honey bee behavior

A free-hanging honey bee nest in Minnesota

Free-hanging honey bee hive in Minnesota

This large, free-hanging honey bee nest was discovered by Greg Munson of Rochester, Minnesota. Greg found the nest in February, tucked in the Wiscoy Valley between Rushford and Houston. “It is beautiful bluff country with bald eagles in abundance, as well as occasional rarer golden eagles, along with lots of other wildlife and varied habitat,” he said.

Greg, a nature columnist with the Rochester Post Bulletin, asked the landowner for permission to take down the nest for display at the local nature center. Now, with permission granted, Greg has a major project ahead. It will be difficult to move it, so let’s wish him the best.

Free-hanging honey bee nest in Minnesota

This free-hanging honey bee nest will soon be headed for display at a nature center. © Greg Munson.






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  • I did not know that honey bees would build a nest out in the open like this. I thought that they were strictly cavity nesters. How about that?

  • I have seen this before in Reno Nevada. The nest was located over 30 feet high on a government building roof overhang.

  • I can understand the desire to share with others. But why take a chance on destroying a rare and thriving hive. At the very least the colony will be disturbed. Take pictures, set up a video feed back to the nature center but leave the bees alone.


    • David,

      That looks like a thriving colony to you? To be thriving, it would need live bees. I’m afraid your video feed would be kinda boring.

    • Jody,

      No. An open-air colony like that could never make it through a Minnesota winter.

  • Such perfect construction in open air makes it even more impressive. The bees do not really need prepared enclosures of frames with patterned comb. l wonder of they might prefer supers added at the bottom of the hive when needed. That seems to be where they construct additional comb when needed.

    • June,

      My thoughts exactly. In nature, they build from the top down. Top supering is a human idea.

  • Have you ever tried bottom supering? If so how did it work out? I can see that it would cause more time and labor but I was just curious. Thanks!

    • Benjie,

      Yes, I have tried it, and Warre beekeepers are known for it. It works fine, but like you said, lots of work.

  • June, Warré hives add boxes to the bottom of the hive to allow the bees to grow down as they do in feral colonies. It’s called “nadiring” as opposed to “supering” which is short for “superimposing.” I’ve been building and using for 9 years and love them. You might want to look into them and try one.

    • I love it when people get the words right! Thanks, Katherine. I’m afraid to use the word “nadiring” as it causes blank stares, although I’ve tried to explain it a couple of times: Super vs Nadir. Come to think of it, “bottom supering” is a perfect oxymoron.

  • Fabulous picture! What it’s good for (besides just being cool!) is to show the form of a brood nest within a hive. This time of year, new beekeepers have been told to get ready to reverse. They need to be sure the bottom box is empty before they do.

    As an extreme novice, I asked a more advanced beginner why the half-circle pattern on a frame of brood? He couldn’t tell me. Luckily, in February of my second year, I ran into one of the older guys. When I asked about reversing, he explained to be sure NOT to split the brood nest. It was the first time I had heard the phrase or pictured it as a compact, heat-conserving sphere.

    Like top-supering, as you mention, the rectangular-prism hive is a concession to human (in this case woodworking) technology. Just another reminder to distinguish considerations like convenience, time-saving from what bees themselves know to do.

    BTW the water maple here bloomed during a warm spell! Good timing for once.

    Shady Grove Farm
    Corinth, Kentucky

    • Well said, Nancy, and an excellent reminder that reversing brood boxes is a bad idea if it means splitting the nest.

  • Benjie,

    If one uses fully drawn comb at bottom supering, it works fine, used at the right time and purpose.
    Otherwise, the bees tend to draw drone comb at the bottom.

  • Rusty,

    I am new to beekeeping, actually so new I don’t have the bees yet! But I have been learning as much as I can, taking classes and joined a local bee club. Can you tell me or point me to any explanations about bottom supering? I know it seems kind of obvious, adding a new super to the bottom instead of the top, but how is it more work (other than lifting the heavy box to put a new one under)? What else is involved? How does it compare to adding one to the top? Forgive my ignorance!

    • Donna,

      You will understand better once you begin lifting boxes. A standard deep hive body can easily weigh 90 pounds. If you have a double deep hive with three or four supers to move that is an immense about of labor. Plus, every time you move and replace boxes you will kill some bees and you could possibly kill the queen. Plus, if you spill some honey, which inevitably happens, you could cause robbing. Adding a super on top is a piece of cake; all you do is remove the lid. Warre hives are smaller and easier to handle, so if you want to bottom super, I suggest using Warre equipment.

    • What do you think about the frame that has about an inch of foundation across the top so that the bees build the rest of comb as it is shown in the photo? My cousin, a long time bee keeper, really likes this idea and has set up all his hives like this. I am considering trying it this year. Any thoughts?

