Unless you are an entomologist or a beekeeper, you probably have never considered the weight of bees or asked yourself the question ‘how much does a bee weigh?’ Perhaps unsurprisingly, bees vary in weight, dependent upon their species and their roles within their hives.
Gender matters here, too, but perhaps not quite the way you might expect. While not the norm for most other species in the animal kingdom, when it comes to honeybees, the females are larger than their male counterparts; with the average honeybee weighing around 0.11 grams.
Big Bees to Small Bees
If you are interested in the weight and size of the largest bee species, only a few years ago you would have named a species believed to be extinct.
However, just recently, scientists discovered that the world’s largest bees, Megachile plutos, were not completely extinct. They are scarce but once again thriving in their native Indonesia. Females can grow as large as a man’s thumb and have a wingspan of 2.5 inches. Males are noticeably smaller.
Alternatively, the world’s smallest bees are a tiny subtribe called Meliponina that belongs to the Apidae family. They are most commonly found in Japan and Germany.
The interesting thing about these bees is that they are stingless even though they are similar to bumblebees and honeybees (which inflict painful stings).
The tiny bees still have vestigial stingers remaining from a prior evolutionary pivot, but their stingers are useless as defense mechanisms. No worries, though. The bees mitigate that deficiency by inflicting painful bites on predators.
Weight Ranges in Bees
Besides the above-referenced outliers, your average honeybee weighs about .11 grams. Admittedly, that isn’t very much, as it would take a swarm of 60K bees to weigh just 15 lbs. Yet, all bees are not equal in weight even after the differences in gender are accounted for.
The weight of bees corresponds with the chores they perform — except, of course, for the queen. Her Highness’s weight can range from .18 to .2 grams. Sturdy drones can also weigh in at approximately .2 grams, or the same weight as a larger queen.
They fulfil an important role in the hive because it is these male drones the queen mates with to fertilize her eggs for the next lifecycle of bees.
Worker bees are the hive’s rank and file and wear many figurative hats in their short lifetimes. They are leaner, often maxing out at about .11 grams.
It is up to them to make trips back and forth from the hive all day gathering sweet nectar from the flowers. Meanwhile, back at the hive, more worker bees are busy assembling cones and taking care of their queen’s every need.
Bees as Bodybuilders?
Bees are built for strength and not for speed. Your average bee can lift 53 percent of the weight of its own body. But some of the sturdiest bees in the hive can lift and carry their own full weight in foraged goods and hive supplies.
Why Is the Weight of Bees Relevant?
It all comes down to the essential function of bees — pollination and honey production. Bees need to be sturdy enough to get both jobs done within their short lifespans.
Considering that one bee only generates about a single tablespoon of honey before they die, beekeepers need to know how many bees they need to harvest sufficient honey to meet their customers’ needs and still make a profit.
As it turns out, you can get about 9.5 ounces of honey from the combined efforts of 663 bees. Beekeepers with large bee populations in the 60K range might be able to harvest a little more than 42 quarts of honey per season.
The Weight of the Hive
Diligent beekeepers constantly monitor the state of the colony and the health of its members. Beekeepers who work primarily with natural hives limit their weight to around 35 pounds, although some natural hives in the wild may weigh over 100 pounds.
Artificial hives are more substantial, ranging from a smallish 80-pound hive to massive hives weighing in at 350 pounds. Of course, the size of the bee colony is dependent on a few different components.
First and foremost, there must be a sufficient and accessible uncontaminated food source to assure the purity of the honey.
Most beekeepers strive to keep their bee populations hovering around 60,000 bees. But keeping in mind that the total population waxes and wanes over the course of a honey season, beekeepers could wind up tending hives with as many as 80,000 bees during peak production times.
How’s Your Hive?
Regularly measuring the hive and tracking its weight changes alerts beekeepers to any unusual population fluctuations in their bee colonies. Because bees go dormant when the weather turns cold, your beehive should be reliably lighter in late fall and winter.
Just make sure there is enough leftover honey to keep the bees alive. They are not completely in hibernation, but quite sluggish during the winter months.
Spring is the season of rebuilding for the colony, so the hive will continue to be lighter than normal. Finally, your patience begins to pay off as you notice the weight of the colony climbing once the weather gets balmy. Honey production begins when summer commences. This is a busy time of the year, so charting weight fluctuations is helpful when establishing benchmarks and seasonal norms.
Once you notice the weight begins to drop back off, that’s your sign the bees have already swarmed. It’s honey time once again! Now, the hive swells with the product. During peak honey production periods, beekeepers can see up to 30-pound surges in hive weight in a single day.
How to Weigh a Beehive
The smaller your hive, the easier it is to weigh it. Smallish hives can be weighed in halves by sliding a regular scale underneath the halves, then adding the sum of both for the total. You can also hoist the hive gently using straps to lift it onto a scale.
Some beekeepers use counterweights and a mathematical formula to determine how much weight is necessary to lift the hive. There is no right or wrong method of weighing your hive. Use what works best for you and will not damage your beehive.