How and Why Do Bees Make Beeswax?

Beeswax is used to make honeycomb – hexagonal cells that are a marvel of engineering!

Bees use beeswax to make honeycomb in their hive. Honeycomb is a structure made from rows of hexagonal wax cells that are used for the storage of honey and nectar and as a place where eggs are laid, and larva and pupa develop into young bees.

Bees have four pairs of wax glands on the underside of their abdomen. A honey bee worker’s wax glands are well developed and most productive at 12-18 days old. Liquid wax is secreted from these glands onto plates on the bee’s abdomen, and it hardens to form a scale. Using their middle legs and the stiff hairs on their hind legs, bees pass the scales to their mandibles (jaws) to be chewed and mixed with saliva and enzymes. The bees then mold the wax scales into circular cells, while other worker bees maintain a high enough temperature in the hive to keep the wax in a semi-liquid state. This warmth causes the sides of the circular cells to flatten out against each other to form hexagons.

To prevent honey from spilling, beeswax cells are created at a slightly upward angle. Beeswax also is used to make wax “caps” to cover the entrance of cells once they are filled with honey, or to protect the developing brood inside of cells.

Interesting Facts About Beeswax –

  • ◇  One pound of beeswax formed into honeycomb cells can hold approximately 22 pounds of honey.
  • ◇  Bees need to consume 6.6-8.8 pounds of honey to produce one pound of beeswax.
  • ◇  Bees can produce up to eight scales of beeswax every 23 hours when necessary.
  • ◇  The melting point of beeswax is approximately 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • ◇  Honey bees produce wax that is different from the wax produced by other types of bees. For example, wax from stingless bees is more difficult to break and stickier than honey bee wax.
  • ◇  A pound of beeswax sells for a higher price than a pound of honey.

** Facts excerpted from “Pay Attention to Beeswax: A unique and valuable product,” Bee Culture magazine, July 2014.

Many Uses for Beeswax

Humans have found many creative ways to use beeswax. Some of these include:

  • Candles
  • Comb foundation (A commercially made structure, attached to the frame in a hive box, that consists of thin sheets of beeswax with cell bases similar to how they are produced naturally by honey bees.)
  • Cosmetics, soap and skin care
  • Food production and chewing gum
  • Musical instrument manufacturing
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Sculpting and art
  • Waterproofing

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