Hive or colony: What is the difference?
Hive or colony? It’s simple. A hive is a house, a place where bees live. It is a structure, usually man-made, that a colony calls home. The colony is the family unit consisting of a queen, workers, and—for a few months of the year—drones. In other words, a colony lives in a hive.
Unfortunately, people frequently use the word “hive” when what they mean is “colony,” although they seldom switch them the other way around. For experienced beekeepers who know what they—and other beekeepers—are talking about, there is little confusion. But the words can be perplexing for a newbee.
I am probably one of the worst offenders. After I write a post, I always have to go back and find the word “hive” and see if that is what I really meant. More than half the time, I change it to colony. My goal in writing is to lessen confusion—not increase it—and these two words confound me no end. And even with all the checking I do, incorrect usage slips through.
Most of the time, it doesn’t make much difference. If a beekeeper says he has six hives, he usually means he has six colonies and he is not counting the additional 27 empty hives in his barn. Usually. Recently I talked to a beekeeper who told me she had five hives. A minute or so later, when I asked if she had them ready for winter, she said, “Oh, I don’t have any bees right now.” Okay, I have to admit I was completely floored even though I should know better.
Of course, we’ve all heard folks say their hive has swarmed—something I’m hoping to see in my lifetime. I imagine it looks a little like Dorothy’s house in The Wizard of Oz, circling round and round in a funnel-shaped cloud and landing all of a piece on the Wicked Witch of the East—although I would settle for it flattening some of my neighbors.
Apparently, hives also die, abscond, starve, and become aggressive—all interesting images, if not very accurate. On the other hand, you can actually split a hive which may also split the colony. You can move a hive which also moves the colony. A hurricane, bear, or vandal can destroy a hive which may also destroy the colony. So sometimes the words really are interchangeable and that is where the confusion begins. Sometimes I can’t figure out which of the two words is best in a particular sentence.
I think it is important to understand the difference between the two, even if we don’t always use them correctly. Then, when a newbee gives you that cross-eyed look, you know how to correct what you said so that even he can understand.