Facts about the animal kingdom

Bee Nests - Types and Characteristics

Nick A. Romero
By Nick A. Romero, Biologist and environmental educator. Updated: January 30, 2024
Bee Nests - Types and Characteristics

A bee is one of the most fascinating creatures in nature. The nesting habits of bees are as diverse as nature's tapestry, each customized to its environment and lifestyle. Whether constructing underground sanctuaries or constructing intricate chambers within plant stems, bees' nesting behaviors reveal their resourcefulness and adaptability.

The following AnimalWised article explores the variety of bee nests and their different types.

  1. What is the difference between a bee hive and a bee nest?
  2. How do Honey bees choose their nesting site?
  3. Where do Honey bees choose to build their nests?
  4. Types of bee nests
  5. What to do if you see a bees nest?

What is the difference between a bee hive and a bee nest?

The terms "bee hive" and "bee nest" are often used interchangeably, but they can have slightly different meanings depending on the context.

A bee hive generally refers to a man-made structure or container that humans create to house and manage bee colonies, particularly those of honey-producing bees. Beehives are designed to provide a controlled environment for bees to live, store honey, and raise their young.

A bee nest, on the other hand, typically refers to a natural structure that bees construct to serve as their dwelling and breeding place. In this context, a bee nest could refer to a cavity in a tree, a crevice in a rock, or any other naturally occurring space where bees establish their colony.

It's worth noting that while the terms can have these distinct meanings, they are sometimes used interchangeably, leading to confusion. In practical discussions, especially related to beekeeping, "hive" is often used broadly to encompass both man-made and natural bee habitats.

How do Honey bees choose their nesting site?

Honey bees are highly selective when it comes to choosing their nesting sites. The process involves a combination of factors that contribute to the suitability, safety, and viability of the location. Here's an overview of how honey bees choose their nesting sites:

  • Honey bees seek out locations that provide ample space for their colony to grow and store honey.

  • The nesting site should also offer protection against the elements, predators, and environmental fluctuations. Cavities with limited entrances are preferred, as they can be more easily defended.

  • Proximity to nectar and pollen sources is crucial. Honey bees need easy access to flowers for foraging, as nectar and pollen are essential for their survival and honey production.

  • Honey bees might choose a nesting site based on the success of previous colonies in that area. If a location has proven to be suitable, other swarms may be attracted to it.

  • Good ventilation and airflow are essential for regulating temperature and humidity within the colony. Honey bees tend to avoid nesting sites that are poorly ventilated.

  • Honey bees often prefer nesting sites with a certain elevation and orientation. For instance, some species prefer cavities that face south, which allows the nest to receive more sunlight.

It is worth noting that honey bee swarms, particularly when looking to establish a new colony, send out scout bees to locate potential nesting sites. These scouts evaluate various options and report back to the swarm with information about the quality of each site.

The scouts then engage in a decision-making process known as "swarm-site selection," which involves a dance that conveys the location's merits to the swarm. Ultimately, the consensus reached among the bees guides their collective decision on the best nesting site.

For a closer look at how bees communicate, don't forget to check out this additional article.

Bee Nests - Types and Characteristics - How do Honey bees choose their nesting site?

Where do Honey bees choose to build their nests?

Honey bees are remarkably adaptable when it comes to selecting their nesting sites, taking into account their specific species and the surrounding environmental conditions. Here's a compilation of common places where honey bees might choose to establish their nests:

  • Tree cavities and rock crevices: hollowed-out spaces within trees are a favored nesting site for honey bees. These natural shelters provide insulation, protection, and space for their colony to thrive.

  • Building eaves: in urban areas, honey bees might establish their nests under the eaves of buildings or other structures. The overhang provides cover, and the warmth from the building aids colony development.

  • Man-made structures: honey bees demonstrate adaptability by occupying man-made structures such as utility boxes, abandoned vehicles, or machinery. These sites can mimic natural cavities.

  • Hive boxes: beekeepers often provide managed colonies with specially designed hive boxes. These boxes replicate the conditions of natural nesting sites and enable beekeepers to monitor and manage the colonies effectively.

  • Abandoned animal burrows: honey bees might inhabit vacant burrows created by other animals, such as rodents or birds. These ready-made shelters suit bees' needs for protection.

  • Old hives: in some cases, a new swarm may establish a colony near an old hive that has become overcrowded or compromised. They may reuse pre-existing comb and resources.

