How Many Honey Bees in a Hive? Thousands or Millions?

Beekeeping is a unique activity because of the nature of these tiny creatures. Unlike other mammals and birds, bees have a very high reproductive capacity such that they can easily and quickly rebuild their colony within no time in case of a loss.

The greatest power of bees is their numerical reproductive rate. It is not rare to lose bees during winter or because of predators, but one spring season is enough to rebuild and go higher in terms of numbers.

The number of bees in a hive fluctuates all year round, but typically there is a peak population of between 30,000 50,000 bees in a hive at a time. These figures are from actual research by the British Beekeeping Association (BBKA).

The number of bees in a hive at a time is bound to change from time to time as the year progresses because of changes in weather as the different seasons come and go, availability of food and the general health of the colony. A healthy colony will be strong and have maximum numbers.

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Highest number of bees in a hive

The maximum number of bees is usually highest during the summer season because it is the busiest and everyone is on high gear including the queen in her egg-laying. During winter, the number dwindles as food reserves go down and some bee die from the biting cold. In winter the population can get to as low as 20,000 bees.

Bees are able to keep their numbers using a combination of two mechanisms. A high egg-laying rate and swarming behavior. If a bee has a low egg-laying rate, rarely will it depict swarming behavior because the two have a close link. Some species are stronger and reproduce faster than others.

How Do You Calculate How Many Bees Live In A Hive?

Researchers have managed to come up with various ways of calculating the number of bees in a hive. They have used the information known about the metamorphosis of bees to their advantage.

All bees undergo metamorphosis and pass through the four staged process of egg, larva, pupa and finally adult. Therefore, if you can find out the number of any of these at any stage you can figure out how many bees will hatch into adults within a few days.

Two main methods are used to find out how many bees a colony may have at a time; egg-laying rate and counting bees per frame.

  1. Egg-laying rate method of bees estimation

It is possible to estimate the potential bee population based on the number of eggs that have been laid at a particular time. To do this you consider the number of the sealed brood.

There is an easy way of doing this quickly. You can for example use a Plexiglas sheet that has a drawn grid of one inch to quickly know the number of these sealed broods for worker bees. Alternatively, you can use a rule to make a rough estimate of the dimensions of the frames and use that to find the square inches occupied by sealed brood.

From experienced beekeepers, the numbers often arrived at are that five worker cells occupy every square inch of the frame. That brings a total of 25 developing bees per square inch. When you do а multiplication онthe number of bees per square inch with the total inches of frames that you have, you will have a pretty close estimate of the number of worker bee broods you have.

It takes a total of 21 days for the bee to develop into an adult. 12 of these are spent in the sealed brood stage. With that information, you can calculate the number of eggs a queen is laying per day. You divide the number of sealed brood cells by 12 and you will have your answer.

The method may seem a bit sketchy and may not be totally accurate, but it is a good one for estimating the number of bees you will have in the future per hive and probably compare to see which colony is lagging behind in terms of reproduction and may need a new queen.

Scientists used this method to come up with hybrid bees, the most famous ones being the Dadant-Genetic Systems Starline and also the Midnite. Because it was found that there is a correlation between the quantity of honey produced and the number of eggs laid per day.

But the catch is that these estimations need to be made six weeks before nectar begins to flow within the hive. Because in six weeks, these broods would have turned into an army of worker bees doing the hard work of bringing in the nectar.

The egg-laying rate method of colony size estimation has proved valuable for beekeepers. Colonies that were poor egg producers were also poor at honey production and vice versa. Therefore, these statistics have been used to select the most productive colonies for higher honey yields.

  1. Bees Per Frame Method of Colony Estimation

Beekeepers use the baseline data of 25 bees per square inch (this is mostly the number in most cases) to calculate the number of bees that will emerge from the frames within a few weeks.

Langstroth frames usually measure 19 by 8.5 inches deep and can produce 7000 bees each from corner to corner.

Experienced beekeepers will look at the various frames of different hives to have an indication of how strong or weak a queen is. They will then shift around the broods to bring equalization of the colonies and avoid swarming behavior because a colony has grown too strong.

Bee numbers estimation, helps the beekeeper maintain fairly strong colonies and have a somewhat guarantee of harvesting sufficient honey from each hive by compensating the weaker colonies with broods and keeping the stronger colonies within reasonable numbers.

How Many Girl Bees Are In a Hive?

Bee colonies are made up of different types of bees each serving a different role. Majorly three types of bees exist in every colony. The queen, drones, and worker bees.

You will be surprised to know that the greatest population of bees in a colony are actually ‘girl’ bees. If the population of bees is 100,000 bees, 80,000 of them will be female worker bees.

