Beeswax has a soothing scent and is known for being a safe material for many different uses. But how do bees make wax?
This article will explain how beeswax is made, why they make it, and more that will help you fully appreciate the magic of making beeswax. If you’re interested in getting some beeswax for yourself, you can do so on Amazon.
Why Bees Make Wax
Wax made by bees, commonly known as beeswax, is the foundation of their hive structure.
Bees use the wax to build hexagonal cells to keep brood, nectar, and pollen. A sheet of these wax cells is known as a comb. This structure is very efficient in terms of space and ensures everything is the perfect size for the colony. It’s also a very strong and stable shape that is capable of withstanding all the activity that goes on in a hive.
There will be parallel sheets of comb within a hive, and the resources inside will be carefully organized for maximum efficiency.
Everything happens in the comb. Eggs develop through every life stage inside the wax; honey is also made in wax. Wax is easy for the bees to keep clean for the overall health of the hive, making it an important part of their hygiene.
What Kind of Bees Make Wax?
Honey bees are the species of bee that create wax and are specially adapted to make beeswax.
Other bees can’t do this because of how they build their nests, although they do produce other things.
Honey bees don’t use wood, plant material, or dirt to build their hives. Instead, they need to find a suitable place to attach their wax securely, such as in an enclosed space or tree branch.
Which Bees Make Wax?
An important aspect of learning how bees make wax is knowing who does what. Only the female worker bees make wax in a honey bee colony.
Neither the queen nor drones are capable of nor responsible for making wax. Older foraging workers will eventually stop making wax, so this job is delegated to workers still spending their time in the hive.
Eventually, a worker bee’s wax glands will atrophy, and she will no longer be able to make beeswax.
How Do Bees Make Wax
Honey bees actually make beeswax inside their bodies.
It starts as honey that the bees digest. Workers will huddle together and raise the temperature in the hive, converting the sugar in the honey into wax as it is metabolized.
The new beeswax is then secreted from glands on the underside of their abdomen in small flakes. Worker bees each have eight of these glands that push out scales of wax. Each beeswax scale is exceptionally small, only measuring about 3 mm by 0.1 mm.
At first, a new flake of beeswax is colorless and completely transparent. The opaque yellow or golden color eventually comes from chewing and repeated manipulation. Contaminants from pollen oils and propolis will also darken the wax over time.
The workers then mold and arrange these flakes into comb, chewing them to achieve the right consistency. The temperature also makes a difference, as the wax is more pliable when it’s warm.
Since it takes so much work to make wax, it’s important that new colonies have access to lots of nectar and pollen. Many beekeepers will feed their bees sugar water to make it easier on them and help stimulate them to build comb while they’re getting established in a new hive.
Sometimes, bees will build a comb where it doesn’t belong. This can be anywhere they have some extra space, known as a burr comb. Burr comb is considered a waste of the bees’ time and energy.
It can also be problematic if the bees use the burr comb for brood or resource storage. It isn’t in a secure and safe location and often gets easily damaged during inspections.
The best practice for finding burr comb is to scrape it off as early as possible and ensure everything in the hive is properly spaced. Don’t worry; you can collect burr comb over time to be rendered into solid beeswax without destroying the comb on frames.
How Long Does it Take to Make Beeswax?
In ideal conditions, it takes a single healthy worker about 12 hours to produce 8 wax flakes. In the hive, one gram of comb is made up of around 1,000 scales of wax. It isn’t exactly known how much honey a bee must consume to make wax.
Clearly, building a comb takes a lot of work! For bees to build this comb, they need a lot of time and energy. A lot of beekeepers consider this wax precious and will avoid destroying it if possible.
Wax can last a long time in the hive but will eventually need to be replaced. Many beekeepers will swap out frames where the wax has gotten very dark brown, which can sometimes take several years or more.
What Else Do Honey Bees Make?
Aside from making beeswax, honey bees also make several other products.
Honey is obviously the main one that we all know and love. Pollen can also be harvested from beehives as the bees bring it in from foraging.
Honey bees make propolis, a sticky substance made from tree sap that they use to seal up small spaces. This offers protection from potential intruders and also makes temperature regulation much easier.
Royal jelly, used to raise a new queen, is also a coveted product honey bees make.
Any of these items are readily available to buy, but you gain a new appreciation for them once you understand how hard the bees have to work. Honey, bee pollen, propolis, and royal jelly are all highly sought after for their health benefits.
Beeswax: A Labor of Love
The process of making beeswax is truly remarkable, and it makes everything that a hive needs to function possible.
How bees make wax is such an incredible process, and if you’re able to harvest wax from your bees, you know how special it is.
Beeswax is just the beginning. Read about all the other amazing things honey bees can do!