What You See – Inside a Beehive

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For those unfamiliar with beekeeping, the inside of a beehive remains a mystery—a world waiting to be discovered. Lets step into the heart of the hive. As we, explore the secrets of honeycomb structures, meet the diverse bee family, and discover the captivating hive dynamics that make it a remarkable part of nature.

A full size hive with an inset showing what is inside a beehive.

While we commonly associate a beehive with its external structure, the true marvel lies within. The hive’s significance is defined by the bustling activities inside, where each bee plays a crucial role in the colony’s success.

The Hive’s Interior Structure

The physical structure of a honey bee hive varies. Beekeepers use several different types of beehives to house their managed colonies.

When we use the word as a beekeeping term , beehive refers to the actual parts of the hive: boxes, frames, foundation etc.

Wild bees may be quite at home in the hollow section of a tree. Or – heavens forbid – under the siding of your home! Traditionally, beekeepers used a process called bee lining to find wild hives.

Beekeeper looking inside a beehive at frames and comb.

Honeycomb Architecture

One of most remarkable things you will find inside a beehive is honeycomb. Honey bees produce their own nest material. Most insects, like wasps, collect wood for nest material. This is why a wasp nests vs honey bee nests look so different.

Each honeycomb sheet contains thousands of individual wax cells. These space-saving hexagonal cells are used for everything from rearing your to food storage.

Fresh beeswax honeycomb sheets from a hive.

Additionally, the honeycomb provides structural support to the beehive, maintaining its shape and integrity.

Thus, the honeycomb plays a pivotal role in the survival and functionality of the beehive, making it a vital element in the fascinating world of bees.

Bees are mentioned in the Bible repeatedly – as is honeycomb. Both as a representation of hard word and organization. Even today, humans value the many uses for beeswax in our homes and lives.

Composite image of 3 types of honey bees in a hive, queen, worker and drone.

Bee Family

Inside a beehive, you’ll find a complex social structure made up of thousands of bees working together for the survival of the colony.

Each bee has a specific role within the colony, and their coordinated efforts keep the hive functioning efficiently.

Marked queen bee and her retinue of workers.

Queen Bee & Her Court

The queen bee is the most popular member of the colony. It is normal for each hive to have only one at a time. The queen’s job is to lay eggs and to produce pheromones that stabilize life in the hive.

Because, bees reproduce by mating in the air away from the hive – the queen stores semen in a special structure in her abdomen. She chooses whether or not to fertilize each bee egg that she lays.

Our queen is so single minded in her tasks that she does nothing else. A few young workers constantly follow her around: feeding her, grooming her body and removing her wastes. These bees are called the “queen’s retinue” or “court”.

Queens have the capacity to live for several years. However, if her production lags – the workers will kill the queen and replace her with another.

Worker Bees

The inside of a honey bee hive is filled with thousands of busy worker bees: feeding young, building honeycomb, making honey, protecting the hive and a myriad of other tasks.

The role of worker bees is to do all the work in the hive. The jobs they perform change in relation to the age of the bee and the needs of the colony.

Generally, younger adults work inside the hive and older bees go outside. Field honey bees travel great distances (for a tiny bee) from the hive to collect food and resources needed for survival.

During the Summer months, worker bees are short lived with few making it past the 6 week mark.  Those produced in late Fall are special fat bees with well developed fat bodies that aid in longevity. They can live for up to 6 months.

Drones

Drones, the male bees, are a happy go lucky lot. They have no work to do but they do have one special purpose.

They leave the hive to find and mate with virgin queens at special drone congregation areas. This too is an important task because otherwise the new queen would be unable to lay fertilized eggs.  Drones live a few months during Summer and are usually killed before Winter.

Bee larvae and capped brood in the comb inside a hive.

Internal Beehive Resources

Guard bees give their lives to defend their hive. This is the most common reason why bees sting humans – as defense. But, what is so valuable inside a beehive that everyone is willing to die to protect it?

  • brood
  • pollen
  • honey
  • propolis

Brood or Developing Young

During the warm season, the colony invests many resources into raising new bees. The developing young are called bee brood. Each type of bee in the hive goes through the same development process.

The are 4 stages (egg, larvae, pupa, adult) of the honey bee life cycle plays a significant role in shaping the interior of a beehive.

A section inside a beehive is devoted to the brood nest. This is where the queen bee lays her eggs and where the larvae and pupae develop before emerging as adult bees.

The “brood nest” varies in size from month to month, from one colony to another and even in connection with the available food resources for foraging bees to collect.

Younger workers known as nurse bees tend to the brood keeping it warm and well fed. It is common to use 1 or 2 deep hive bodies for the brood box (this varies by climate).

