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Wisdom Within the Hive

When I decided to become a beekeeper, I knew two things about bees: they make honey and sting.  I recognized there would be a lot to learn, but I did not expect that every time I went to our apiary (where bees reside), I would learn two things about the bees: they awe me and teach me.

Although I am only in my third year of this humbling partnership, the more I learn, the more fascinated I am about how they cooperate and collaborate. Here are a few of my observations:

Honeybees have specific roles based on their development. Many tasks within the hive require the use of specific glands. As the glands develop, the bee performs the duties corresponding to that gland’s function, such as feeding, building comb, and processing honey. While there is a logical and progressive order to a bee’s growth, in situations where it’s needed, bees will “revert back” and redevelop glands to keep the colony alive.

Bees know how to optimize resources. Each cell is a hexagon, the shape that best fills an area with no wasted space. Not only is its design optimal, but every cell is continually repurposed; it holds brood (the three stages of development: egg, larva, and pupa), stores nectar, and keeps pollen, as is the pantry for the honey.

Another resource they are adept at optimizing is the hive’s climate. In winter, regardless of the ambient temperature, the cluster (bees grouped inside the hive) will keep the hive at 70 degrees with all those little bees “shivering” together to produce heat. (Scientifically referred to as thermogenesis or shivering conversion of ATP into kinetic energy.) The same goes for summer. Regardless of the ambient temperature, the bees will keep the hive around 90 degrees by flapping their wings to evaporate water and cool it to maintain the optimal temperature for rearing new bees.

Honeybees are precise communicators through pheromones, taste, and sound – and in a surprising behavior that earned the researcher a Nobel Prize, referred to as dancing. One dance, a figure-8 pattern with a straight line emphasized by the bee moving its abdomen from side to side, was named the “Waggle Dance.” Dr. Karl van Frisch explains that four things are communicated to other bees in the Waggle Dance – the quality, quantity, direction, and distance of a food source. More specifically, the degree of the waggle conveys the direction in relation to the sun’s position, while the dance’s length provides the distance details. When I said they were precise communicators, I did mean it.

Another way honeybees are precise is in their honey production. Bees bring nectar into the hives. The bees add enzymes to the nectar to produce honey, converting the sucrose to glucose and fructose. Nectar contains about 50% water, and honey is precisely 15.5 – 18.5% water; any more than that will spoil. To eliminate water, the worker bees fan their wings in unison to bring dry air into the hive until the precise water content is achieved. At this point, they have created honey, which they seal with a layer of wax. Archaeologists have found thousands of years-old honey pots in ancient Egyptian tombs that were still edible, earning honey the reputation of never spoiling.

I have learned much more from the bees about creating a safe environment, caring for those in need, respectfully tending to their dead, maintaining a clean hive, and ensuring the colony’s survival. Although I have learned so much, I regularly get overwhelmed by how much there is still to learn. In those moments, I remind myself to rely on the bees as they have succeeded for thousands of years by collaborating, communicating, and cooperating.


Beekeeping – Frequently Asked Questions:

Have you been stung?
Yes, there are too many to count. Accidents happen a lot when you’re working with bees.

Why do you smoke the hives?
We’re told the smoke masks the pheromones in the hive so they cannot communicate a threat. It also triggers a feeding response, so the bees are busy eating honey to fill their “honey crop.”

Does every hive have a Queen bee?
Ideally, yes. There are times when you may not have a Queen (she left, died, or was killed), but a good beekeeper can tell when this has occurred and will replace her (buy a Queen bee) or manipulate the colony, which encourages them to create an “Emergency Queen.”

Do bees die when they sting you?
Typically, yes. A bee’s stinger is barbed. When she stings you, she cannot remove the stinger, so when she flies off, it ruptures her abdomen. This is why bees do not generally sting unless threatened, unlike wasps who can sting multiple times and will do so unthreatened.

Is it true that male bees don’t work in the hive?
Yes. The sole purpose of the Drone (the male bees) is to mate with virgin queen bees, so they are a crucial part of the colony’s survival. If they successfully mate with a queen, the process kills the Drone bee, so they don’t have it so easy. Also, as winter approaches, the colony cannot afford to feed the Drones, so “the girls” kick them out of the hive to starve to death. They’ll develop more Drone bees in the spring as mating season approaches.


My beekeeping journey has revealed honeybees’ astonishing capabilities. As I continue, I’m reminded of the profound wisdom within the hive, which is guiding me toward a deeper understanding of nature’s wonders.


Author – Jennifer Wilmoth, InteraWorks Relationship Lead + Facilitator


About InteraWorks

InteraWorks is a global learning company on a mission to elevate the human experience at work. Specializing in professional development and performance enablement, we offer top-rated learning programs based on four defined conditions that must exist for individuals and teams, including Effective Edge, Best Year Yet, and the Essentials series. Our integrated learning framework and online tools generate immediate and sustainable breakthroughs in performance. Through decades of working at all levels in enterprise companies across many industries, we’ve built a reputation for helping people and organizations harness their focus, mindset, talent, and energy to produce results that matter most. 


We’ve defined four conditions that must exist for an individual, team or organization to be effective within the arena of performance and development; Accountability, Focus, Alignment, and Integrity. We’ll continue to explore these and more in our blog and look forward to your engagement and interaction with us. Stay tuned as we engage the edges.