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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A beehive is an enclosed structure in which some honey bee species of the genus live and raise their young. Natural beehives (typically referred to simply as "nests") are naturally-occurring structures occupied by honey bee colonies, while domesticated honey bees live in man-made beehives, often in an apiary. These man-made structures are typically referred to as "beehives". Only species of the subgenus Apis live in hives, but only the western honey bee (Apis mellifera) and the eastern honey bee (Apis cerana) are domesticated by humans.

Wooden hives in Stripeikiai in Lithuania

The beehive's internal structure is a densely packed matrix of hexagonal 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).


Natural bees' nests

Honey bees in the subgenus Apis use caves, rock cavities and hollow trees as natural nesting sites. Members of other subgenera have exposed aerial combs. The nests are composed of multiple honeycombs, parallel to each other, with a relatively uniform bee space. The nest 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[1]. Western honey bees show several preferences in nest site properties: the height above ground is usually between 1 metre (3.3 ft) and 5 metres (16 ft), entrance positions tend to face downward, south-facing entrances are favored (as described by a reference from the Northern Hemisphere), and nest sites over 300 metres (980 ft) from the parent colony are preferred[2]. Bees usually occupy the nests for several years.

The bees often smooth the bark surrounding the hive entrance, and the cavity walls are coated with a thin layer of hardened plant resin (propolis). Honeycombs are attached to the walls along the cavity tops and sides, but small passageways are left along the comb edges[3]. The basic nest architecture for all honey bees 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[1].

Artificial beehives

Artificial beehives serve two purposes: production of honey and pollination of nearby crops. Artificial hives are commonly transported so that bees can pollinate crops in other areas.[4]. A number of patents have been issued for beehive designs.

Ancient beehives

Honeybees were kept in Egypt from antiquity[5]. On the walls of the sun temple of Nyuserre Ini from the 5th Dynasty, before 2422 BC, workers are depicted blowing smoke into hives as they are removing honeycombs[6]. The symbol of Upper Egypt after the unification of the north and south is the honey bee, and is used on the Throne name/Praenomen of all Pharaohs. This designation was used continuously from the 3rd Dynasty[7] (circa 2650 BC). Inscriptions detailing the production of honey are found on the tomb of Pabasa from the 26th Dynasty (circa 650 BC), depicting pouring honey in jars and cylindrical hives[8].

Archaeologist Amihai Mazar, of Jerusalem's Hebrew University, said that 30 intact hives were discovered in the ruins of the city of Rehov (with 2,000 residents in 900 B.C., Israelites and Canaanites). This is evidence that an advanced honey industry existed in the Holy Land at the time of the Bible, 3,000 years ago. The beehives, made of straw and unbaked clay, were found in orderly rows, with a total of 100 hives, many in broken condition. Ezra Marcus, Haifa University, 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[9].

Traditional beehives

Traditional beehives simply provided an enclosure for the bee colony. Because no internal structures were provided for the bees, the bees created their own honeycomb within the hives. The comb is often cross-attached and cannot be moved without destroying it. This is sometimes called a 'fixed-frame' hive to differentiate it from the modern 'movable-frame' hives. Harvest generally destroyed the hives, though there were some adaptations using extra top baskets which could then be removed when the bees filled them with honey. These were gradually supplanted with box hives of varying dimensions, with or without frames, and finally replaced by newer modern equipment.

Honey from traditional hives was typically extracted by pressing - crushing the wax honeycomb to squeeze out the honey. Due to this harvesting, traditional beehives typically provided more beeswax, but far less honey, than a modern hive.

Skeps and other fixed-frame hives are no longer in wide use (and are illegal in many countries) because the bees and the comb cannot be inspected for disease or parasites without destruction of the honeycomb and usually the colony.

There are three basic styles of traditional beehive; mud hives, clay/tile hives, skeps and bee gums.

Mud and clay hives

Mud hives are still used in Egypt. These are long cylinders made from a mixture of unbaked mud, straw, and dung[10].

Bees in a baked clay jar in Malta

Clay tiles were the customary homes of domesticated bees in the eastern end of the Mediterranean. Long cylinders of baked clay were used in ancient Egypt, the Middle East and to some extent in Greece, Italy and Malta. They sometimes were used singly, but more often stacked in rows to provide some shade, at least for those not on top. Keepers would smoke one end to drive the bees to the other end while they harvested honey.


Traditional manufacture of skeps from straw in England
A bee skep at Dalgarven Mill. The base is part of an old cheese press

In northern and western Europe, baskets made of coils of grass or straw, called skeps, were used. In its simplest form, there is a single entrance at the bottom of the skep. Again, there is no internal structure provided for the bees, and the colony must produce its own honeycomb. Skeps have two disadvantages: beekeepers can not inspect the interior for diseases and pests, and honey removal often results in the destruction of the entire hive. Beekeepers either drove the bees out of the skep, or killed them. Skeps were then squeezed in a vise to extract the honey.

Later designs included a smaller woven basket on top with a small hole to the main skep. This acted as a crude super, allowing the harvesting of some honey with less destruction of brood and bees. In Scots, such an extension-piece placed below a straw bee-hive to give extra room for breeding, was called a nadder.

A person who made such woven beehives was called a 'Skepper', a surname that still exists in western countries.

Bee gums

In the eastern United States, especially in the southeast, sections of hollow trees were used until the 20th century. These were called "gums" because they often were from red gum trees.

"Barć" in a museum in Białowieża

Sections of the hollow trees were set upright in "bee yards" or apiaries. Sometimes sticks or crossed sticks were placed under a board cover to give an attachment for the honeycomb. As with skeps, harvest of honey from these destroyed the colony. Often the human bee "robber" would sulphur the bees, killing them, before even opening their nest. This was done by inserting a metal container of burning sulphur into the gum.

Natural tree hollows and artificially hollowed tree trunks were widely used in the past also by bee-keepers in Central Europe. For example, in Poland such a beehive was called "barć" and it was protected in various ways from unfavourable weather conditions (rain, frost) and predators (woodpeckers, bears). Harvest of honey from these did not destroy the colony, as only a protective piece of wood was removed from the opening and smoke was used to deter the bees for a short time.

Modern beehives

The earliest recognizably modern designs of beehives seem mainly to have arisen in the nineteenth century, though they were perfected from intermediate stages of progress that had taken place in the eigteenth century.

Thus, intermediate stages in hive design were recorded for example by Thomas Wildman in 1768/1770, who described advances over the destructive old skep-based beekeeping so that the bees no longer had to be killed to harvest the honey.[11] Wildman for example fixed a parallel array of wooden bars across the top of a straw hive or skep (with a separate straw top to be fixed on later) "so that there are in all seven bars of deal" [in a 10-inch diameter hive] "to which the bees fix their combs".[12] He also described using such hives in a multi-storey configuration, foreshadowing the modern use of supers: he described adding (at a proper time) successive straw hives below, and eventually removing the ones above when free of brood and filled with honey, so that the bees could be separately preserved at the harvest for a following season. Wildman also described[13] a further development, using hives with "sliding frames" for the bees to build their comb, foreshadowing more modern uses of movable-comb hives. Wildman's book acknowledged the advances in knowledge of bees previously made by Swammerdam, Maraldi, and de Reaumur—he included a lengthy translation of Reaumur's account of the natural history of bees—and he also described the initiatives of others in designing hives for the preservation of bee-life when taking the harvest, citing in particular reports from Brittany dating from the 1750s, due to Comte de la Bourdonnaye.

In 1814, Petro Prokopovych, the founder of commercial beekeeping in the Ukraine, invented one of the very first beehive frames. However, for easy operations in beehives the spaces between elements need to be correct. The correct distance between combs was described in 1845 by Jan Dzierżon as 1½ inches from the center of one top bar to the center of the next one. In 1848 Dzierzon introduced grooves into the hive’s side walls replacing the strips of wood for moving top bars. The grooves had been 8 x 8 mm – exact average between 1/4 and 3/8 of an inch, which is range recently called bee space. The Langstroth hive was the first successful top-opened hive with movable frames. Langstroth hive was however direct descendant of Dzierzon’s hive designs.

Dadant-Blath beehives in Serbia

There are two basic types of modern or movable hive in common use, the "Langstroth hive" (including all the size variants) which has enclosed frames to hold the comb and the top-bar or Kenya-hives which, as the name implies, have only a top-bar to support the comb. These hives are typified by removable frames which allow the apiarist to inspect for diseases and parasites. Movable frames also allow a beekeeper to more easily split the hive to make new colonies.

Langstroth hives

Langstroth frame of honeycomb with honey in the upper left and pollen in most of the rest of the cells

Named for their inventor, Rev. Lorenzo Langstroth, these hives are not the only hives of this style, but they are the most common. Langstroth patented his design in 1860[14][15] originally being designed for comb honey production, it has become the standard style hive for 75% of the world's beekeepers. This class of hives includes other styles, which differ mainly in the size and number of frames used. These include Smith, Segeberger Beute (German), Frankenbeute (German), Normalmass (German), Langstroth hive, Modified Commercial and Modified Dadant, plus regional variations such as the British Modified National Hive.

Langstroth hives make use of bee space, a characteristic of Western honey bees which causes them to propolize small spaces (less than 1/4 inch), gluing wooden parts together, and to fill larger spaces (more than about 3/8 inch) with wax comb, but to hold an intermediate space open for bees to pass through. His cleverly designed hive makes use of bee space so that frames are neither glued together nor filled with burr comb - comb joining adjacent frames.

Langstroth hives use standardized sizes of hive bodies (rectangular boxes without tops or bottoms placed one on top of another) and internal frames to ensure that parts are interchangeable and that the frames will remain relatively easy to remove, inspect, and replace without killing the bees. Langstroth hive bodies are rectangular in shape and can be made from a variety of materials that can be stacked to expand the usable space for the bees. Inside the boxes, frames are hung in parallel. The minimum size of the hive is dependent on outside air temperature and potential food sources in the winter months. The colder the winter, the larger the hive and food stores need to be. In the regions with severe winter weather, a basketball-shaped cluster of bees typically survives in a "double-deep" box. In temperate and equatorial regions, a winter cluster will survive in a single box or in a nuc (short for nucleus colony).

Langstroth frames are thin rectangular structures made of wood or plastic and which have a wax or plastic foundation on which the bees draw out the comb. The frames hold the beeswax honeycomb formed by the bees. Ten frames side-to-side will fill the hive body and leave the right amount of bee space between each frame and between the end frames and the hive body.

Langstroth frames are often reinforced with wire, making it possible to extract honey in centrifuges to spin the honey out of the comb. As a result, the empty frames and comb can be returned to the beehive for use in the next season. Since it is estimated that bees require as much food to make one kilogram of beeswax as they do to make eight kilograms of honey, the ability to reuse comb can significantly increase honey production.

National hive

The National hive is the most widely used hive in the United Kingdom. It is a square hive, with rebates (grooves) that serve as hand grips. The frames are smaller than standard Langstroth and Commercial hives and have longer hand grips (or "lugs"). Many beekeepers now view the brood box of the National as too small for the laying activity of modern strains of queen bee – so many beekeepers operate the National with a brood box and one super. This is sometimes called "a brood and a half". While this provides enough room for the brood, it also increases the number of frames that have to be checked through regular inspection. Because of this the National hive brood boxes are also now available in a 14 x 12 inch size which gives a brood size similar to the Commercial or Langstroth.

Commercial hive

Commercial hives are exactly the same external dimensions as a National hive, but instead of having a rebate the hive is a simple cuboid. Because of this the frames are larger and have shorter handles or lugs. The brood box is picked up using small hand holds cut into the external wall of the hive. Supers have this same feature, which can make them difficult to hold when full of honey. Some beekeepers therefore use National supers on top of a Commercial brood box.

