As one of only a handful of observation hives in the UK, the Museum’s glass-sided beehive allows a unique glimpse into the daily life of a working colony of European Honey bees (Apis mellifera). Honey bees are one of the few truly social insects and a colony consists of a queen, hundreds of female workers and a small number of male drone bees. The queen is the only bee in the hive able to reproduce by laying eggs, and she can be seen doing this regularly during the summer months.
The queen bee is around one and a half times larger than the worker bees and she has been marked with pigment on her thorax, making her easier for you to spot. Male drones are also quite large and can be distinguished from the queen because their eyes meet in the middle. Males are generally lethargic and only become active when virgin queens emerge from the hive for their nuptial flight. The worker bees, however, are constantly active. Workers clean the hive, tend to the queen, raise the young bees, collect pollen and nectar (watch for the famous ‘Waggle Dance’), defend the hive, remove the dead, fan air through the hive with their wings, produce honey, and generally take care of all the other little jobs that help keep the colony thriving.
If you look closely at the individual cells in the hive you will see the newly laid eggs, larvae at different stages of development, capped cells which contain pupating bees, and food storage cells containing the hive’s stockpiled supply of honey and pollen. Occasionally, you may also see larger more bulbous cells – these may contain drones or a new queen.