A beehive is a home for bees and can be made by a colony of bees (when it is typically called a nest) or provided by a beekeeper (when it is a man-made structure). Within the hive will be honeycomb, which is made by the worker bees. Honeycomb is constructed from beeswax and consists of densely packed hexagonal cells. But how do bees make wax? It is a common question asked by those interested in such things.
How is Beeswax Made?
When a worker bee is ten days old, it will develop glands that enable it to produce wax within its abdomen. The wax produced by bees has a similar function to the wax produced in human ears.
Bees make wax by eating honey and then converting the sugar in the honey to wax. The wax is secreted from the gland at the base of their abdomen. The worker bee scrapes the wax from its abdomen before chewing it up to make it soft. It then sets about making a perfect hexagon shaped cell with its feet.
The wax secreted by bees is white, but when it is mixed with pollen oils it turns a yellow/brown color.
Why Do Bees Make Hexagon Shapes with Their Wax?
You may be wondering why bees go to the bother of creating hexagon shapes with their wax. Well, there is a particularly good reason for this, and it shows how clever honeybees actually are. The shape of a hexagon within a structure allows for more shared walls than other shape. This means the bee can spend less energy creating each honeycomb cell and less beeswax is required in the process, resulting in the most efficient use of their time and resources.
The hexagonal cells are used by the bees to store their honey as well as nectar and pollen that they have collected. In addition, honeycomb is used to house larvae and brood.
How Do Bees Keep Wax at the Right Temperature?
As you might already be aware, wax is susceptible to changing form with changing temperatures. So how do bees make sure that their honeycomb retains its perfect shape?
When building honeycomb, bees leave around a quarter-of-an-inch between each sheet. This gives them room to walk about within the hive, but it also ensures there is sufficient airflow to keep the hive at the correct temperature.
Can You Eat Beeswax?
Some people are incredulous when they hear that beeswax is edible. This is because they usually liken it to other types of wax, such as candlewax. However, the wax made by bees is perfectly edible and, in fact, is delicious. You may not be aware that beeswax is often used as an ingredient in food production, so you may have already been eating it without knowing. It is often used to glaze foods such as pastries, candies, hams, and turkeys. It is also used as a coating for certain cheeses and fermented food products.
Some people like to eat chunks of honeycomb as a snack. They will chew the wax to release the honey within before either swallowing or spitting out the wax, depending on their preferences. Others like to spread the honeycomb on bread or toast, enjoying the texture of the wax, mixed with the honey.
What Else is Beeswax Used For?
Since beeswax has both antifungal and antibacterial properties, it is also used in many skincare products; it is also used as a stiffening agent in cosmetics. You may have also heard of beeswax being found in perfumes, soaps, and candles as a fragrance.
Perhaps one of the most common uses of beeswax is as a polish for wooden furniture and leather goods.
Beeswax is produced by worker bees, who secrete the substance from a gland found at the rear of their abdomen. By scraping the secreted wax into their mouths, the worker bees can chew it until it is soft enough to be molded into the perfect hexagonal shaped cells in which they will house honey, pollen, nectar, larvae, and brood.
Bees create hexagonal shaped cells in their honeycomb because it requires the least energy and the least amount of wax while at the same time creating a robust structure.
As well as providing the perfect storage space within a hive, beeswax is a food source and is also used in the production of skincare products, cosmetics, and furniture polish.