      • Sharon,

        I use starter strips in all my frames, both brood frames and honey frames. I like strips because they contain fewer chemicals than using a whole sheet of foundation, and the bees build the size of cell they like. The downside is that you will get a higher proportion of drones to workers. This may not be a problem depending on what your goals are. Lots of drones are great if you are trying to breed bees, and not so great if you’re trying to maximize honey production.

  • Why is it not uncommon to read ‘hive’ when reading about a swarm, colony or nest of honey bees e.g. ‘destroying a rare and thriving hive’ above. A hive is a container for bees!

    • Brian,

      OMG, I do not know. It drives me insane. It keeps me awake at night. It makes me see movement in the shadows. You are absolutely, positively, beyond-a-shadow-of-doubt correct: A hive is a container for bees, usually man made and always inanimate. Honey bees do not build containers for themselves, nor do said containers swarm, abscond, die, become ill, or thrive. They are containers, for heaven’s sake. They don’t do anything.

      That said, I hear and read the misuse so often that it creeps into my writing. I scour each post and comment looking for the word and usually find it. Although, as in this example, I feel I can’t change quoted material.

      In comments, people are always describing all the miraculous things their “hives” do. I try to answer with the correct word, but I find myself falling into the trap sometimes.

      The second worse usage is “super,” but don’t get me started.

  • I have read with interest both of your comments about hives. I believe the best hive easy to maintain and easy to split as all the boxes are the same size. If I have awakened your interest, check out on you tube the ‘ROSE HIVE METHOD’ developed by Tim Rowe.

    For my self I am converting my hives this summer I am using my 3/4 depth Langstroth hive boxes, saves money and uses stock that I have.

    The hives become very strong and able maintain the health of their hive with ease, as large number of bees per hive is always better than a weak low number of bee in a hive.

  • OK. So here is a similar story with a different ending and questions.

    Location: Orange County, California, inland about 10 miles. Urban area, lots of flowers at any given time.
    Last August we were contacted about a “hive in a bush”, which we interpreted as a swarm. When we got there it was a thriving colony with 5 full sheets of comb and several partial sheets. The brood was easily visible, and these bees were unconcerned with us. (We have Africanized bees around here, so a feral swarm with a temperament like this is a delight.) They had to be moved because their flight path was across a driveway.

    We ended up cutting the bush around it and placed the colony (with bush) into a double deep. They’re a thriving, very robust colony. They’ve almost filled up the box with very interesting comb structures and we would like to expand their brood and encourage them into a more regular box form. From the comments above, I would be inclined to add a box below the big box. (And add handles to the current fused double-deep to allow 2 people to handle it.)

    My husband and I have another point of contention: Should we break up the colony and put them into regular Langstroth frames or allow them to keep house in the bush? I’m having to treat rather blindly for pests (mostly mites) and am only able to view small areas for other pests (moths, SHB). (Blindly as I treated the general brood area with Apivar, aiming as best I could.) We also will not be able to locate the queen to replace her. Any home-grown queen will mate with the local Africanized drones and I’ll have an issue with the offspring and our neighbors. What would you recommend?

    I have pictures…

    • Marian,

      Oh, please do send pictures! You can send them attached to an email or else email a dropbox link to me.

      I don’t really have advice on this one. Sounds like a domestic dispute! That said, there have been times when I’ve done virtually the same thing: tried to put an odd-shaped nest in a Langstroth because it was just too beautiful to destroy. And the truth is, it never worked out well in the long run. Moveable frame hives are required by law for a reason, and they really make things a lot easier to see and understand. If it were me, I would cut the bush until you were able to separate the combs, and then tie the combs into frames. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but I think you would be better off. Just my opinion . . .

  • The comments generated by this wild bee colony (See? I learned and did not call it a hive!) are really interesting and I have learned a whole lot from everyone’s observations. Let me throw another iron into the fire. We have been discussing the direction bees naturally build (down) and they are building up bc of human convenience. If under normal circumstances bees building comb that looks like the original photo, and the frames and Langstroth “mimic” that tendency, what do you think about the concept of a long hive?

    • Sharon,

      Excellent vocabulary! I think long hives are fine. Honey bees will build to fit the space and will build the equivalent of a “long hive” in the eaves of a building, if that’s what works for them. To me, bee health is much more important that the shape of the structure.

  • Don’t add to responses.
    My opinion and yours are the same.
    I’ll send pictures next week as I’m in Maryland to see a very ill bro-in-law.

  • Use honey robber to drive them up out of the tangle of comb now glued into the bottom two deeps into a deep with drawn comb. Don’t lose your queen that way. You must separate the bottom with piano wire or a wire saw. Wait a week and repeat.