Have you ever taken the time to watch a bustling beehive? Did you ever wonder how many bees live inside?
They certainly seem countless, and watching these industrious little insects work tirelessly all day long for the good of the hive is a little inspiring, and also a little bit scary.
No telling how many bees are waiting inside to sting you if you were to cross them!
But whether you’re admiring a wild beehive from a safe distance or trying to figure out how many bees you can expect in your very own apiary, it pays to know. So, just how many bees are in a hive?
A typical beehive has anywhere from 10,000 to 80,000 bees, with larger hives containing more. It is also worth noting that wild beehives may contain considerably fewer or a great many more bees than that.
I regularly hear people guess that a beehive will contain many hundred or at most a few thousand bees and invariably they are astounded to learn that even a modest beehive will contain at least 10,000 bees, and so many will contain far more than that!
It’s pretty amazing when you stop to consider that all of those bees work in harmony for the common good of the colony.
There are many more interesting facts to learn about the population of beehives, so keep reading and I’ll tell you all about them…
How Many Bees Can Be on a Single Hive Frame?
The number of bees that can fit on a single frame in a hive will vary depending on the size of the frame.
But assuming you are talking about a standard size (14” x 8 ½”) frame it will hold anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 bees per side.
This means that a frame in a healthy hive will hold anywhere from 2000 to 6,000 bees at once, both sides.
This isn’t just trivia, either, as pulling a frame and taking an assessment of how many bees and capped cells are on the frame will let you make a good rough estimate of how many bees are in your hive in total.
How Many Bees Are in a Wild Beehive?
Wild beehives can have hugely different population numbers between themselves, and also between man-made hive boxes.
However, it’s also worth noting that wild beehives, in some parts of the world, can be way, way bigger in terms of population than even the largest privately kept hives.
For instance, a young hive that’s just getting started and ramping up going into late spring might have only 3,000 to 4,000 bees in it.
But in a very short time that hive could grow into a bustling colony containing tens of thousands of bees as described above.
Some truly monstrous wild beehives have been found to contain hundreds of thousands of bees when they were located in an area with few predators and with plenty of access to food.
One record-breaking monster of a beehive in Africa was estimated to contain more than 1 million bees!
It’s hard to imagine how much honey you could get from such a hive, isn’t it?
Do Beehives Have Population Limits?
Yes. Now, before you get starry-eyed dreams of having a colossal hive of your own, or nightmares if you are afraid of being stung by bees, it’s worth pointing out that most beehives, be they wild or kept, have a sort of population cap.
When the workers of a hive stop detecting a sufficient quantity of the queen’s pheromones spread throughout the hive (typically as a result of overpopulation) they will usually initiate a swarming event.
A swarming event, as you might know, is what happens when a queen bee decides to leave the hive, taking a large contingent of the existing population of workers with her in order to start a new one somewhere else.
The worker bees will initiate this process by ceasing to feed the queen. The queen is entirely dependent upon the workers for her food while she goes about the business of laying eggs.
But the workers aren’t doing this to be cruel and run her out: if the queen stops eating, she’ll stop laying eggs and also start losing weight, and before long she will be light enough to properly fly.
When that happens, many of the workers will join her as they leave to look for a new home while the existing hive will try to produce a new queen to keep going.
What Will Help a Beehive Grow?
Beehives can grow quickly or slowly depending on a variety of factors. Queens can lay lots and lots of eggs, anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 a day on average at full production, but they may lay a lot less.
Queens will lay more eggs and lay them quicker during the peak times of the year, such as the end of winter or early spring when the hive needs a population boom to help it grow.
Queens will also lay more eggs when resources are plentiful, when the temperature and environment are favorable for the safety of the hive and when the hive is healthy, free of disease, parasites and predator attacks or raids by other beehives.
When all the conditions are ideal, the population of the beehive can grow exponentially in a very short time.
How Fast Can a Beehive Grow?
Beehives can grow surprisingly fast. Or rather I should say they can grow surprisingly quickly and noticeably!
This is because worker bees only have a maturation time of about 21 days.
If things are in good shape on the homefront at the hive and the queen is laying a couple thousand eggs per day, in just 3 weeks those eggs will be hatched, and the newborn bees are mature and ready to leave the hive and go to work.
So just a few days’ worth of egg-laying might mean you suddenly have many thousands more bees in your hive!
When Will the Population of a Hive Go Down?
Hive populations go down precipitously during swarm events, when a huge fraction of the population will leave with the queen to start a new hive elsewhere, or when the hive is besieged by disease, parasites, or predators.
Depending on the severity of the attack or the infestation, a hive can easily lose thousands or tens of thousands of bees. Subsequent colony collapse might wipe out the rest.
But hive populations also go down naturally during the wintertime.
Most bees will enter a state of hibernation but not all of them make it, and depending on the breed of bee and where the hive is located many bees might die waiting for springtime.
And, of course, bees don’t live forever. A worker bee has a typical lifespan of between 2 and 6 months before she perishes.
That’s not a very long time, so if a colony is queenless for any length of time or the queen has just stopped laying, you’ll notice the population dwindling significantly as time goes by.
How Can You Tell How Many Bees are in Your Hive?
This is more art than science, but there are a few different methods for estimating the population of your hives.
The first method is to guess based on the population density of a frame and then multiply that by the number of full frames in the hive.
Like I mentioned above, if you can get a good account on one side of the frame and both sides of the frame are covered in bees and capped cells, you’ll be able to come up with a good guesstimate.
Let’s say one side of the frame has 1,500 bees. Multiplied by two that would make for 3,000, and if you have four such frames in your hive, that means you have about 12,000 bees in there.
Another way to determine how many bees you have is to weigh the hive. A single honey bee weighs about 120 mg.
Knowing that, you can weigh the hive at night when all of the bees are inside and then subtract the weight of the box and frames before dividing that remaining figure by 120 mg.
Don’t forget to convert! That will tell you approximately how many bees are inside the hive, although of course this will not account for the weight of wax and honey.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.