For other uses, see Beehive (disambiguation).

A beehive is an enclosed structure in which some honey bee species of the subgenus Apis live and raise their young. Natural beehives are naturally occurring structures occupied by honeybee colonies, such as hollowed-out trees, while domesticated honeybees live in man-made beehives, often in an apiary. These man-made structures are typically referred to as "beehives". Several species of Apis live in hives, but only the western honey bee (Apis mellifera) and the eastern honey bee (Apis cerana) are domesticated by humans. A natural beehive is comparable to a bird's nest built with a purpose to protect the dweller.

The beehive's internal structure is a densely packed group 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).

Artificial beehives serve several purposes: production of honey, pollination of nearby crops, housing supply bees for apitherapy treatment, as safe havens for bees in an attempt to mitigate the effects of colony collapse disorder, and to keep bees as pets. Artificial hives are commonly transported so that bees can pollinate crops in other areas.[1] A number of patents have been issued for beehive designs.

Natural hives

Honey bees use caves, rock cavities and hollow trees as natural nesting sites. 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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[2]

Ancient artificial hives

Bees were kept in man-made hives in Egypt in antiquity.[5] The walls of the sun temple of Nyuserre Ini from the 5th Dynasty, dated earlier than 2422 BC, depict workers blowing smoke into hives as they remove honeycombs.[6] 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.[7]

Archaeologist Amihai Mazar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem 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 3,000 years ago. The beehives, made of straw and unbaked clay, were found in orderly rows, with a total of 100 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.[8]

Traditional artificial hives

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 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.

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]

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.


Skeps, which are baskets placed open-end-down, have been used for about 2000 years. Initially they were made from wicker plastered with mud and dung but from the Middle Ages they were made of straw. In northern and western Europe, skeps were made of coils of grass or straw. 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, which is attached to the inside of the skep.

Skeps have two disadvantages: beekeepers cannot inspect the comb for diseases and pests, and honey removal is not easy- often resulting in the destruction of the entire colony. To get the honey beekeepers either drove the bees out of the skep or, by the use of a bottom extension called an eke or a top extension called a cap, sought to create comb with just honey in it. Quite often the bees were just killed, sometimes using lighted sulfur, to allow the honeycomb to be removed. Skeps could also be squeezed in a vise to extract the honey. As of 1998, most US states prohibited the use of skeps because they can not be inspected for disease and parasites.[11]

Later skep designs included a smaller woven basket (cap) on top over a small hole in the main skep. This cap acted as a crude super, allowing the harvesting of some honey with less destruction of brood and bees. In England such an extension piece consisting of a ring of about 4 or 5 coils of straw placed below a straw beehive to give extra room for brood rearing was called an eke, imp or nadir. An eke was used to give just a bit of extra room, or to "eke" some more space, a nadir is a larger extension used when a full storey was needed beneath.

A person who made such woven beehives was called a "skepper", a surname that still exists in western countries. In England the thickness of the coil of straw was controlled using a ring of leather or piece of cows horn called a "girth" and the coils of straw could be sewn together using strips of briar. Likenesses of skeps can be found in paintings, carvings and old manuscripts. The skep is often used on signs as an indication of industry ("the busy bee").

In the late 18th century, more complex skeps appeared which had wooden tops with holes in them over which glass jars were placed. The comb was built in the glass jars which made it commercially attractive.

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 black gum (Nyssa sylvatica) 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 kill the bees before even opening their nest. This was done by inserting a metal container of burning sulfur into the gum.

Natural tree hollows and artificially hollowed tree trunks were widely used in the past by beekeepers in Central Europe. For example, in Poland such a beehive was called a "barć" and 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.

Bee gums are still used by beekeepers today, for bee species that do not make (large quantities of) honey. Unlike most manmade beehives (which are usable only with Apis mellifera and Apis cerana), the bee gum allows housing of many more bee species. The bee gum allows the bees themselves to make their hive (hive structure and cells in which to store their honey and pollen).

