by: Max O'Grady
Beeswax is the most versatile material made and used by honey bees. Beeswax is used for many essential colony operations, such as the building of honeycomb for the rearing of brood and storage of food resources, the capping of cells full of ripe honey, and the construction of queen cells needed to make new queens. The unique scent of a colony’s beeswax is also involved in providing kin recognition cues between bees in the same colony (Breed et al. 1998).
Wax production can be influenced by a variety of known factors. Research has shown that comb-building periods coincide with periods of high nectar intake, thus creating a demand for more comb (Hepburn 1986). Also, since wax is originally formed within the bee’s abdomen as a liquid and gets secreted through the sternites as a small wax scale, the temperature of the colony must be above 16°C for this process to be physiologically possible (Hepburn et al. 1991, 2014). The interior colony temperature around the comb-building area must be somewhere between 30-37°C for the bees to be able to secrete wax and manipulate it to build comb (Hepburn et al. 2014, p. 235). Finally, when adult workers emerge from their cells, their wax gland complexes are not yet developed. Typically wax producing bees are between 5-9 days old, with maximum wax secretion in nine-day old bees (Hepburn et al. 1991).
For my honors research, I investigated how temperature, bee density (number of bees per given volume), and feed type affect wax production in honey bees. Understanding the factors that affect wax production may have important implications for how to most efficiently manage honey bees for the production of beeswax.