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How Beeswax is Made

Posted by eBee on 12/16/2015 to Bees

We get the question quite often - "how do bees make beeswax?" Worker bees, which live only around 35 days in the summer, develop special wax-producing glands on their abdomens (inner sides of the sternites of abdominal segments 4 to 7) and are most efficient at wax production during the 10th through the 16th days of their lives. From about day 18 until the end of its life, a bee's wax glands steadily decline.

Bees consume honey (6-8 pounds of honey are consumed to produce a pound of wax) causing the special wax-producing glands to covert the sugar into wax which is extruded through small pores. The wax appears as small flakes on the bees' abdomen. At this point the flakes are essentially transparent and only become white after being chewed. It is in the mastication process that salivary secretions are added to the wax to help soften it. This also accounts for its change in color.

The exact process of how a bee transfers the wax scales from its abdomen to its mandibles was a mystery for years. It's now understood to be processed in either of two ways. Most of the activities in the hive are cooperative so it should be no surprise that other worker bees are willing to remove the wax scales from their neighbors and then chew them. The other method is for the same bee extruding the wax to process her own wax scales.

This is done using one hind leg to move a wax scale to the first pair of legs (forelegs). A foreleg then makes the final transfer to the mandibles where it is masticated, and then applied to the comb being constructed or repaired.

Beeswax becomes soft and very pliable if the temperature is too high (beeswax melts around 149 degrees Fahrenheit). Likewise, it becomes brittle and difficult to manage if the temperature is too low. However, honeybees maintain their hive at a temperature of around 95 degrees Fahrenheit, which is perfect for the manipulation of beeswax.
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