Finally, it is worth noting that during swarming, a large cluster of bees might form on a branch, fence, or other exposed surface. Scout bees actively search for a suitable nesting site, and once one is found, the entire swarm relocates.

For further insights into bees and their behavior, make sure to explore this other article on the dietary habits of honey bees.

Types of bee nests

All types of bees construct nests, which vary according to the materials used and the location where they are built. In this regard, we can classify bee nests as follows:

Ground nests

Certain bee species opt for the earth's embrace, excavating tunnels in the soil for their colonies. Examples include the alkali bee (Nomia melanderi), grey-backed mining bee (Andrena vaga), and hairy-footed flower bee (Dasypoda plumipes).


Ingenious bees bore into plant stems or soft wood to carve out their nests. Examples encompass carpenter bees (Xylocopa spp.), plasterer bees (Lithurgus spp.), and small carpenter bees (Ceratina spp.).


These bees repurpose existing hollows, whether in plant stems or wood, to create their abodes. Notable examples are leafcutter bees (Megachile spp.) and mason bees (Osmia spp.).

Subterranean nests

Unseen worlds are carved beneath the surface as subterranean bees construct intricate tunnels. These include solitary digger bees (Anthophora spp.) and communal sweat bees (Lasioglossum spp.).

Social bee nests

Social bee colonies find shelter in tree hollows, animal burrows, or man-made structures. Honey bees (Apis mellifera) establish hives, while bumblebees (Bombus spp.) create nests in diverse locations.

Carpenter bee nests

Carpenters craft their homes within wood, tunneling into structural components, eaves, or decks. Species like the eastern carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica) are known for this behavior.

Leafcutter bee nests

Leafcutter bees meticulously construct nests with leaf fragments, often in existing holes. The alfalfa leafcutter bee (Megachile rotundata) exemplifies this method.

Mason bee nests

Masons partition nesting chambers with mud or other materials, often utilizing holes in wood. The blue orchard mason bee (Osmia lignaria) is a prominent example.


Some bees take up residence in pre-made holes or artificial structures. Researchers and beekeepers study bees using these setups, attracting species like the red mason bee (Osmia bicornis).

Exposed nests

Bees construct nests openly, attaching them to structures using materials like mud or plant fibers. The resin bee (Megachile spp.) is known for using plant resins in its exposed nests.

Rock-crevice nests

Some bees nest within natural rock gaps or crevices. The masked bee (Hylaeus spp.) is one such species that takes advantage of rocky shelters.

Underground nests

Bees create complete nests beneath the surface, with the alkali bee (Nomia spp.) being an example of a ground-nesting species.

These varied nesting strategies highlight the remarkable diversity and adaptability of bees as they ingeniously shape their habitats across ecosystems. It's important to note that the classification of bee nests can be nuanced and might overlap in some cases, especially considering the wide range of bee species and their specific adaptations to their environments.

Bee Nests - Types and Characteristics - Types of bee nests

What to do if you see a bees nest?

Bees hold a crucial place in the delicate fabric of life, urging us to approach their nests with care. When you stumble upon a bee nest, consider the impact of your actions on the environment. If it's feasible, leaving the nest untouched is often the wisest course of action. When approaching, remember that bees are sensitive to human presence and can respond defensively.

If you spot an unoccupied nest, removal might be an option. For nests nestled in cavities, sealing them can prevent future occupation.

When dealing with nests teeming with activity, it's best to involve professionals. Contacting the fire department or wildlife management centers is a responsible step. Avoid trying to move the nest or using smoke or fire, as this can lead to aggressive behavior from the bees. The females' stings can be painful, making a cautious approach essential.

Our interactions with bees reflect our connection to the natural world. By respecting their habitats and behaviors, we can contribute to the intricate tapestry of life that encompasses us.

If you want to read similar articles to Bee Nests - Types and Characteristics, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

  • Bumblebee Conservation Trust. (2021). Bumblebee nests . Available at: https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/bumblebee-nests/
  • Agricultural Biodiversity Observatory. (2021). Nests for solitary bees . Available at: https://oba.fundacionglobalnature.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Guia_A2-Abejas-solitarias.pdf
  • Paleontological Research Institution. (2022). Bee nesting . Available at: https://www.museumoftheearth.org/bees/nesting
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Bee Nests - Types and Characteristics