfertilised egg. So, a drone does not have a father.

They are also the only bee that is able to visit multiple different hives without being challenged by the guard bees. Scientists believe that drones can detect queen cells in a hive and hang around those hives more frequently.

As much as the life of a drone sounds like an ideal one, it ends pretty much after he has done his duty to ensure the survival of his genes. If hardship befalls a hive, food resources dwindle or seasons change to autumn, the worker bees will kill off any remaining drones in order to conserve food stored in the combs.

drone bee

The worker bees are the ones that run the household, it is believed that the individual bees have different roles within the hive. There are bees that remove foreign objects, remove dead bees, collect water, collect nectar or pollen, produce wax and build comb or feed the others and guard the hive from unwanted visitors.

In her 6 weeks long life, as a young worker bee, she is responsible for feeding the older bees, build wax and clean the hive, only in their last stage in life, usually the last 2 week do worker bees start collecting nectar to produce honey, pollen and water. 

It is interesting to know that again the roles are defined. A bee collecting nectar does not collect pollen or water. In summer bees will collect huge amounts of water from nearby sources in order to keep the hive cool, very similar to an evaporative cooling system.

worker bee

The boss lady is the only bee that outlives all other bees in the hive. She can live up to 3 years and on average lays around 1000 eggs a day. It is astonishing to know that a only mates in her early days as a young queen and collects enough sperm to continue to lay for the rest of her life. Scientists believed that it is the difference in nutritional composition of the royal jelly that allows a queen to develop different to the workers bees. 

But in a study conducted in 2015, researchers have found no evidence of a significant difference in nutrition. So, we are not sure what makes a queen a queen, as they derive from the same egg as a worker bee. The major difference is that a queen cell is hanging vertical on a frame rather than horizontal like a worker.

Queens are only able to fly during their mating age about 1 week after hatching or once a hive is swarming. Otherwise, she is too heavy and can only do small hops.

Once a hive initiate swarming, a queen will stop laying and the workers will chase her around the hive to lose weight. After the swarm has found a new home, she gets fed by the workers again and continues to lay.

It is astonishing how the temperament of a hive changes with a new queen. So, if one has a rather feisty hive, one can replace the queen with one that has a more relaxed attitude. Within a few weeks, that whole hive calms down very noticeable.