What is a Group of Bees Called?

This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Please read my disclosure.

Pinterest Hidden Image

Bees have captured the imagination of humans for centuries. They go about their daily lives busily collecting nectar and pollen seemingly without a care. Responsible for pollinating a large portion of our favorite food crops, we have invested a lot of study into the lives of bees. With all this information, we do find that some terms are used rather loosely. For instance: what is a group of bees called? Well, the answer to that question depends on who you are asking and exactly which group of bees you are referring to.

Small group of bees inside a colony.

The behavior of honey bees is an interesting study. They have a complex social structure that helps them accomplish all the tasks needed for survival. We know a lot of honey bee facts regarding the role of each colony member. Their ability to work together to accomplish a goal is remarkable.

Honey Bee Colony

Inside any structure, that is considered a beehive, we find thousands of busy individuals. This group of bees is the honey bee colony.

They are highly organized and show what many small insects can accomplish when working together. Each type of bee in the hive has a contribution to make to overall colony survival.

Queen

At the center of the colony is the queen. Normally, there is only one queen in a colony at a time. The primary role of the queen bee is to lay eggs – thousands of them each day – at least during the warm season.

Also, bees secrete pheromones that are used to communicate the conditions in the hive. A queen’s pheromones help regulate the behavior of other colony members.

They send out a unifying message that she is present – doing her job and all is well. But, the queen could not do her job without help.

Worker colony members gathering pollen and feeding young.

Workers

At any time, a select number of worker bees are near her. They clean and feed the queen – but they do much, much more.  In fact, most of the members of the bee colony are female worker bees.

They do all the jobs that keep the colony going. Foraging bees go out to gather nectar and pollen. Workers inside the hive build beeswax honeycomb with beautiful precision. They also defend the colony group against attack.

Workers are so industrious that we humans often cite many bee quotes about them. Busy as a bee and other phrases tell of their diligent efforts to sustain their family.

Drones

The last notable part of this group of bees is the males – known as drones. Drone bees have the sole purpose of mating with virgin queens.

In the way that bee reproduction works, mating takes place outside the hive. They are vital to honey bee existence but these guys do no other work for the colony.

Join Our Beekeeping Community

Free "Secrets to Successful Beekeeping" plus weekly newsletter with info about bees, beekeeping and more...

Examples of 3 groups of bees involved in swarming one is flying and the other two are resting in a tree.

Swarms of Bees

One of the most exciting events in beekeeping is to witness a group of bees called a swarm. As a beekeeper, who has stood in the middle of a swarm several times, I must say it is an ethereal experience.

Swarming in honey bees is a natural occurrence. It can occur for several reasons but the most common is that the colony becomes crowded. 

When the population grows too large for their home, the bees make plans to split into two (or more) parts. This action does not take place immediately – it involves weeks of planning.

Workers construct several special queen cells, that hold developing female bee larvae. One of these will become the new queen. The older queen normally leaves with the swarm to go to the new home.

You may see a swarm of bees clustered together hanging in a tree or bush. Don’t panic, this is likely just a swarm resting on the way to their new home.

Ball Clusters for Defense

It is a well-known fact that honey bees sting as a form of defense. If they feel themselves or their hive is threatened, they will show their displeasure in a painful way. But, this is not their only way to defend the colony.

Using a technique called a “ball cluster”, a large group of hundreds of individuals come together to attack an intruder. 

The ball cluster is a tightly knit mass of bees that forms around a perceived threat. This may be a predator hornet that has entered the hive or other predatory wasps.

The intruder is encased in a dense mass of angry bees and unable to move. Not only does this protect the queen and hive contents, it also generates heat.

Inside the ball cluster, the heat rises until the wasp or hornet inside succumbs to the high temperatures and dies.

Interestingly, on occasion – the bees may kill their own queen in the same manner. In most cases this is because she is failing and due to be replaced.

Bees gathered close together in hive among the frames.

Winter Clusters

The Winter cluster is one of the most remarkable group of bees you will ever discover. How does a family of cold-blooded insects survive the cold months of the year? They work together.

As cold temperatures arrive, the colony is depending on stored honey and pollen to get them through the Winter. When temperatures fall below 57°F, they begin to cluster (gather) closer and closer together.

This creates a dense perimeter (several layers deep) of bees on the outside of the cluster to block in heat and block out cold air.

Bee located on the inside of the winter cluster may move around a bit-they are not as crowded. Periodically, those individuals on the outer layer are pushed towards the center to warm up with new bees taking their place.

With a large enough population and plenty of stored food, the colony survives until Spring.

A Final Word

You will find that discussion regarding honey bees uses a wide variety of terms. This is why it is important for novices to learn as much beekeeping terminology as possible. Regardless of the name you use to describe a group of bees gathered together, you can rest assured that they have a reason for what they are doing. Even if we don’t always understand why.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *