A beehive is, in a general sense, an enclosed structure in which some species of honey bees (genus "Apis") 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 are kept in man-made beehives in a location known as an apiary; it is these man-made structures that are most typically referred to as "beehives". Only species of the subgenus "Apis" live in hives, and, of these, only the Western honey bee ("Apis mellifera") and the Eastern honey bee ("Apis cerana") are kept in domestication.

The internal structures of the hive comprise a densely packed matrix of hexagonal cells made of beeswax, called a honeycomb. The cells are used for storage of food (honey and pollen), and for housing the "brood" (eggs, larvae, and pupae).

Natural bee nests

The natural nesting sites of honey bees in the subgenus "Apis" are caves, rock cavities and hollow trees (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 of about 45 litres in volume and avoid those smaller than 10 or larger than 100 litres. [ Honeybees of the genus "Apis".] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.] Western honey bees exhibit preferences with regard to several nest site properties: the height above ground is usually between 1 and 5 metres, entrance positions tend to face downward, south-facing entrances are favoured, and nest sites over 300 metres away from the parent colony are preferred. [ [ Nest site selection by the honey bee, Apis mellifera] . December, 1978. Cited through SpringerLink.] Nests are often occupied over the course of several years. No one tree genus is strongly preferred.

The bark surrounding the hive entrance is often smoothed by the bees, 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. [ [ The nest of the honey bee (Apis mellifera L.)] December, 1976. Cited through SpringerLink] The basic nest architecture among 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.

Artificial beehives

Beehives are created artificially to house bees for the purpose of producing honey, and to encourage the pollination of nearby crops. These hives are now frequently transported so that the colony may pollinate crops in other areas. [ [ Chapter 10—Honey] . USDA] A number of patents have been issued for beehive designs.

Ancient beehives

Archaeologist Amihai Mazar of Jerusalem's Hebrew University said that findings in the ruins of the city of Rehov (with 2,000 residents at that time, Israelites and Canaanites) include 30 intact hives, 900 B.C., evidence that an advanced honey industry existed in the Holy Land at the time of the Bible or 3,000 years ago. The beehives, made of straw and unbaked clay were found in orderly rows, with 100 hives. Ezra Marcus, expert of Haifa University, said the finding was a glimpse of ancient beekeeping seen in texts and ancient art from the Near East. Religious practice was evidenced by an altar decorated with fertility figurines found alongside the hives. Beekeeping as a practice is known to predate these ruins, but this is the oldest actual apiary ever found. [cite web| last =Gilmour | first =Garth | title =The land of milk and honey ... and bees! | publisher =Jamaica Gleaner | url = | format =Web article | accessdate =2008-03-18 ]

Traditional beehives

Traditional beehives provided an enclosure for the bee colony but little more was needed. Because there is no internal structure provided for the bees to start from, the bees fill the space in the hive with honeycomb. 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 with extra top baskets which could 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. Because of this harvest method, they 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; Tile hives, Skeps and Bee gums.

Tile hives

Clay tiles were the customary homes of the bees around 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 and 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 could smoke one end to drive the bees to the other end while they harvested honey.


In northern and western Europe, baskets made of coils of grass or straw, called skeps, were used. In the simplest form, there is a single entrance at the bottom of the skep. There is no internal structure except what the bees build themselves. Aside from the fact that it is not possible to inspect the interior of skeps for diseases and pests, the removal of honey often necessitated the destruction of the entire hive. Beekeepers often either drove the bees out of the skep, or killed them, and subsequently squeezed the entire skep in a vise of sorts in order to extract its 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.

Bee gums

In Eastern, particularly southeastern USA, sections of hollow trees were used up until the 20th century. They were called "gums" because they often were from red gum trees.

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 all, before even opening their nest. This was done by inserting a metal container of burning sulphur into the gum.

Modern beehives

One of the very first beehive frames was invented by the founder of rational beekeeping in Ukraine, Petro Prokopovych in 1814. However for easy operations in beehives the spaces between elements need to be correct. The correct distance between combs had been 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.

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

Named for their inventor, Rev. Lorenzo Langstroth, these hives are not the only hives of this style, but they are the most common. Langstroth presented his design in 1860 and it has become the standard style hive for 75% of the world's beekeeping. This class of hives includes other styles differing mainly in size and number of frames used. Types 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 the discovery 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 the intermediate space open for traffic channels for the bees. His cleverly designed hive makes use of this "bee space" so that frames are neither glued together nor jammed up with "burr comb" - comb joining adjacent frames.

Langstroth hives make use of standardized sizes of hive bodies (rectangular boxes without tops or bottoms placed one on top of another) and 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 wooden or styrofoam boxes 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 winter cluster and food stores need to be. In the regions with severe winter weather, a basketball shaped cluster 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 which makes it possible to extract honey in centrifuges which spin the honey out of the frames.The empty frames can be returned to the beehive for use next season. Since bees are estimated to use as much food to make one kilogram of beeswax as they would to make eight kilograms of honey, the ability to reuse comb can significantly increase honey production.

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 US, 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 gets its name 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 will yield 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 so that 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.


* US Patent|9300 (also [ here] ) -- L.L. Langstroth's patent for a "Bee hive" from Oct. 5, 1852

Parts Of The Modern Beehive

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 - same as Brood box but is upper most box where honey is stored.

Frames & Foundation - wooden frame and plastic sheet with honey comb impression where bees build wax honey combs.

Inner and Outer Cover - As name implies.

Beehive symbolism

The beehive is an important symbol in Freemasonry, holding a prominent place in the lecture of the Master Mason degree, and is a symbol of industry and co-operation.

The beehive (usually as an iconified skep) is one of the symbols of the US 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 Masons, such as Joseph Smith. The beehive, along with several other masonic symbolisms are still today a part of Mormon heritage and culture.

Likewise, the beehive 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.

ee also

* Apidictor
* Bee bole

External links and references

* John's Beekeeping Notebook, [ American Beekeeping History -- The Bee Hive]
* John's Beekeeping Notebook, [ Top Bar Hive Beekeeping]
* [ Beehives] -- Woodworking plans. BeeSource.Com, 2004.
* [ top bar hive ] -- illustrated instructions
* hot wax dipping of beehives components - [ instructions] and [ photoes]


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