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Smart as can Bee: Discover how honey bee hives function and why our Mad Honey is unique.

Nothing is more delicious than the knowledge of what we consume (though, our Mad honey is clearly yummier!) Honey has been consumed for its medicinal properties for centuries, yet most of us know little about hives and the incredible social structures of hives. From the queen to the workers, we are here to enlighten you on the topic.

Mad honey is produced by the rare giant honey bee Apis Laboriosa; the Himalayan honey bee is known as the world's largest honey bee and measures up to three centimeters in length. Although the Apis Laboriosa was identified as one of the subspecies of the Apis Dorsata, in 2020 the giant bee was affirmed as a full species of its own. Since no interbreeding was detected, the Apis Laboriosa was declared unique. Yet, the organization of Apis Laboriosa honey bees is similar to the other types.

So, if you’re curious about how honeybees function and how hives are organized, read on.

This blog article is based on previous works by the Mid-ATLANTIC and other sources cited throughout the article.

What does not benefit the hive

is no benefit to the bee.

Marcus Aurelius

The Consolidated Efforts of a Micro-society

Honey bees are frequently studied due to the fact they are perceived as regarded as highly social in the animal realm. They live in structured and large family groups, comparable to humans who live in communities. These evolved insects indulge in a nexus that is not seen among most solitary insects.

Honey bees have a complex nest construction particularly among Apis Laboriosa who build their nests at an altitude of more than 3000 meters vertically. Honey bees have not only mastered communication and defense but have also developed a chain of labor that is rarely seen among solitary insects. Honey bees obtain all of their nutritional requirements from a diverse combination of pollen and nectar.

Their colonies are made up of 3 types of adult bees:

  • Workers

  • Drones

  • Queen

Although the queen is referred to as the superior bee, her role is rather limited to reproduction as she is the single sexually developed female qualified for laying eggs.

Thousands of honeybee workers commit their short lives to nest building, rearing, and food collection- tasks that are assigned to me them with respect to their maturity.

It is fascinating that the micro-society of honeybees is identical to the human one where the individual efforts of every hive member contribute to the success of the entire colony.

Matriarchal Organization

Since honey bees have a unique queen, it is unsurprising that they follow a matriarchal structure to allocate tasks and roles in the colony.

However, during the swarming preparations and supersedure, the colony may have more than one queen.

The queens are most reproductive in early summer and can lay up to 1,500 eggs on a daily basis. They stop laying eggs around early October and start all over again in January. A single queen can produce up to 250,000 eggs per year and more than 1,000 000 within her lifetime. (2 to 5 years while the workers and drones typically have a lifespan of 30-60days)

The Making of a Queen

Queen bees differ from the rest of the colony; they have longer frames than the drones and workers and the abdomen is usually more elongated. While the wings of the workers and drones can virtually touch the tip of the abdomen when folded, the queen’s wings cover only part of the gut.

The queen does not possess functional wax glands or pollen baskets. Her stinger is longer than that of the workers, with fewer barbs of a smaller size.

The Production of Pheromones or Identity

As we earlier mentioned, one of the primary functions of the queen is egg-laying, however, she is also responsible for providing a social identity to her hive. The production of pheromones acts as a social bind per se and provides an identity to the bee community.

According to research conducted by the Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research Centre, being the chief, the queen’s and colony’s worth are determined by her pheromone production and her reproduction abilities which are based on the genetics of the drones with which she mated.

In order to prevent inbreeding from taking place, the queen travels to other drones in flight; she is hard to miss due to the release of a chemical odor known as a pheromone.

Drones are those bees that grow from the unfertilized eggs of the queen and produce male sperm cells that are genetically similar to the egg.

Once she gets back to the hive and is ready to start laying eggs in around two days, the queen feeds on royal jelly gathered by the worker bees. The greater the amount of the food, the better prepared are the beeswax cells where the eggs are stored. Larvae will start hatching from the eggs within three days.

Overthrowing the Queen

Unfortunately, the queen bee does not enjoy her privileges once her secreted substance is no longer deemed good enough. Both the queen and her daughter remain in the hive for a longer bit after the supersedure.

There are three situations that require a new queen:

  • The unexpected death or disappearance of the queen.

  • In case of inadequate queen substance.

  • The preparation of swarming.

As we mentioned earlier, the queen is in charge of the matriarchal organization of her colony hence, yet she is nothing without the female workers. Though the queen is attended to during the laying period, the colony functions as a single unit with a fairly flat structure.

The queen acts as the materfamilias of the hive since she gave birth to every bee of the hive.

The hive is nothing without each bee whose role is predetermined. As English poet Thomas Hood beautifully enunciated: ‘When was honey made with one bee in a hive?’

Fun Fact:

Greek Philosopher and polymath, Aristotle (c.384 B.C. to 322 B.C.) claimed that the chef of the hive is male and referred to the latter as ‘King Bee’ Sacrilegious, right? Yeah, we know. He identified the drones as females for they have no strings and were characterized by their inferiority.

It is only later on that it was recognized that honeybees have female-led societies, thanks to Charles Butler’s work, The Feminine Monarchy.

More on it here.

Drones - A Seraglio of Males

Male bees are the largest in the colony and are usually around in late spring and summer; they neither equipped stingers, pollen baskets nor wax glands. Therefore, their role is rather limited to the fertilization of the queen during the mating period. Once they are four days old, the drones can start feeding themselves albeit they predominantly depend on the female workers for food.

The drones eat three times more than the workers and their presence can even be overwhelming for the colony if they radically increase in number. Drones start orientation flights once they are eight days old.

While queenless colonies allow drones to live in the hive for a longer period, colonies led by queens will usually get rid of drones due to the scarcity of pollen or nectar.

The founding father of the United States, Thomas Paine referred to the drones as ‘a seraglio of males, who neither collect the honey nor form the hive, but exist only for lazy enjoyment.’

Working Ladies

The workers of the bee colony are sexually underdeveloped females that do not normally lay eggs. They are equipped with scent glands, pollen baskets, and food glands which allows them to do all the work in the hive. The workers cater to the needs of the queen, clean and polish cells, and handle nectar. In addition, they guard the colony’s entrance.

They forage for nectar, pollen, propolis, and water however, the workers live for a short period of six weeks in warmer months and can survive up to six months in the fall. These marvelous tiny creatures ensure that the colony is preserved by rearing the new bees in the spring before their demise.

Support Ethical Honey Harvests

Due to the increasing use of pesticides such as acephate, honey bees are at the risk of extinction. By harvesting ethically and once every year, we ensure that bees have the time to mate in the best environment. Unlike Turkish mad honey, our Mad Honey is produced naturally and in a safe, bee-friendly environment i.e. their natural habitat is not in any way altered; the mad honey bees forage on natural sources of food such as the Rhododendron flowers which grow at higher altitudes.

Mad Honey works with the Nepalese local community and the Government to ensure that honey hunting remains ethical and does not interfere with nature’s course.

The honey bee is a fascinating creature it is the perfect mix of elegance and functionality; their role as pollinators is crucial in maintaining a healthy eco-system.

Read more here:


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