Beeswax cells filled with colorful pollen.

Pollen Stored In Comb

Look closely at the honeycomb inside a beehive and you may see cells filled with a substance of different colors. Vibrant yellow or orange is most common but other colors may be present. This is pollen collected by bees as a protein food source.

Within the bustling hive, pollen can be found stored in wax cells or the “pollen baskets or corbiculae” of incoming foragers. This highlights the essential role of bees as pollinators.

By collecting and storing pollen (in the form of bee bread), the colony ensures the availability of protein supporting the growth and development of the brood.

Winter beehive in snow and frame of ripe honey.

Stored Honey

Another section of the hive is called “honey stores”. Sorry, this is not the beekeeper’s honey to take. Rather is the frames of honey that is intended only for bee use.

It feeds them on days when nectar collection is not possible. A beekeeper’s honey harvest should only be from the excess crop – more than is needed by the bees.

Propolis – A Sticky Delight

If you see a dark sticky resinous substance inside the hive, this may be propolis (often called “bee glue”). Bees use propolis, a sticky resin collected from trees, to seal gaps and cracks in the hive and to strengthen the comb.

It is a wonderful substance with many healthful benefits. Some beekeepers collect propolis from their colonies and sell it.

Workers bees capping honey in a hive.

Honey Production

A look inside any busy beehive will reveal thousands of workers bees going about their daily chores. One of the most important tasks – bees make honey.

Plant nectar is collected from millions of blooming flowers and brought to the hive. Here it is regurgitated to house bees (honey is not vomit!).

With the aid of saliva enzymes and reducing the water content – nectar becomes honey. Then, it is stored in those lovely honeycomb cells and capped with a layer of beeswax.

The flavor and color of honey produced varies depending on the plant nectar source that was visited. This stored food is vital to colony survival and used during the Winter for food.

A remarkable substance, honey never spoils so we are glad to get the excess crop. One way we use honey is as a natural sweetener. And, it is found in many baked goods and even beauty products.

Beehive Communication

As the bees carry out their various roles within the hive, they communicate with one another through a complex system of pheromones, vibrations, and dances.

You may see a bee inside the hive buzzing its wings or pressing on the body of another bee – even dancing!

Yes, bees dance to communicate the location of good food sources. You won’t find them doing the “hokey pokey” or the twist.

But, dances like the wag-tail dance or the round dance, help other foragers know where to look for resources needed by the hive.

You may see bees touching antennas. The antenna of a honey bee is an amazing sensory organ that relays a lot of important information inside the beehive and outside in the world.

Worker bees in the opening of a beehive in a tree.

Inside the Wild Hive

The inside of a wild beehive may look a tad different than a managed hive. Wild hives are usually found in natural cavities like hollow trees.

The bees build their comb according to their needs and preferences. This is different than managed hives that are designed for honey production and ease of management.

Wild hives tend to be smaller and more compact than managed hives, with less space for the bees to move around.

They also tend to be more diverse in terms of the size and shape of their comb cells, which can lead to differences in the size and behavior of the bees.

In fact, the inside of a wild bee hive reflects the bees’ natural tendencies and adaptations to their environment. A modern managed hive is designed to meet the needs of beekeepers and maximize honey production.

FAQ

What is the purpose of the comb inside a beehive?

The comb serves as the bees’ home structure, storage area for honey and pollen, and a nursery for developing young.

How do bees communicate inside the hive?

Inside the dark interior of a hive, bees communicate with one another through pheromones, vibrations, and dances.

What is the brood chamber, and what happens there?

The brood chamber is where the queen bee lays her eggs, and where the larvae and pupae develop. Worker bees tend to the brood, keeping it warm and well-fed.

How do managed hives differ from wild hives?

Managed hives are designed with removable frames that allow for easy inspection and harvesting of honey. Wild hives, on the other hand, are typically found in natural cavities and are built according to the bees’ needs and preferences.

What else might you find inside a beehive besides bees and honeycomb?

In addition to bees and honeycomb, you may find propolis, pollen, honey, brood, or pests – such as wax moths or Small Hive Beetles.

Final Thoughts

The interior parts of a beehive make up a complex ecosystem that includes many different elements-in addition to bees. Each part of the hive and every process performed by the bees is important to colony survival and productivity.

You know all those bee quotes we love about how industrious honey bees are? Those are not just fancy words – they are earned.

Honey bees have been surviving for millions of years so they must be doing something right. Still, bees and other pollinators face increasing pressures today from environmental changes, pest, disease and pollution. Will these amazing insects be able to adapt and prosper in the future world? We just don’t know.

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