Mind Your Beeswax
by Donald Ray Burger

At the bee booth at this year’s Rodeo, I got lots of questions about honeycomb. This was probably because the observation hive used a piece of natural comb provided by Jennifer Scott (the Bee Wrangler) from someone’s house. The more natural shape of the comb provoked many questions from both adults and children.

Beeswax is produced by young bees from eight glands arranged in pairs on ventral abdominal segments four through seven of adult bees that are between seven and fourteen days old. After about day seventeen, the wax glands are less efficient. Forging bees seldom produce wax.

A young bee secretes wax scales that are three millimeters long and one-tenth of one millimeter thick. The wax is colorless as it comes from the gland. The bee can use a hind leg to move the wax to her mouth, or another bee can aid in this process. The wax is then chewed and saliva is added to make it pliable. During this process, the wax turns white. Once the hexagonal cells are made, the wax can change colors due to the presence of pollen oil and propolis. Older wax is often quite dark.

It is commonly believed that it takes 8.4 pounds of honey to make one pound of wax. This number was determined in 1946 by Warren Whitcomb, Jr. According to an article in Gleanings in Bee Culture (and mentioned in The Hive and The Honey Bee), Whitcomb fed colonies honey when no honey flow was in progress. He then measured the amount of wax produced and determined that the mean average was 8.4 pounds of honey to produce one pound of wax.

The hexagonal shape of honeycomb is considered to be an engineering marvel because its six-sided shape is very strong and uses the least amount of material to achieve that strength. A pound of comb will support twenty-two pounds of honey.

Written March 14, 2012

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