Facts from Inside the Hive

Honey bees do not have any control over their external environment. What they can control, though, is what goes on inside of their hive. Bees are natural builders, and they use materials gathered from nature or produced from their bodies to improve their homes. On this page, we will examine how bees carve out a habitable place within their environment and how that is reflected on your player board in Bee Lives.

Several map tiles from Bee Lives from each season laid out with different hives positioned on them
A map of the landscape in a game of Bee Lives with a variety of pants that bloom by season

Finding a Home

In Bee Lives, you begin the game as young hive that has just survived its first winter. This hive was founded, like all others, as part of the swarming process bees use to reproduce. When a hive’s population begins to balloon beyond what a hive can physically support the worker bees begin to build a series of queen cells near the bottom edge of the comb. Also known as swarm cells, the queen bee lays a fertilized egg in each queen cell and the workers proceed to feed the soon to hatch larva large amounts of royal jelly. Produced from glands in the heads of workers, royal jelly is fed to all developing bees. The amount fed to future queen bees, however, alters the larva’s development path so it can become the reproductive member of the hive. The larva within a queen cell continue to develop as other bees do, though they emerge from their cells by day 17, faster than both workers (21 days) and drones (24 days).

When it comes close to time for the queen cells to hatch the bees begin to prepare to swarm. The workers feed the queen less, and she stops laying eggs, so she can lose enough weight to be able to fly to a new home. Once the queen is able to fly, half of the worker bees gorge themselves on honey and then leave with the old queen to a nearby location. From this staging ground, which may be on a tree branch, side of a house, or sometimes even on a car, the bees will send out scouts to find suitable locations to found a new hive. To do this, the scout bees will fly out and evaluate places based on their entrance size, volume of space to build comb, whether or not a hive was there previously, and perhaps other factors. When scouts find a spot they are happy with, they return to the swarm and attempt to convince their fellow workers this new place is good enough to be their new home. If you wish to learn more about this process, it is detailed in Thomas Seeley’s accessibly written book, Honeybee Democracy.

An image of the player board from Bee Lives with labels of the different sections
Learn how the inside of your hive is organized on this player board

Building the Hive

Once the location of the new hive is decided upon the bees move in and get to work. The workers use the energy from the honey they consumed at their previous home to start drawing out comb. Though the amount of honey needed to create wax has not been closely studied in recent times, it is commonly stated, based on a 1946 study by a Dr. Whitcomb, that 8 pounds of honey are needed to metabolize into 1 pound of wax. This wax is produced as scales from glands on the underside of a bee’s abdomen. Other bees take these scales and chew them to make them more malleable, and then shape them into the familiar hexes on honey comb.

Aside from creating spaces to store honey, pollen, and brood, the bees also get to work at protecting their hive. Bees like to use as much space as they can, so if a space is larger than needed for a bee to freely move within it they will either build comb or, if not large enough for comb, fill it with wax. This also goes for any entrances of the hive, which bees will reduce to a size easier to protect when necessary. Bees also create a substance called propolis, which is made from plant resins, bee saliva, and wax. Bees use this material as a type of caulk, and seal any small gaps or imperfections in the walls of their hive with it. Propolis also provides the hive with some disease protection thanks to its anti-microbial properties.

The action bar section of the player board in Bee Lives
All of the different types of bee labor represented in Bee Lives

Work in the Hive

With the hive in order and things under construction the worker bees get to task at the other duties needed around the hive. What job a bee conducts is largely based on the age of the bee. Though some tasks, such as foraging, are typically reserved for older workers, bees can and will do tasks they are typically too young or old to perform based on the needs of the hive.

The first job a new worker bee has is to help keep the hive clean. Once she emerges, a new bee cleans out the cell she just inhabited so it can be reused by the hive. These young bees also help keep the hive clean by removing dead or diseased larva, taking debris out of the hive, serving as undertakers to remove dead bees from the hive, and encasing large objects that don’t belong in the hive, such as mice who may enter the hive for warmth and food, in propolis. Once these bees graduate from cleaning detail, they move on to the direct care of others within the hive as nurse bees. This includes feeding the larva “bee bread,” a mixture of pollen and honey, along with royal jelly. These nurse bees also care for the drones, male bees, and serve on the “queen’s court.” Queen bees are so busy laying eggs they cannot otherwise take care of themselves. The hive, instead, takes care of her by surrounding her with a ring of worker bees that follow her around, groom her, feed her, and remove her waste from the hive.

Once the workers have taken care of other bees for a while they move on to duties more oriented around the hive itself. One of these functions is fanning the hive, which can cool it off in hot weather and prevent brood from overheating and dying, as well as helping the water in nectar to evaporate more quickly which turns it into honey and helps prevent it from fermenting. Bees at this stage also take care of moving nectar, honey, and water from one cell to another when things need to be rearranged, and take care of building and maintaining wax.

The final jobs of a worker bee have them interacting with the outside world. As bees get closer to the end of their life, which is only around 6 weeks in the working months, they move on to more dangerous tasks. One of these tasks is defending the hive as guards. These guards challenge bees as they try to enter the hive, checking to see if their pheromones are recognizable and if these workers belong at the hive or not. The guard bees also protect against predators, such as hornets and wasps, and other hive invaders. Foraging, the most dangerous job of all for a worker bee, is the last one they will hold. Foraging bees will scout out locations flush with nectar, and harvest pollen and nectar to bring back to the hive. The title of the game We Will Only Know Summer, is intended to honor the short life of these bees that live during the hot, resource poor, work rich, months of the year that is all they will know.

Matt Shoemaker pouring a package of bees into the brood box of a hive body
Game designer, Matt Shoemaker, installing his first package of bees into a Langstroth Hive in 2011

The Hive in a Game of Bee Lives

In Bee Lives you take on the role of the hive to decide what is best for your colony’s survival. In your new hive, you start with 10 frames of comb, which is the same amount of comb in the standard brood box of a Langstroth Hive, and with 3 worker bee meeples. Each meeple represents 3,000 to 4,000 worker bees, the same amount as in 1 pound of bees. When beekeepers start a new hive with an artificial swarm, commonly referred to as a package of bees, it contains 3 pounds of bees. These standard measurements used by American bee keepers to start new hives is a good place to start your fledgling hives within the game.

You must decide how best to utilize your worker bees. All of the different types of labor performed by worker bees is represented on your player board. The actions you need to decide on is what tasks are most important for your hives survival, and in turn the victory points you earn, based on the information at hand about your environment. Swarming, for instance, is most beneficial for the bees early in the year. This is not only because resources are more plentiful during this first flow, but because it allows the new hive created from the swarm the most amount of time to prepare for and survive the upcoming winter. Bees always need to plan for the future in an ever changing ecosystem. What works well in spring can often spell disaster in the summer or fall. It is your task to determine how best to adapt your hive’s behavior in order to successfully position yourself to survive the many seasons to come.

…Bee Facts Behind Bee Lives ~~~ Facts about Queens and Disease…