To those new to the beekeeping world, the question of how many bees in a hive is one that usually comes with a surprising answer. Many people assume that there are perhaps a couple of thousand bees. In fact, there can be up to eighty thousand bees in a hive, all living and working together in perceived harmony.
What might be more surprising to those with little knowledge or experience of beekeeping is that even the largest beehive will have just one queen bee. The remaining bees will be made up of drones (perhaps a few hundred of these male bees), while the rest will all be female worker bees.
How Many Bees Do I Need to Start a Beehive?
When getting started on your beekeeping journey, you are likely to be able to buy three pounds of bees from a commercial seller that will include a fertile queen. Although it is impossible to say exactly how many bees are in three pounds of weight, it is estimated that it will contain approximately 10,000 insects.
Once you have set up your hive and added your bees, they will get to work. In general, it takes between three and five months for your colony to get strong and become established. It is best to leave your bees alone during this time and not to take any of the honey they have produced. They will need this to feed themselves during the first winter.
How Many Bees in a Hive in the Winter?
The average well-established hive will contain around 30,000 bees, but it can be up to eighty thousand if you have a deep hive and additional supers. In the winter, these numbers will drop substantially. Male bees (drones) either die before winter or are ousted from the hive; the female workers will ensure the survival of the colony by huddling together in a cluster to keep the temperature of the hive at an optimum level.
The queen does not lay eggs during winter and the sole purpose of every bee within the hive is to ensure the colony’s survival.
Can Bees Survive Without a Queen?
The queen’s job within the hive is to lay eggs. It is she who decides whether an egg will be male or female by choosing whether to fertilize them or not. Fertilized eggs hatch as female worker bees whereas unfertilized eggs will be male drones.
The queen is also responsible for the regulation of behavior and harmony in the colony. She releases pheromones that keep the rest of the bees calm and working as they should. Without her, the colony would descend into chaos, and after a few weeks the remaining bees would die off.
When a queen dies, she will be replaced either by the beekeeper or the bees themselves. Worker bees will identify possible future queens in the larvae and will begin to raise them as such. Once these virgin queens hatch, conflict ensues between them until there is only one queen remaining. She will then begin mating with the drones over a period of a couple of days. She will store the sperm and will draw on this when laying eggs for the rest of her life. Most queens can continue laying with sperm collected from their mating flight for around three years. When she runs out of sperm, she will be replaced by the bees or the beekeeper.
An average, a beehive contains around thirty thousand bees, but this number goes up or down depending on a range of circumstances. For example, a new hive will have around 10,000 bees until the queen begins laying eggs and the colony grows. During the winter months, the number of bees in the hives drops as all male drones are either dead or ousted from the hive. The remaining bees work together to keep the temperature at optimum levels for survival until the queen can begin laying again in the springtime.
If a queen dies, she must be replaced as soon as possible or the number of bees in the hive will drop dramatically. If she is not replaced, the other bees will soon die off.