The first among the ‘girl’ bees is the queen bee. Her appearance and even size and structures are different but she is female nonetheless. Actually she started out as a worker bee but because she was fed special food during her development, she turns out different.

The Queen is the only female member in a colony with the ability to lay fertilized eggs. They are mated early in their life once and for all and spend the rest of their life laying up to 2000 eggs every day. Fertilized eggs are the ones that will later give rise to more female worker bees. Unfertilized eggs turn to drones.

The ‘boy’ bees are also significant in the propagation of the colony. Their sole role is to mate with a new virgin queen. After this act, they die having fulfilled their life mission. Because their role comes once every so often, they are no many within a colony.

Why Is There a Large Population of Female Worker Bees within a Colony?

The female worker bees are literally the lifeline of the colony. They do so much to make the colony thrive. The queen does no other job other than to lay eggs. If there are no worker bees, there would be no food in the hive since the drones do not go outside to forage for food.

Because there is a lot of work to be done in the hive, the workers are needed in their numbers. That explains why any thriving colony will have many females outnumbering the males at any particular time.

Worker bees start out as eggs in their hexagonal cells and develop into adults 21 days later. The moment they emerge their work is cut out for them. They start by cleaning out their cell to make it usable for the next egg and devotes the rest of her short life working for the interests of her hive whatever role she may play.

What Is the Work of the Female Worker Bee?

  • Nursing

Initially, a worker bee will start out as a nurse for the larvae. Feeding them and ensuring they are warm.

  • Cleaning the Hive

The worker bee is also responsible for cleaning the larvae cells and removing debris from the hive to make sure it remains clean and tidy.

  • Attending to the queen

It is the duty of the workers to groom the queen and attend to her every need. Even feeding the queen is part of the job.

  • Cleaning the other bees

When foragers have come back to the hive bearing pollen and nectar, they may have collected dust and debris from their travels. The in-house bees clean them and ensure they are ready for their next flight mission.

Other in-house duties such as removing dead bees, guarding, cooling and warming the hive and much more.

Most of these activities are done by the worker bees when they are between 12 and 20 days old. As they advance in age, the worker bee will move on to heavier duties.

  • Foraging for resources needed in the hive

When the worker bees hit 20 days old, they graduate to foraging. It is the forager’s job to venture outside the hive and collect nectar and pollen for honey production otherwise the colony will starve to death.

The worker bees at times also bring water or propolis which is useful for repairing and sealing cracks within the hive.

Worker bees dedicate their life to service. They will continue to do their duty until a little over a month later, they will die from exhaustion and a new breed of worker bees will continue with their work.

The exception is for bees that are born towards the cold winter months. These ones live for much longer, several months because they don’t do any foraging. Their job is to keep the hive warm and protect the queen from freezing to death.

What Happens When the Hive Is Full Of Bees?

Given the high reproduction rate of bees, there comes a time when the population rises to a very high level such that the available resources are straining to sustain the large colony and it even becomes difficult for the queen to lay her eggs. When that happens, a phenomenon referred to as swarming will occur.

Swarming is when the highly populous colony sends away a huge chunk of itself to find a different location and make it their new home, technically splitting the current colony into half.

Whenever swarming occurs, between 40 and 60% of the adult bees will leave the hive. Usually, it is a whole process and the group that wants to exit will prepare itself in readiness for the venturing out. They will rear their own queen and fly out with her to establish their own hive because without a queen they are as good as doomed.

By the time swarming occurs, the colony will have tried possible ways to keep the population from becoming excessive and unmanageable. One way is by kicking out the drones from the hive especially when food supplies are dwindling.

Drones have only one job, and that is to mate and fertilize a new queen. When workers discover food is scarce and winter is nearby, they kick them out of the hive and hinder them from returning. Drones are unable to fend for themselves and cannot survive long outside the hive eventually they die.

How Are Bees Able To Communicate Yet They Are So Many?

Considering a colony has tens of thousands of bees, without proper communication, it will be impossible to have order and the system will collapse.

Bees communicate with each other using pheromones. The release of pheromones largely by the queen and also other bees influences the behavior of the rest. The queen’s pheromones (primer pheromones) bring about social order and stability in the hive while the release of pheromones by the workers (releaser pheromones) notify the rest of the bees of certain activities affecting the hive such as the presence of a predator.

Not only pheromones, but bees also employ different dancing symbols to communicate and notify others of the presence of nectar or water.

You can now see how amazing bees are. Hope you enjoyed reading!


Hey there, I'm Jan! Bees are my passion since I was a little kiddo. My grandpa always said that passing knowledge to new people is the most honorable and meaningful thing to do. So here I am, passing my knowledge to you. Protect the bee, respect the bee!

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