Modern artificial hives

The earliest recognisably modern designs of beehives arose in the 19th century, though they were perfected from intermediate stages of progress made in the 18th 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.[12] 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 (250 mm) hive] "to which the bees fix their combs".[13] He also described using such hives in a multi-story configuration, foreshadowing the modern use of supers: he described adding (at the 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[14] a further development, using hives with "sliding frames" for the bees to build their comb, foreshadowing more modern uses of movable-comb hives. Wildman 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 were 8 mm × 8 mm (0.31 in × 0.31 in), the spacing later termed bee space. The Langstroth hive was the first successful top-opened hive with movable frames. Langstroth hive was however a 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 hive", as the name implies, has only a top-bar to support the comb. These hives are typefied by removable frames, which allow the apiarist to inspect for diseases and parasites. Movable frames also allow a beekeeper more easily to split the hive to make new colonies.

Bees occupy the new hive "correctly" only if it already contains frames with some honeycomb or wax plates. If only empty frames are present, bees often build honeycomb that does not follow them and cannot be later removed with the frame.

Hives optimized for Apis mellifera, Apis cerana

Langstroth hives

Main article: Langstroth hive

Named for their inventor, Rev. Lorenzo Langstroth, Langstroth hives are not the only hives of this style, but the most common. Langstroth patented his design in 1860[15][16] originally 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), D.E. hive, 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 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 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 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. Creating honeycomb involves a significant energy investment, conservatively estimated at 6.25 kilograms of honey needed to create 1 kilogram of comb in temperate climates.[17] Reusing comb can thus increase the productivity of a beekeeping enterprise.[18]

The modern Langstroth hive consists of the following parts:

  • Hive stand: the upper hive components rest 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: the lowest box of the hive and where the queen bee lays her eggs.
  • Honey super: usually shorter than the brood box, but is the uppermost box(s), where honey is stored.
  • Frames and foundation: wooden or plastic frames with wax or plastic sheets with honeycomb impression where bees build wax honey combs.
  • Inner cover: provides separation from an 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.

National hives

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 (known as "Brood and a Half"), or even two brood boxes (known as "Double-brood"). 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 that gives a brood size similar to the Commercial or Langstroth.

Commercial hives

Commercial hives are of 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 hives

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, owing to the inconvenience of having to remove the external layer before the hive can be examined.

Dartington Long Deep hives

The Dartington Long Deep (DLD) hive takes 14 x 12 inch and can take up to 17 frames. It is possible to have two colonies in the brood box as there is an entrance at either end. It has half-size honey supers, which take 6 frames that are lighter than full supers and are correspondingly easier to lift.[19] The Dartington was originally developed by Robin Dartington so that he could keep bees on his London rooftop.


Main article: Beehaus

The Beehaus is a proprietary design for a beehive launched in 2009. It is based on similar principles to a Dartington.

Top-bar hives

Main article: Top-bar hive

The top-bar or Kenya-hives were developed as a lower-cost alternative to the standard Langstroth hives and equipment. They are becoming very popular in the US due to their alignment with the organic, treatment-free philosophies of many new beekeeping devotees in the United States. They are also popular, owing to their simplicity and low cost, in developing countries. Top-bar hives have movable comb and make use of the concept of bee space.

The top-bar hive is so named because the bees draw their comb from a top bar, suspended across the top of a cavity, and not inside a full rectangular frame with sides and a bottom bar. The beekeeper does not provide foundation wax (or provides only a small starter piece of foundation) for the bees to build from. The bees build the comb so it hangs down from the top bar. This is in keeping with the way bees build wax in a natural cavity. There is some belief that the use of natural wax in a top-bar hive supports the bees' natural systems in ways that improve their health. The hive body of a top-bar hive is often shaped as an inverted trapezoid in order to reduce the tendency of bees to attach the comb to the hive-body walls, though this reasoning has become less popular recently. It may be more likely that the trapezoid shape helps to improve the ratio of the weight of the comb to the amount of attachment at the bar and helps to lessen the likelihood of heavy combs detaching from the top bar when being handled or harvested. Unlike the Langstroth design, a top-bar hive is expanded horizontally, not vertically. The top-bar design is a single, much longer box, with the bars hanging in parallel.

