The classic image of a beehive (nest) hanging from a tree limb and oozing honey is a familiar one. But it is largely an image of Hollywood portrayal. In reality, bees rarely make hives that look so friendly and attractive. A genuine hive looks a lot more rugged and rough around the edges.
Different bee species have different habits for building their hives. Some species prefer to find hollowed out areas in old trees. Others are willing to make hives in the open spaces between rocks. Still other species bore into wood or build their hives in soil. Needless to say, there are lots of possibilities thanks to the endless potential nature offers.
What are beehive made of?
A beehive is made up of a combination of two materials: wax and propolis. Both materials are manufactured by the bees themselves.
Bees essentially have three stomach compartments. The first is known as the crop. When bees gather nectar and pollen, it is ingested into the crop. During the time it takes to fill the crop and get back to the nest for delivery, sugars in the nectar react with enzymes in the crop to create a waxy substance that is excreted by the bee.
When a full bee makes it back to the nest, it regurgitates the crop’s contents so another bee can ingest it. The process repeats until most of the water content is removed. Every bee involved contributes to wax production. The wax is then chewed and used to build the individual compartments that make up a honeycomb.
Propolis is manufactured by mixing wax with bee saliva and material taken from foliage – like tree sap and plant buds. Worker bees use the propolis to fill in the spaces between honeycomb chambers. Propolis also forms the outer shell of an exposed nest.
How do bees make hives in trees?
Bee species that tend to nest in trees generally look for some sort of opening in the trunk or a large branch. Honeybees are more likely to look for extremely deep openings that let them get fully inside. Bumblebees are more likely to build their nests closer to the surface. At any rate, once a suitable location has been found, bees begin producing the wax and propolis they need.
Worker bees inside the tree begin constructing the nest one chamber at a time. Meanwhile, foraging bees continue bringing back raw materials with every pollen run. As wax and propolis are produced, the hive grows bigger.
How long does it take bees to make a hive?
The amount of time it takes for a colony of bees to make a functional hive depends on many factors, including the size of the colony and the relative availability of food. Assuming normal conditions, a group of bees breaking off from a main hive can have a new hive up and running in about a month.
As for completing the hive, that never really happens. Hives continue to grow as long as there is enough space and food to support the colony. Groups of bees break off when they run out of one or the other. When a hive does become overcrowded, the existing queen will break off with half of the workers to establish a new hive.
Why do bees make hives in houses?
Bees are industrious if nothing else. When searching for a location for a new hive, they look for a number of important things: nearby food, adequate water, and protection from the elements and predators. This explains why some species of bees build hives in human houses.
Food and water sources are almost always nearby. If bees can get inside the walls, there is more than enough protection from predators and the weather. In essence, there is no point in starting from scratch when a house offers a ready-made base of operations. It is really a convenience thing.
Why do bees make hives underground?
We commonly think of beehives being located off the ground. But it turns out that of the 20,000 or so different bee species, approximately 70% make their hives underground. We do not think of them because we normally cannot see them. When they do come out, it is likely during the spring months when bees are especially active.
Bees that choose to build in the ground to do so for the same reason other species build above ground. Holes left by a variety of rodents make for easy nesting grounds that offer protection against the weather and predators. More often than not, the empty holes bees choose to occupy are close to food and water sources.
Beehives, regardless of when and where they are constructed, serve two important functions: protection and a place to raise young. Without the hive, the colony would not survive. And because everything in the bee world is about colony survival, building the hive is non-negotiable.