Honey bee colonies can contain from ten to fifty thousand bees and sometimes more. Bumblebee colonies are much smaller, containing from about two hundred to four hundred bees. The population of a honey bee colony varies with the yearly cycle within the hive, so that it has the highest densities of adults, pupae, and larvae when nectar-bearing flowers are most available. The queen lays eggs whenever there is a net gain of food resources for the colony, and her egg production rate drops substantially as temperatures grow cooler and the day length shortens in the fall and new supplies of nectar become increasingly scarce.
During the deepest cold of the winter, there is no brood rearing at all; but the colony begins to produce brood again in the very early spring, although there are no flowers blooming. Stored pollen is the primary source of protein during this early period, and the population increases so that there is a well-developed forager force in place for the flood of nectar when the spring flowers finally begin to blossom.
In their natural state, European honey bees nest in cavities like holes in trees and crevices within cliffs. Beekeepers tend managed colonies in wooden boxes, called hives, that have removable frames of beeswax. When a swarm of bees moves into a new nesting space, their first task is to build out the sheets of wax combs that they use as a nesting substrate. As a part of the preparation for swarming, the bees will have consumed large quantities of nectar or honey, which primes their wax-producing glands.
These bits of wax are called wax scales. They are chewed and sculpted into the familiar honeycomb pattern. As these workers continue to build, others begin to forage from the new nesting location in order to ensure that no bees, especially the wax-makers, go hungry while the new pantry is being built. Still other bees set up as guards to protect the new nest.
The queen will generally walk around the comb, inspecting the cells for size and cleanliness before laying an individual egg in the bottom of each cell. Simultaneously, the workers will begin to fill nearby cells with pollen mixed with nectar (bee bread) in preparation for feeding the larvae that will soon emerge from the newly laid eggs. They deposit nectar around the periphery of the brood area, maintaining the brood in a central location close to the nest entrance as the colony grows, while the nectar is stored up and away from the entrance.
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