In this post, we will answer the question of ‘how many bees live in a hive’ and give an overview as to when and why that number may vary.
How many bees are in a honey bee hive?
A honey bee hive will contain from 10,000 to 80,000 bees or more. Colony sizes will vary based on a number of factors such as seasonal variations, size and space for the hive and genetics.
The vast majority of bees in a hive are the female worker bees. These bees will all be from the same mother, being the queen bee. There are also male bees which are known as drones, however, these only make up a small percentage of the hive, with only a few hundred to a thousand or so in a hive.
Why honey bee numbers vary by season
The main factor that will determine the number of bees in a hive is the seasonal availability of resources. The more nectar and pollen sources available to bees, the more bees the colony can support. When there is lots of honey available, the queen bee lays as many as 2000 eggs a day. This results in a population boom and hives can double in strength in as little as a month.
When there are fewer resources available, the queen will reduce the number of eggs she lays, even going through periods of laying no eggs at all. This ensures that there are not too many mouths to feed when there is less available food.
Bees are clever enough to pick up on changing seasons, and queens will even adjust their rate of egg-laying based on whether the daylight hours are increasing or decreasing.
The amount of bees in a beehive will be dependent on the amount of eggs the queen lays
Cavity size of a beehive
A honey bee colony can only grow as big as space it has available. If a hive can no longer build anymore honeycomb and expand, the queen will run out of space to lay eggs. This means the colony can’t increase its numbers any further and will be limited to a certain total population.
Honey bee queen genetics
The genetic makeup of a honey bee queen will determine how big her colony can become.
Certain strains of honey bee lay eggs at a faster rate than others. Some strains will be able to build up numbers quicker than others in Spring, and therefore get the jump on other strains of the honey bee.
On the contrary, some other strains are able to support a larger population all year round, which can also have its own advantages.
The actual number of eggs a queen can lay will be determined by how well she was mated. A poorly mated queen bee will not be able to lay as many eggs as a well-mated queen, and her colony will not be as prosperous as a more prolific laying queen.
A healthy and strong young queen is essential to a strong and populous colony
Ideal population for a honey bee hive
The ideal population for a honey bee hive to be productive will be in the range of 60,000 or more. The more bees in a hive, the more chance it has of collecting enough honey to get through a cold winter or to survive a long drought.
A single hive with 60,000 bees will produce more honey than two hives with 30,000 bees each. This is due to economies of scale.
It takes a certain number of bees to effectively ‘manage’ the running of a hive. It is only once there are enough bees to tend to raising young bees and guarding the hive that a hive can allocate a significant number to foraging. Therefore a hive with a larger percentage of the colony out foraging will be able to collect more honey than a smaller one.
This makes larger hives more likely to survive in the wild, as well as being more productive for beekeepers.
Most beehives will have between 10,000 and 80,000 bees.
The actual number of bees inside a hive will vary by season, availability of nectar and pollen, the genetic makeup of the queen and the size of the cavity available to bees.
Ideally, a hive will have more than 60,000 bees and this makes them more likely to survive in the wild, and makes more honey for us beekeepers!