WBC hive

The WBC, invented by and named after William Broughton Carr, is a double-walled hive with an external housing that splays out towards the bottom of each frame covering a standard box shape hive inside. The WBC is in many respects the 'classic' hive as represented in pictures and paintings, but despite the extra level of insulation for the bees offered by its double-walled design many beekeepers avoid it due to the inconvenience of having to remove the external layer before the hive can be examined.

Dartington Long Deep hive (DLD)

The Dartington Long Deep hive take 14 x 12 inch and can take up to 17 frames. It is possible to have 2 colonies in the brood box as there is an entrance at either end. Half size honey supers which take 6 frames can be used which are lighter than full supers and are therefore easier to lift.

Top-bar hives

The top-bar or Kenya-hives were developed as a lower-cost alternative to the standard Langstroth hives and equipment. They are used by some devotees in the United States, but are much more popular, due to their simplicity and low cost, in developing countries. Top-bar hives also have movable frames and make use of the concept of bee space.

The top-bar hive is so named because the frames of the hive have only a top bar, not sides or a bottom bar. The beekeeper does not provide a foundation (or provides only a fractional foundation) for the bees to build from. The bees build the comb so it hangs down from the top bar. The hive body is often shaped as an inverted trapezoid in order to reduce the tendency of bees to attach the comb to the hive-body walls. Unlike the Langstroth design, a top-bar hive is generally expanded horizontally, not vertically. The top-bar design is a single, much longer box, with all the frames hanging in parallel.

Unlike the Langstroth hive, the honey cannot be extracted by centrifuging because a top-bar frame does not have reinforced foundation or a full frame. Because the bees have to rebuild the comb after each harvest, a top-bar hive yields more beeswax but less honey.

However, like the Langstroth hive, the bees can be induced to store the honey separately from the areas where they are raising the brood. Therefore, bees are less likely to be killed when harvesting from a top-bar hive than when harvesting from a skep or other traditional hive design.

Warré hives

Invented by Abbé Émil Warré, also called "ruche populaire", the Warré hive is a vertical hive of top-bar design.

Parts of the modern Langstroth beehive

  • Hive Stand — the upper hive components rests on this providing a landing board for the bees and helping to protect the Bottom Board from rot and cold transfer.
  • Bottom Board — this has an entrance for the bees to get into the hive.
  • Brood Box — is the most bottom box of the hive and is where the queen bee lays her eggs.
  • Honey Super — usually shorter than the brood box, but is upper-most box(s) where honey is stored.
  • Frames & Foundation — wooden or plastic frames with wax or plastic sheets with honey comb impression where bees build wax honey combs.
  • Inner Cover — provides separation from a overly hot or cold Outer Cover and can be used as a shelf for feeding or other purposes.
  • Outer Cover — provides weather protection for the hive.

Beehive Symbolism

The beehive (always shown as an iconified skep) is an important symbol in Freemasonry, typically associated with the Master Mason degree. In the American and early English lectures given during the ceremony, it is explained as symbol of industry and co-operation.[16] The lecture also speaks against intellectual laziness, warning that "he that will so demean himself as not to be endeavoring to add to the common stock of knowledge and understanding, may be deemed a drone in the hive of nature, a useless member of society, and unworthy of our protection as Masons."[17]

The beehive is one of the symbols of the American state of Utah. It is associated with the honey bee, an early symbol of Mormon pioneer industry and resourcefulness. (See Deseret.) Some early Mormon leaders were also Freemasons, such as Joseph Smith, and it is widely believed that Mormon usage of the symbol was borrowed from Freemasonry.

The beehive also is considered a symbol of industry in heraldry.

In Wellington, New Zealand, the round building used for Parliamentary offices is known as the "Beehive". The official website of the New Zealand Government is

Beehive Brand matches made by Bryant and May popular in New Zealand have a logo based on the traditional skep beehive design.


