beehive is an enclosed structure in which some honey bee species of the subgenus Apis live and raise their young. Though the word beehive is commonly used to describe the nest of any bee colony, scientific and professional literature distinguishes nest from hive.

Nest is used to discuss colonies which house themselves in natural or artificial cavities or are hanging and exposed.

Hive is used to describe an artificial/man-made structure to house a honey bee nest. Several species of Apis live in colonies, but for honey production the western honey bee (Apis mellifera) and the eastern honey bee (Apis cerana) are the main species kept in hives.

The nest’s internal structure is a densely packed group of hexagonal prismatic cells made of beeswax, called a honeycomb. The bees use the cells to store food (honey and pollen) and to house the brood (eggs, larvae, and pupae).

Beehives serve several purposes: production of honey, pollination of nearby crops, housing supply bees for apitherapy treatment, and to try to mitigate the effects of colony collapse disorder.

In America, hives are commonly transported so that bees can pollinate crops in other areas. A number of patents have been issued for beehive designs.

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Honey bee nests

Honey bees use caves, rock cavities and hollow trees as natural nesting sites. In warmer climates they may occasionally build exposed hanging nests.

Members of other subgenera have exposed aerial combs. The nest is composed of multiple honeycombs, parallel to each other, with a relatively uniform bee space.

It usually has a single entrance. Western honey bees prefer nest cavities approximately 45 litres in volume and avoid those smaller than 10 or larger than 100 litres.

Western honey bees show several nest-site preferences: the height above ground is usually between 1 metre (3.3 ft) and 5 metres (16 ft), entrance positions tend to face downward, Equatorial-facing entrances are favored, and nest sites over 300 metres (980 ft) from the parent colony are preferred. Bees usually occupy nests for several years.

The bees often smooth the bark surrounding the nest entrance, and coat the cavity walls with a thin layer of hardened plant resin called propolis.

Honeycombs are attached to the walls along the cavity tops and sides, but small passageways are left along the comb edges.

The basic nest architecture for all honeybees is similar: honey is stored in the upper part of the comb; beneath it are rows of pollen-storage cells, worker-brood cells, and drone-brood cells, in that order. The peanut-shaped queen cells are normally built at the lower edge of the comb.

Ancient hives

Bees were kept in man-made hives in Egypt in antiquity. The walls of the Egyptian sun temple of Nyuserre Ini from the 5th Dynasty, dated earlier than 2422 BC, depict workers blowing smoke into hives as they remove honeycombs.

Inscriptions detailing the production of honey are found on the tomb of Pabasa from the 26th Dynasty (c. 650 BC), and describe honey stored in jars, and cylindrical hives.

The archaeologist Amihai Mazar cites 30 intact hives that were discovered in the ruins of the city of Rehov (2,000 residents in 900 BC, Israelites and Canaanites). This is evidence that an advanced honey industry existed in Israel, approximately 4,000 years ago.

The beehives, made of straw and unbaked clay, were found in orderly rows, with a total of 150 hives, many broken. Ezra Marcus from the University of Haifa said the discovery provided a glimpse of ancient beekeeping seen in texts and ancient art from the Near East.

An altar decorated with fertility figurines was found alongside the hives and may indicate religious practices associated with beekeeping. While beekeeping predates these ruins, this is the oldest apiary yet discovered.

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