Honey Bee Colonies

Honey bees are eusocial insects that live in colonies

A honey bee colonies are complex societies consisting of members of the same species coexisting together in a unit, each with a specific task to be carried out. Colonies are intricate social structures regulated by the queen and carried out by worker bees and drones.

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    Where Do Bees Make Their Colonies?

    Bees seek a suitable space to build their hives in places that offer the colony adequate space, protection from the elements, and access to resources such as pollen, nectar, and water.

    What Is Eusociality?

    Eusociality is a complex societal structure wherein the members of society work together in order to survive. Each member of a eusocial society has a particular role to fill, known as castes.

    Bees are considered highly eusocial insects. Other eusocial insects are termites, ants, wasps, and even some crustaceans such as shrimp.

    Honey Bee Colonies: Superorganisms

    Honey Bee Colonies are what is known as superorganisms.

    In 1911, the American entomologist William Morton Wheeler coined the term superorganisms in reference to honey bee colonies upon realising all of the members of the colony work cooperatively and rely on each sector of the hive (drone, workers, queens) in order for the colony to survive.

    What Is Inside a Honey Bee Hive?

    Hives are created by worker bees who secrete beeswax from their glands. This wax is used to create new cells of honeycomb, repair any damaged cells or cap cells that have been filled with eggs or honey.

    The interior of the hive consists of honeycomb. The honeycombs are used for food supply storage and reproduction activities such as laying eggs and tending to larvae.

    Honey bees entering the hive

    The Organization of a Honey Bee Colony

    The organisation of a honey bee colony is highly structured. Each member of the colony is assigned a specific job that must be performed for the colony to thrive. 

    Queen bee

    Honey bee colonies will have a single queen. The primary responsibilities of the queen are to reproduce and regulate the behaviour of the colony. The queen bee is the largest bee in the colony and the only female bee with fully developed ovaries.

    Worker bees

    Worker bees are female bees without reproductive capabilities that perform the majority of the tasks in the hive, including feeding the queen, larvae, and drone bees, as well as making wax and collecting nectar and pollen. 

    Drone bees

    Drone bees are male bees whose primary role is to mate with an unfertilised queen. Drone bees do not have stingers.

    Eggs, Larvae and Pupae

    A healthy, thriving queen will produce between 1,500 and 2,000 eggs per day. The timeline between the eggs laid and their development will mean that there are roughly twice as many pupae as larvae and four times as many pupae at any given time.

    Distinctive Genetic Differences Between Male and Female Honey Bees Within a Colony

    There are distinctive roles for male and female bees within every honey bee colony:

    Male Bees Female Bees
    All male bees in a honey bee colony are drone bees. Drones are typically haploid, meaning they have just one set of chromosomes. These male bees exist solely for reproductive purposes. Drone bees are produced when the queen chooses not to fertilize an egg laid by a female worker bee. Female worker bees have two sets of chromosomes. Worker bees are the result of an egg that the queen has fertilized using stored sperm. These worker bees develop over a three week period. It is important to note that queen bees are only ever female.

    How Are New Honey Bee Colonies Made?

    Honey bees colonies are created when a sexually mature, fertilized queen and a significant number of worker bees find a semi-permanent location in which to build their new society. This officially begins when worker bees begin to create a honeycomb with which to sustain the colony.

    Does a Colony Relocate Every Spring?

    Bee colonies will not necessarily relocate every spring. If all or part of the colony decides to stay at the hive, the colony works diligently throughout the spring and summer months to replenish its stores to sustain the hive throughout the winter. 

    What Happens if a Colony Outgrows Its Hive?

    The queen bee will recognize when the colony has outgrown its hive. In the spring, once the colony has depleted the hive of its stored resources, bees will start the process of relocating. This process is called swarming. In many instances, only part of the colony will depart the hive and create a new colony with a new queen.

    A swarm of bees on a hive hanging from a tree branch

    What Is Honey Bee Colony Collapse Disorder?

    Colony Collapse Disorder occurs when the large majority of worker bees disappear. When this occurs, worker bees typically leave behind the queen, food, and a few select nurse bees that will care for the queen and the remaining immature bees. The cause of colony collapse disorder is unknown, but researchers believe that this phenomenon could be caused by a variety of factors.

    Some of the factors that are believed to be associated with colony collapse disorder are:

    • The use of antibiotics by beekeepers
    • Too frequent transportation of hives
    • Ineffective queens
    • Pathogens
    • Fungi
    • Mites


    There is also evidence to suggest that colony collapse disorder is related to the use of neonicotinoid pesticides and the circulation of Israeli acute paralysis virus:

    Neonicotinoid Pesticides 

    Neonicotinoid pesticides are pesticides that are commonly used in commercial agriculture. Five of the most common pesticides are acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam. At the time of this writing, the USDA currently permits the use of pesticides, although evidence has shown that these harmful chemicals are affecting the bee population. 

    Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus

    Linked to parasitic mites, the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) causes bees to develop shivered wings and eventually become paralyzed, leading to death just outside the hive. 

    How Can Colony Collapse Disorder Be Prevented?

    In recent history, the collapse of honey bee colonies is becoming more common, which has severely detrimental effects on our ecosystem. However, beekeepers and good Samaritans alike can take steps to prevent colony collapse disorder by taking such measures as planting bee-friendly flower species in their gardens and providing bee baths that offer thirsty bees a drink.

    Property owners can also place bee-friendly habitats around their property so that bees have somewhere to seek shelter.

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