How bees make hives has baffled scientists for many years. Even today reason for the hexagon shape is up to debate. How bees make their nests is an extraordinary achievement for such a tiny insect.
What Is A Beehive?
Though the world beehive is commonly used to describe the nest of any bee colony, scientists and professionals distinguish nests from hives. A nest is used to refer to colonies housed in natural or artificial cavities or are hanging, exposed. Hive is used to describe an artificial, man-made structure to house a honey bee nest, typically made of straw, pottery, or wood.
The beehives structure is a densely packed group of hexagon-shaped cells made of beeswax, called honeycomb, and propolis. The bees use these cells to store food like honey and pollen along with the offspring of the queen, also known as the brood, during the egg, larvae, and pupae stages.
How Is BeesWax Made?
In nature, wax is an alcohol bonded to a fatty acid. In this case, it is made from honey. Bees consume honey, and as they digest it, the honey is converted into wax through a set of eight glands on the bee's abdomen. Bees need to consume six to eight pounds of honey to produce one pound of wax.
As bees age, they produce a lower quality wax, so the bees in charge of construction are usually two or three weeks old. The glands of worker bees convert the sugar contents of honey by eating it and turning it into wax, which oozes through the bee’s pores to produce tiny flakes on their abdomen. Workers will chew these flakes to use during construction of the hive.
What is Propolis?
Propolis is an antimicrobial substance from plant resins, which is collected by honey bees along with nectar and pollen they need for food. It is also known as “bee glue.” Resins are secreted by plants when they have been damaged, to close wounds in their surfaces and protect new buds from free radicals. It is sticky at or above room temperature, but it is hard and brittle below that temperature. Depending on the plants the resins was harvested from, it can be brown, green, red, or black.
Image by Wikimedia Commons.
Bees must collect nectar to make honey, but they also make separate trips for collecting plant resins. The bees pick up the resins by using their forelegs and mandibles. Then, they place it in the pollen sac on their hind legs, which can hold about 10 mg in each sac. When they get back to the hive, other bees have to pull the sticky substance off their legs for them. Then, the plant resin gets mixed with saliva and wax which is secreted by the worker bees. They mix the substances by chewing them, resulting in raw propolis.
Propolis is used at the entrance to their hives to keep bees from bringing in harmful microbes by disinfecting the base of their legs, which consists of a soft pad called the arolium and claws. Worker bees use propolis to prepare a sterile place for the queen to lay eggs. Propolis is also used for embalming parasites and invaders. Small predators that bees find too difficult to remove from the hive are cover with propolis after killed by stinging. This prevents decomposition, which is a health risk to the entire colony.
Bees also use this substance to patch up holes and cracks in the hive to keep heat from escaping, better protect the hive from invasion, and strengthen the hive structure. They use propolis for holes smaller than 3.5mm and a mix or just wax for the larger holes.
Worker bees and drones are the two main types of bees within the hive, along with one queen bee. Most cells are for smaller worker bees. They are all neatly lined up and in good shape. Worker bees only live for about 6 weeks and spend their days doing tasks that benefit the whole colony. Drones are usually bigger than the worker bees, but they do the least amount of work. When not protecting the hive, they will go out looking for virgin queens and come back to the hive empty-handed. Maybe that’s the reason they get the cells along the bottom.
The main job of the queen bee is to lay eggs and ensure the survival of the hive. Queen bees are chosen by the worker bees and are chosen most often by size. When the chosen queen reaches adulthood, she can go on many mating flights will as many as 10 or more drone bees. After mating flights, the drones die and the queen stores millions of sperm in her body that will be good for the rest of her lifespan.
When the queen starts slowing down in producing eggs or shows any other signs of diminishing power, the worker bees will raise more queen larvae. Once the new queen emerges, the old queen bee leaves the hive with a swarm of offspring. The former queen has no choice, but to find a new hive or die. The new queen bee will use worker bees to spread her pheromones throughout the hive to let the other bees know that she is alive.
Worker honey bees make the hives to store honey and feed themselves throughout the winter when they cannot go out and look for food. Worker bees make up about 85% of the hive and are always female. There are three main life stages for the worker bee, and these stages also dictate their individual occupations.
Young workers are one to twelve days old and clean cells, nurse the broods and assist the queen bee. Middle age workers are 12 to 20 days old and build the comb structure, store pollen, and ventilate the nest. Older workers are 20 to 30 days old. These are the ones you come across away from the hive. They are responsible for collecting pollen and providing the necessary enzymes to turn nectar into honey.
Drones are always male, and their main purpose is to mate with the queen. The drones that are chosen by the queen to mate die quickly after mating because their reproductive parts get ripped out. Those who don’t get picked spend their time guarding the opening of the hive from predators.
Image by Wikimedia Commons
How Bees Make Hives
How bees make hives, is a very interesting subject. We've seen beehives all around us, but have you ever witnessed one being made? Honey bee hives are made of six-sided tubes, shaped for optimal honey production because they require less wax and can hold more honey. Hives out in the open will die in the cold; If it’s too hot, the junctions where combs meet will soften and melt, and will probably drop from where they hang. Here is more information about how bees make hives.
Bees that are farmed by apiarists provided the colony with man-made structures in which to build their hive by the individual looking after them. Wild bees choose to construct their nests anywhere which offers protection from the elements. Once settled on a location, construction begins from the top downwards.
The next time you see a hive and wonder how bees make hives, remember it is not a simple process. Worker bees prepare the space by covering its wall with a thin layer of propolis. The bees will use more propolis inside the hive at various stages of construction to help protect the colony from harmful germs. Then, bees will chew the wax they secrete until it is soft, bonding bits of it together to form individual cells.
The cells will be used to store nectar, pollen, water, honey, eggs, and larvae. When the first walls are up, the queen bee lays its eggs into cells of the wall. The walls of a finished honeycomb can support thirty times their own weight and will contain honey in their uppermost sections. Then pollen in the rows below that, followed by worker brood cells, and drone brood cells. The Queens cells are at the bottom of the structure. Once constructed, the hive has only one entrance and will last the colony for several years.
Why Do They Use The Hexagon Shape?
Mathematically, a circle shape would make it possible to store the most volume of honey, but the curved shape allows for gaps when the cylinders are placed next to each other. This would result in wasted space and extra wax production, in respect to honeycomb building. The hexagon is the perfect solution to this problem. It is the most circle-like and allows for other cells to be placed next to each other without wasting space.
As part of a study conducted by the University of Cardiff in July 2013, researchers used a handheld smoking device to drive bees away from a hive they were in the middle of constructing. Researchers observed that the most recently built cells were circular, whereas those that had been constructed were circular, whereas the ones that had been constructed beforehand were hexagonal. This research suggested that the heat generated by the bees during construction caused the comb to melt, causing cells walls to flatten together, forming hexagons.
Even though this research did not provide clear details about whether the bees do this on purpose or if it just happens naturally. This research did show that bees measure the depth of each cell with their bodies and even know when to change the tilt of the cells to prevent contents from dropping out.
While some of these theories are up to debate, honeybees play a vital role in global plant production and their own products are beneficial too. Royal jelly (the honey that is fed to larvae) is used for asthma, hay fever, liver disease, pancreatitis, type 2 diabetes, diabetic foot ulcers, sleep troubles, just to name a few. Beeswax is also known for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. These are just a few benefits that honeybees provide.
How Bees Make Hives – Conclusion
Now that you know how bees make hives, the next time you see a beehive, you may find a deeper appreciation for it. These incredible creatures are a vital part of our ecosystem. Their complex existence continues to surprise us.