How Do Honey Bees Make Beehives? [3 Steps]

Pictures of a wild bee nest and a hive.

The hive is crucial to a honey bee colony’s survival. It provides shelter, protection, and a place to store food and rear brood. Whether they build inside a hollow tree or a bee keeper’s hive, the internal structures follow the same design.

Honey bee hives are an incredible engineering feat. They’re so perfectly constructed that it’s hard to believe small insects were responsible. If you’d like to know how honey bees make beehives then keep reading to get the full guide.

How does a bee colony make its hive?

Honey bees often build their hives in hollow trees, roof spaces, rock crevices, or man-made beehives. They construct the internal beehive by softening wax by chewing it, then crafting it into hexagonal cells to make honeycomb.

Let’s take a closer look at the steps bees take to build their new home.

1. Find a suitable location

Choosing the right spot for establishing a new hive is critical for the colony. Wild honey bees prefer to live off the ground, often choosing trees, protected spaces in buildings, and rock crevices.

Domesticated bees may start in a bee keeper’s hive, but nothing is stopping them from swarming elsewhere. At the same time, wild bees may choose to take up residence in a man-made beehive. Beekeepers may like to check out our resource on how to attract a bee swarm to increase their chances of getting free bees.

Several honey bees on the lawn.
Man-made beehives are a handy solution for honey bees.

The decision on where the colony will live is made by scout bees. They head out in advance, scouring the area for a safe place with nearby water sources and plenty of nectar-producing foliage like clover.

2. Spread the propolis

Whether bees have their own naturally discovered nest or a hive provided by a beekeeper, construction begins from the top and works down.

Female worker bees get the space ready by covering the walls with a thin layer of propolis. It is a substance that’s made from saliva, plant resins, and wax secreted from the female worker bee.

Although propolis has various uses, it is especially handy for binding everything together. As more internal structures are added, this “bee glue” is added at each stage.

3. Construct the honeycomb

The internal structures within the hive are made from beeswax. This is a natural wax that worker bees secrete from glands under their abdomen. The substance is produced as waxy scales that form thin sheets and can then be chewed up and molded into any shape required.

Each cell built by the worker bee must have enough depth for brood rearing or honey storage. If the worker is happy with the cell’s sizing, it will give the inside a polish then move on to the next one. In time, the queen will inspect each cell for correct sizing and cleanliness. She will only lay eggs in those that pass her test.

A top down shot of honey bees on comb.
Honeycomb is constructed to precise measurements.

Making a beehive is an energy-intensive process. To produce one pound of wax, it takes about 6 pounds of honey.

Honeycomb is constructed to house eggs, water, honey, and other food supplies. It makes up the bulk of the hive, made up of interconnected hexagonal cells.

The final hive will have one small entrance at the front. This home should hopefully last the colony several years. It is built to last and is sturdier than most other types of bees and wasp’s nests. Honeycomb walls can support roughly 30 times their own weight.

Commonly asked questions

Why do honey bees create hexagonal honeycomb cells?

The hexagon is an ideal shape for making honeycomb as each cell shares walls with other connected cells. That means building comb is more efficient and less time-consuming to build. Building circles would leave gaps between each cell, and other shapes like squares or triangles aren’t as compact.

Do all beehives have the same layout inside?

Honey bees will almost always store honeycomb towards the top of their hive with pollen directly below. Next comes the worker brood cells followed by drone brood. The bottom of the hive is often chosen by honey bees to build queen cups and cells.    

Can bees survive without a hive?

Honey bees could not survive long without a beehive. It provides protection from threats and bad weather, as well as housing food supplies and brood. 

What is the function of the beeswax comb in a hive?

Within the hive, the main purpose of wax is to store nectar, pollen, water, eggs, honey, and brood. It also helps to keep them healthy and hygienic by trapping impurities that result from brood production.

How long does it take for bees to make a hive?

An efficient, healthy colony that’s thriving may build its hive within one month. If they become too crowded, they are likely to swarm. Bee colonies that are new or struggling may take all season to finish building out the hive.

What size are honeycomb cells?

Honey bees build 25 perfectly shaped hexagonal cells per square inch of comb. This is the ideal size to construct a compact hive that houses enough brood and food supplies to allow the colony to survive through winter.

Summing up

Honey bees are exact creatures with impressive skills and anatomy. Their ability to consistently make uniform comb with precise dimensions is hard for humans to comprehend.

Credit must go to the female worker bees who produce the wax and construct the entire hive. This is a tough job which is one of the reasons why worker bees have such short lives. To learn more, we suggest checking out the lifecycle of honey bees or the ultimate guide to worker bees.      

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