When bees are not making honey or busy helping the earth out by pollinating over 70 percent of it’s crop, bees are either building their hives or protecting it. If bees could actually hold on to something forever, it would be their hives. Many have found this the hard way by receiving one or two stings for staying too close to a beehive.
Bees have colonies that live in hives and when a hive becomes overpopulated, the hive splits in two with one group having to find a new area to build another hive that would contain them. The mother queen and about half of the worker bees leave the hive, leaving the daughter queen and the remaining half of the workers to take care of the existing colony.
Bees do move around a lot and that is why you might have noticed a swarm of bees flying over your house or neighbourhood. This might be scary but it is a natural part of the lifecycle of these industrious workers.
Before finding a new home bees stop off on tree branches while some of the bees are scouting around for a suitable area to build another colony. The scouting bees often return to the group to return their findings. It does this by engaging in the waggle dance. Information about the proposed area is understood from the other bees based on the dance. Seem strange? It gets even more interesting than that!
Ideally, a new home should be a cavity in a tree, well above the ground, with lots of space for the whole swarm and for storing honey. Once the bees select their location, they don’t move.
What do you think happens if the scout bees find more than one place that is suitable? How do the bees decide?
If two nests are equally appealing, then the bees risk a deadly tiebreaker. The swarm has only one queen bee, after all, so it can’t split up, and must, therefore, agree on a single nest site. Bee biologist Thomas Seeley of Cornell University, along with his colleagues, conducted an experiment to determine how those particular stalemates are broken. To measure this, they set up two identical boxes on a remote island and then released a swarm of bees. The researchers then observed how they selected the site. The scouts waggled for their sites but also took time out from their dancing to disrupt other bees from completing their performance by head-butting them and emitting high-pitched beeps.
Here, scouts locate two potential nest sites, one with a large opening and one with a more desirable small opening. Each scout bee then returns to the swarm and performs a waggle dance for her site, but the scout from the superior right tree performs more waggle dance circuits than the scout from the left tree. Three hours later, the number of bees committed to the right tree has increased sixfold, whereas support for the left tree has increased only threefold, and the majority of dances favour the right tree. After three more hours, the scouts at the right tree increase even more.
Such inhibitory signals help to break the deadlock and help the bees choose their home faster. As soon as one site gains even the slightest edge over the other, there will be more bees on the winning nest side to stop the other side’s waggling, thus accelerating the inequality and allowing the bees to choose a site more quickly.
How a Beehive is Built
Worker honey bees make hives to store honey and feed themselves throughout winter when they cannot go outdoors to forage for food. Honey bee hives are made of six-sided tubes, hexagons, which are the shapes for optimal honey production because they require less wax and can hold more honey. Some hives develop broods which become dark in color over time because of cocoon tracks and travel stains. Other honey bee hives remain light in color.
Wild honey bees make hives in rock crevices, hollow trees and other areas that scout bees believe are appropriate for their colony. Similar to the habits of domesticated honey bees, they construct hives by chewing wax until it becomes soft, then bonding large quantities of wax into the cells of a honeycomb. When worker bees crowd together within a hive, the hive remains at around 30 to 35 degrees Celsius, the temperature necessary to control the texture of the wax.
Although worker bees only live for approximately six weeks, they spend their lives performing tasks that benefit the survival of their colony. Around the time a worker bee turns 10 days old, she develops a unique wax-producing gland inside her abdomen. Workers forage for food and gather nectar from different flowering plants. When they carry nectar within their pollen pouch, it mixes with a specialized enzyme. After returning to the hive, the worker bee transfers the nectar from her tongue to another worker’s tongue, where the liquid from the nectar evaporates and becomes honey.
The glands of worker bees convert the sugar contents of honey into wax, which oozes through the bee’s small pores to produce tiny flakes of wax on their abdomens. Workers chew these pieces of wax until they become soft and moldable, and then add the chewed wax to the honeycomb construction.
The hexagonal cells of the honeycomb are used to house larvae and other brood, as well as to store honey, nectar and pollen. When beekeepers extract honey from hives, the comb is easily left intact, though do beekeepers sell honeycomb as well.
Wild Honeybee Hives
Unlike honeybees that are kept in hives by beekeepers so the honey can be harvested, wild honeybees generally build hives in tree hollows up off the ground. The honeybee worker bees make the hives, which are used to store honey that the bees eat during the winter months. The hives also house bee larvae as well as nectar and pollen.
Wild honeybee hives are well organized and live by a strict division of labour. This helps ensure that all members of the hive are well cared for, including the young bees. Hives are set up in cavities that are south facing and have a downward-pointing entrance.
To make the hive, honeybees strip off the bark and smooth the walls. Then, they chew wax until it becomes soft and use it to create the honeycombs. The worker bees only live for about six weeks, but they get a lot done while alive. In addition to building the hive, they go out and gather nectar from flowering plants. This nectar is used to create wax for hive building as well as honey.
Bumblebees prefer to set up their hives underground. They usually do this in abandoned animal tunnels and burrows. Bumblebees only use a nest for one year. The hive location is selected in spring when the queen bumblebee emerges from hibernation. She lines her chosen hole with dry grass and moss. The worker bumblebees then come in and often build a wax canopy over the hive entrance. This deters predators, such as skunks.
There’s the queen bumblebee and then drone and worker bumblebees. The queen lays eggs, while the drones fertilize the queens. Worker bees do all of the other work, including building the hive.
Bumblebees survive by eating flower nectar and pollen. They also make honey by chewing pollen, which mixes with their saliva to create honey. This honey is fed to the queen and young bees. After going out foraging, a bumblebee will carry back as much as 25 to 75 per cent of its body weight in pollen and nectar.
Carpenter Bee Hives
Unlike bumblebees, which they resemble, carpenter bees aren’t social creatures. Carpenter bees construct their own single nests in bare, unpainted, weathered wood. In the nest, a carpenter bee lays eggs, which pupate into adult carpenter bees.
Though they’ll set up hives in trees, carpenter bees are also known to make their nests in buildings and other wooden objects. These include eaves, siding, doors, window frames, decks, telephone poles and outdoor wooden furniture.
Carpenter bee adults winter in abandoned nest tunnels. They then emerge in April or May to mate and re-enter the tunnels to lay eggs. They leave behind a pollen ball on which the larvae feed when the eggs hatch. The resulting carpenter bees exit the hive in summer as adults, and the cycle continues.
What to do if bees make a hive in my home?
One of the major deciding factors that determine where swarming bees would build their colony is the availability of food and shelter. It is possible that your home provides just that for bees. There are also a number of other factors that could determine them choosing your home. Whatever the case, you now have bees as house guests.
Well, what can you do about it? You really have little control over where bees choose to build their hives but you can take some measures (hopefully not too drastic) to prevent it from happening if you really do not like bees.
Bees are important to the survival of the earth so it is important that you contact a conservation center about the hive in your backyard instead of contacting a company that would simply kill the bees off.