Unlike the Langstroth hive, the honey is usually not extracted by centrifuging because a top-bar frame does not have reinforced foundation or a full frame. There is a laterally oriented extractor available, made by Swienty, but these are not overly popular in the US. Because the bees have to rebuild their comb after honey is harvested, a top-bar hive yields a beeswax harvest in addition to 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. For this reason 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

The Warré hive was invented by Abbé Émil Warré, and is also called "ruche populaire" (fr) or "The People's Hive" (en), the Warré hive is a modular and storied design similar to a Langstroth hive. The hive body is made of boxes stacked vertically; however, it uses Top Bars for comb support instead of full frames, as a general rule. The popularity of this hive is growing among sustainable-practice beekeepers.

The Warre hive differs from other stacked hive systems in one fundamental aspect: when the bees need more space as the colony expands, the new box is "nadired". i.e. positioned underneath the existing box(es). This serves the purpose of warmth retention within the brood nest of the hive, considered vital to colony health. The 1948 book "Beekeeping for All" by Abbé Warré has been translated from French in 2010 by Dr. David and Patricia Heaf and is available as a free download at;

Perone hives

The Perone or Automatic Hive was designed by Oscar Peone, and aims at managing bees in a way more closely analogous to their natural behavior. It is favoured by proponents of 'Natural Beekeeping', who seek to allow more natural bee behaviour and minimise intervention into the hive.

Perone Hives are very large 2m-high vertical top bar hives that remain the same size all year, split into a bee area underneath, and a bee keepers area above (Mark 1) or side by side (Mark 2). The total hive volume is large, around 280 litres, which it is proposed allows the bees to develop into a 'super-colony' differing in behaviour to colonies in smaller hives. They are managed so that under normal circumstances the bee area is never opened, and the bee keepers area is opened only once per year when any honey is harvested. These hives are managed around bees using their own honey supplies in winter, not replacing these with sugar syrup. honey isn't sweet like sugar.

The limitations for direct inspection of this type of hive and its management raise issues around disease monitoring, and they are criticised as sources of veroa for other nearby hives, as the large colony will have many foragers and many standard techniques for managing veroa populations cannot be practiced. However the hive will also have more bees available for defence, and many standard treatments for veroa also cause damage to the bees.

Hives optimized for Meliponines

Hives have been designed for some meliponines such as Melipona beecheeii. Examples of such hives are the Nogueira-Neto hive and the UTOB hive[20]

Hives optimized for bumblebees

Some designs have been optimized for housing bumblebees. See here.


The beehive is a commonly used symbol dating at least to Roman times. In medieval heraldry it was considered a symbol of industry.

In modern times, it is used in Freemasonry. In masonic lectures it is explained as a symbol of industry and co-operation,[21] and as cautioning 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."[22]

The beehive is also used with similar meaning by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons. From Mormon usage it has become one of the State symbols of Utah. (See deseret.)


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


A common misconception of non-beekeepers is that smoke will cause bees to move their hive. Smoke is used by beekeepers to hide the alarm pheromone emitted by bees during inspections or harvest. One-way traps can be used to reduce the size of a colony, but is a limited time consuming solution. Beekeepers and companies can be hired to do "cut-outs" (a term used to remove bees from a home). Once honey, pollen and wax are built up in a hive, only physical removal is an option. Some homeowners resort to using spray-foam, but the bees will wait and live off of reserves until the foam is weakened, then will burrow through it. An important fact in understanding a hive is that less than 10% of the bees will ever leave at once, other than when swarming. A fertilized queen will lay up to 2000 eggs a day. If bees are killed and the hive products are left, heat and time will loosen the wax and honey causing further problems in the future.


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 also destroy hives in their quest for honey.[23] The U.S. state of Florida destroyed the hives of Africanized honey bees in 1999.[24] 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.[25] In New Zealand, the treatment of hives infected with the disease American foulbrood with antibiotics is prohibited, and beekeepers are required by law to destroy such colonies and hives with fire.

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, as it angers the bees.[26]

See also


External links

  • DIY Top Bar Hive Design: The Honey Cow
  • American Beekeeping History -- The Bee Hive at John's Beekeeping Notebook
  • Top Bar Hive Beekeeping at John's Beekeeping Notebook
  • Beehives—Woodworking plans. BeeSource.Com, 2004.
  • photos for hot wax dipping of beehives components
  • Educational videos on top bar hive beekeeping
  • Beehive parts