One of the most common questions I get is “what does the inside of a hive look like?” Each box on a hive is called a super and they hold frames where the bees build comb. Supers hold either 8 or 10 frames. Mine are all 8 frame supers which is the new trend in beekeeping to help reduce the weight of the supers. Honey is about 50% heavier than water. So a super can get really heavy, approaching 100 lbs on 10 frame deep supers.
A beekeeper regularly inspects his hives to make sure that there is a queen present. Queens are tough to find because there is only 1 among thousands of bees. To make it easier queens are marked with a colored dot on their back. The color also indicates the year she was installed. White is for years ending in 1 or 6 (2011 or 2016). The next best thing to finding a queen is to find eggs. If you look closely at the picture on the right you will see what look like tiny grains of rice in the bottom of the comb cells. These are eggs. Eggs hatch in 3 days. So if there are eggs then there must be a queen, at least there was three days ago. Those yellow and orange cells next to the eggs are pollen. The bees pack it in with their heads for storage. Pollen is the only source of protein for bees. They mix it with some secretions and make what humans have termed “bee bread”. To answer a common question, yes, bees do eat more than just honey.
After 3 days the eggs hatch into larvae. Notice those little wormlike larvae in this second picture? These bee larvae are fed by house bees approximately 150 to 800 times a day (amazing isn’t it?). Their diet and the number of times a day they are fed changes to match their growth and requirements.
When the larvae are about 9 days old it is ready to pupae (remember butterflies?) so the house bees cover them over with wax and they are now referred to as “capped brood”. When bees seal honey with wax they make it airtight, but for capped brood they seal the cells differently so that air can get in and the baby bees can breathe. This is why cappings over honey are white while cappings over brood are yellow or brown. In 21 days after an egg is laid a new worker bee will be born. This timeline refers only to worker bees which account for most of the colony. Drones take longer (24 days) and Queens take less time (16 days). Beekeepers are always interested in how things look. Are there eggs? Is there brood? Is there capped brood? If there is capped brood, is there a lot of it and is it in a nice large consistent pattern?
Bees are fascinating. They grow up and live in darkness. They communicate only by smell, touch and movement. Yet, later in their life, when it is time to become a forager bee and go out into the world to find flowers and nectar they switch to a life by sight yet still come back and communicate what they have found to their sisters who live in a world of total darkness.