Whether you’re a professional beekeeper or simply a bee hobbyist, you may have wondered how bees make honeycomb. Honeycomb is the name for the waxy part of a beehive that the bees use to store nectar and honey. The honeycomb is made up of hundreds of tiny, hexagonal tubes built onto an existing hive frame or, in the wild, straight into the nest.
Bees use honeycomb to store honey and nectar so that they can have enough food to survive winter. They build the honeycomb specifically for this purpose. In order to build a honeycomb, bees must produce beeswax. They use a gland in their abdomen to produce beeswax and heat it and chew it in order to shape it into hexagonal tubes that all join together.
Bees use honeycomb for two main purposes: to store honey, and to keep their bee brood safe. To create honey, they fill the honeycomb with nectar and dry it out to evaporate the water from it. This is why honey is so much thicker than nectar. When they are using the honeycomb to raise their brood, the queen bee lays an egg in each cell of honeycomb, and the egg can then hatch and go through its various stages of development all within its brood cell, protected from the elements and from predators.
Humans use this beeswax and honeycomb for a variety of purposes, so you’ve probably heard of it before. People use honeycomb mainly to eat just as it is, which is interesting because you wouldn’t think of wax as something you can eat. But beeswax is, in fact, edible, and honeycomb can be a delicious treat to enjoy. Additionally, many apiaries, especially larger ones, extract the beeswax from the honeycomb, separating it from the honey. This allows it to be used for candles, cosmetic products, and more.
What is Honeycomb Made Of?
Honeycomb is made of wax that is produced in glands inside of the worker bees’ abdomens. Each worker bee has eight glands on its abdomen that produce the wax. The beeswax is made up of esters of fatty acids and long-chain alcohols. The younger the bee, and the less it has flown, the stronger these glands are and the better they are at creating wax. As the bees age and use their muscles more, the glands begin to decay and are not as effective at producing wax.
What is Beeswax Made Of?
Beeswax is made up of esters of fatty acids and long-chain alcohols. When it is first secreted by the bees, it is colorless and transparent, but becomes opaque as the bees chew it to mold it into honeycomb cells. Beeswax can often contain trace amounts of pollen oils and propolis, which can also discolor it and make it the typical light yellow color that we are familiar with.
How do Bees Make Beeswax?
Bees have glands in their abdomens that produce beeswax. Bees have to eat honey to produce beeswax. They need the sugar and other components in the honey for their bodies to be able to produce beeswax. They eat the honey and their bodies produce the wax, which they then chew up with a little more honey to make it moldable and soft. After they’ve chewed on it for a while, they are able to use it to create honeycombs.
What is Honeycomb Used For?
Both bees and humans use honeycomb for a variety of purposes. Bees use it to house their young and to store nectar and honey as food sources. They fill each cell within the honeycomb with either nectar or an egg laid by the queen bee. If the cell is filled with nectar, the bees move their bodies to heat and dry out the nectar so that it becomes honey, with some of the water evaporated out of it. If the cell houses an egg, the bees supply the egg with pollen and nectar as food, and it goes through its developmental stages within the honeycomb cell, called a brood cell.
Humans use honeycomb for a few purposes as well. One major way that humans use honeycomb is simply to eat it. Because beeswax is safe and edible for humans, it can be a very tasty snack to chew on a hunk of honeycomb, both wax and honey included.
Honeycomb is also used as a source of beeswax, which is used for many purposes, as we’ll cover below.
How is Beeswax Extracted from Honeycomb?
Beekeepers can extract wax from honeycomb to use it for other purposes. There are a few ways to do this, but the main one is by uncapping the capped honey and collecting the beeswax from this process. When bees store honey in a honeycomb, they cap each cell with more beeswax to preserve the honey. These caps can be easily sliced off with an uncapping tool, and they will fall off the honeycomb and can be collected.
Because beekeepers have to uncap the honeycomb anyways to collect the honey in most cases, this makes it very sensible to also collect the beeswax, as it is another commodity that can be sold and profited off of.
After they collect the tiny bits of beeswax resulting from uncapping the honeycomb, beekeepers usually heat up the beeswax and may even purify it to remove propolis and other contaminants. Once the beeswax is heated and is one soft mass, it can be molded into candles or beeswax bars and be sold.
What is Beeswax Used For?
Beeswax can be used for a number of things. It has excellent waterproofing capabilities, as well as lubricant capacities. It can be used as a polish for wood and leather, as a moisturizing agent in cosmetics, as a candle-making ingredient, and even as an ingredient in paint.
Beeswax is best known for its ability to be turned into candles. Because it burns easily, it makes an excellent fuel for candles. Beeswax has important religious significance as a candle material, being the chosen material for candles within the Roman Catholic Church as well as the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Beeswax is also often used as an ingredient in oil paints as well as a binder in encaustic paint, making it important for artwork around the world.
Beeswax is used during surgery to prevent excess bleeding from bones, in this case called surgical bone wax. This, obviously, is a very important use of beeswax.
Beeswax can also be used to polish shoes, furniture, and other wooden and leather items. As a natural lubricant and polish, it is a great alternative to more chemical-based polishes, which can be somewhat toxic if the fumes are inhaled.
Beeswax also has a history in Eastern Europe as a material for egg decoration on batik eggs, which is an important cultural significance.
There are many other uses of beeswax, but these are just a few of the most interesting!
Why Are Honeycombs Made of Hexagons?
Honeycombs are hexagonal because they are the most efficient geometric shape in terms of beeswax used. Because each side of the hexagon can serve as one side for a neighboring hexagon, it makes sense that the bees would build in hexagonal shapes in order to conserve beeswax.