How many bees are in a hive?

How many bees are in a hive?

Nearly every time I do a bee relocation the homeowner asks me how many bees are in the hive I removed. I’ve never felt completely comfortable in my estimates so I decided to do a little tangible research of my own. I remembered one of the activities I created for the Honeybee BrainyFile was the Africanized bee game I called Beecala (Mancala with a twist). For that I used dried black beans as the bees because the size seemed just about right, and that is what I am going to use for this little visual aid.

Beekeepers need to be able to evaluate the number of bees they are dealing with.

  • Mite counts require us to test 300 bees at a time.
  • Packages of bees typically weigh 3 pounds, which equals 10,000 bees.
  • A healthy colony filling 2 10-frame deeps contains around 30,000-60,000 bees.
  • Evaluating the percentage of brood cells per frame helps us know if our colony is increasing or decreasing the next generation.

But what do those numbers actually look like?

Beekeepers don’t sit around counting bees to know how many bees are in a hive or how many are in a swarm. We need to judge based on what those numbers look like. So I decided to help us all out by giving us a visual aid. A while back I created a fun Africanized Bee game called Beecala (based on Mancala) for my Honeybee BrainyFile. You can check it out in a post I wrote HERE.

For that game, I replaced the traditional stones with black beans because they are about the same size as honeybees. That gave me the idea to use beans to show specific numbers of bees. I’m a visual learner so this helps me a lot. I did not, however paint tiny yellow strips on the beans for this.

1/2 cup of bees = 300 bees

Beekeepers do mite counts with approximately 300 bees per hive. Scoop up the bees with a measuring cup and either do a powdered sugar shake or an alcohol wash. The goal is to separate the mites from the bees to get a sampling of how many mites per 100. If you spot more than 3 mites per 100 (9 mites per 1/2 cup sample) then you should do a treatment.

1 Frame of bees = 3,397 bees per side

One deep-size frame of brood that is completely filled should produce 3,397 bees per side – that’s 6,794 bees per frame. If you had one deep 10-frame box filled with frames that were 100% covered with brood, then you would have 67,940 bees! Of course it is not often that we have a regular supply of full brood frames. Often the frames consist of honey, bee bread, ad brood in various stages of growth. Sometimes we have empty frames or frames with just honey or a mix of honey and bee bread. If you do have a box that full, then be sure to breed that queen!

3 Pounds of bees = 10,000 bees

The typical amount of bees that you can buy in a package is about 3 pounds, and it is said that 3 pounds of bees equals around 10,000 bees. I’ve gotten a few packages, and I have to say that now that I know what 10,000 bees looks like, I think there are fewer than that in 3 pounds. Maybe I’m wrong, so I’ll have to re-evaluate when I install packages next spring.

An Average-Size Hive =30,000 bees

30,000 bees would fill half a 5 gallon bucket. Before doing this exercise, I would have said this was more like 50,000-60,000 bees. Boy was I wrong. This a lot of soup…I mean bees. (I’m currently making a list of recipes using black beans, so don’t mind my confusion.) I would be very happy with a hive of this size as long as it isn’t Africanized. I would say that most of my bee removals have this quantity of bees, which when flying and crawling all over the walls and ceiling, seems to be much more numerous.

A Full, Two-Deep Hive with added supers = 60,000 bees

This is a LOT of bees. When you see news stories about huge hives in walls it seems like they always say this was about 60,000 bees and everyone gasps. This amount of bees would fill a 5 gallon bucket or a few hive boxes. I would say that if you have a hive with this many bees in it, its a good time to split it, especially if you have good stores of food and your queen is still busily laying eggs. Hives of this size would bring in a huge amount of honey in the spring, but you’d better be on your toes, because they will most likely be wanting to swarm as well. Some breeds of bees never like to get this big, Africanized bees being one of them, so swarming would happen way before this. Still, seeing a hive this big, whether managed or not is beautiful. Just imagine how much comb and honey they produce.

In Conclusion

I hope you find this visual aid useful, I certainly did. I feel way more confident in my ability to gauge the size of a hive or swarm. The next time you are in the grocery store look at a pound of black beans. Hold the bag in your hand and know that that is about the size of 2,100 bees. Go ahead and add 4 more bags to see what 10,000 bees looks like. It’s just one more way to evaluate your hive. Then go ahead and make some black bean chili, black bean burgers, black bean salad, black bean soup, black bean….