One of the main components of a beehive consists of an incredible substance called beeswax.
Beeswax is produced by eight pairs of glands located on the abdomen of a worker bee. These glands produce wax in the form of tiny ‘scales.’ These tiny scales secreted by glands in the abdomen are then scraped off by the legs of a worker bee and into their mouths. The saliva from their mouths soften the wax, making it easier to mould into shape. The wax picks up debris such as pollen, honey, propolis and ‘bee bits’ which eventually darkens the beeswax’s colour.
This incredible substance is energetically quite expensive to produce which means that the honeybee must be well fed in order to create beeswax. This is why we typically find increased wax production during the summer when there is a nectar flow (an abundance of food). Some say a worker bee needs to consume approximately eight ounces of honey to produce one ounce of wax – quite the feat!
What is the purpose of beeswax? Beeswax makes up the interior walls and rooms of the beehive. The iconic hexagonal shape creates pockets lining the walls in which the colony fills with capped honey, nectar, pollen and larva. These ‘pockets’ are essential for the growth of a colony.
Without beeswax, there would be nowhere to store food nor a place to incubate the young. These pockets lining the interior walls take the shape of hexagons. Hexagons, unlike say circles, line up perfectly with one another- there are no gaps of unusable spaces. It is incredibly efficient.
Not only is it efficient in terms of using every ounce of space for resources, but it is efficient in terms of material use. Since each wall of the hexagon is shared with an adjoining hexagon, less material is needed to be generated in order to complete and entire wall of ‘storage.’ And since wax production is quite labour-intensive and resource-heavy, it is arguably the perfect shape. In addition, this network of hexagons is structurally quite strong which is important to withstand not only food, larva but also the thousands of honeybee inhabitants.
Rachel Halliwell is a Bee Master Certified beekeeper in the Comox Valley. Her website is www.homegrownbee.ca