Smoke will cause the bees to move their hive. The whole process can take a day and requires constant smoke in sufficient volume that the bees feel the destruction of the hive by fire is imminent. Burning sugar makes a lot of smoke but could leave smoke damage if used indoors. Incense in large volume has been successfully used indoors. After the bees leave, the rest of the hive must be removed. Alternatively, in many areas, local beekeepers will usually be willing to collect bees to replenish or replace their own stock.


Humans will at times determine that a beehive must be destroyed in the interest of public safety or in the interest of preventing the spread of bee diseases. Black bears will also destroy hives in their quest for honey.[18] The U.S. state of Florida destroyed the hives of Africanized honey bees in 1999.[19] The state of Arkansas has issued regulations governing the treatment of diseased beehives via burning followed by burial, fumigation using ethylene oxide or other approved gases, sterilization by treatment with lye, or by scorching.[20]

Spraying the hive with a soap and water solution may be effective, since soap dissolves the bees' waxy exterior that protects them from drowning. The procedure is, however, surrounded with cautions.[21]

See also


  1. ^ a b Honeybees of the genus Apis. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  2. ^ Nest site selection by the honey bee, Apis mellifera. December, 1978. Cited through SpringerLink
  3. ^ The nest of the honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) December, 1976. Cited through SpringerLink
  4. ^ Chapter 10—Honey USDA
  5. ^ Beekeeping in Ancient Egypt
  6. ^ Beekeeping in Ancient Egypt
  7. ^ Royal Titulary
  8. ^ Apiculture in Egypt, Dr Tarek Issa Abd El-Wahab
  9. ^ Gilmour, Garth. "The land of milk and honey ... and bees!" (Web article). Jamaica Gleaner. Retrieved 2008-03-18. 
  10. ^ The Apiculture in Egypt, Dr. Tarek Issa Abde El-Wahab
  11. ^ Thomas Wildman, A Treatise on the Management of Bees (London, 1768, 2nd edn 1770).
  12. ^ Wildman, op.cit., 2nd (1770) ed., at pp.94-95.
  13. ^ Wildman, op.cit., 2nd (1770) ed., at pp.112-115.
  14. ^ U.S. Patent 9,300
  15. ^ L.L. Langstroth's patent for a Bee hive from Oct. 5, 1852
  16. ^ Shawn Eyer, The Beehive and the Stock of Knowledge. Philalethes, The Journal of Masonic Research and Letters 63.1 (Winter 2010), 35-42.
  17. ^ Thomas Smith Webb, The Freemason’s Monitor, or Illustrations of Masonry in Two Parts, 2nd ed. New York: Southwick & Crooker, 1802), 77-78.
  18. ^ "Bear Facts for Homeowners - Beehives/Crops/Livestock". New Jersey Department of Environmental Portection. Retrieved 2009-07-22. 
  19. ^ "Crawford Announces Destruction Of African Bee Hive". Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Retrieved 2009-07-22. 
  20. ^ "Sec. 03.47.020. Importation of bees.". State of Arkansas.*/doc/%7Bt251%7D/pageitems=%7Bbody%7D?. Retrieved 2009-07-22. 
  21. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Texas A&M University Department of Entomology. Retrieved 2009-07-22. 

External links and references


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also beehive



Wikipedia has an article on:


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Beehive (plural Beehives)

  1. (Mormonism) A 12-13 year old participant in the Young Women organization of the LDS Church.

Related terms


Proper noun




  1. (New Zealand) The Beehive; the common name for the executive wing of the New Zealand parliament buildings.
  2. New Zealand government.

Simple English

[[File:|thumb|300px|Wooden beehives in Minnesota in the United States]] A beehive is a structure in which some species of honey bees (genus Apis) live and raise their young. Natural beehives (or "nests") are made by honey bee colonies, while domesticated honey bees are kept in man-made beehives in a location known as an apiary. The beehives made by people are usually the things referred to by the word "beehive."

Beehives have hexagonal cells in them, packed together. This is called a honeycomb.mrj:Кӓрӓш

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