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How Bees Make Honeycomb: It Might Surprise You

Mar 27, 2024

Isn't honeycomb AMAZING? How do these tiny honey bees take an empty space and fill it with this honeycomb-shaped cells? Why do they put the work into making it this shape, and what is the benefit?

The Purpose of Honeycomb

When a colony of bees is looking for a home, they are searching for an empty cavern. The first thing they do when they move into the space is build honeycomb. Honeycomb serves multiple vital functions for a bee colony. It's where the queen lays her eggs, providing a crib for the unborn bees. It acts as storage for food - pollen, honey and nectar - which sustains the colony. The honeycomb structure also becomes the floor, ceiling, walls and stairs of the hive, allowing bees to move throughout the space since they do not fly in the hive. Once honeycomb is built, bees will use it as a way to communicate with each other as we can see when a bee does a waggle dance.

How Bees Make Honeycomb

When honey bees want to build honeycomb, the first thing they do is consume a lot of honey. The worker bees, which are all female, are the only bees in the hive with a wax gland to secrete beeswax.  The beeswax comes out of the wax gland on their underbelly in the form of a little, wax plate. The bees form a chain, or 'festooning', to create a scaffold so they can begin building the honeycomb not only from the top down but to the left and right. By vibrating their flight muscles, they produce heat, making the beeswax plates malleable. They mold the softened wax into cylinder shapes and then heat up the cylinders to connect them to the cylinder on each side. When the cylinders connect, they form a straight line all on their own, just like when two bubbles join together they also form a straight line where they meet.

The Uses of Beeswax

Beyond its role in the hive, beeswax is a valuable product. It's used in a variety of products, from lip balms and body lotions, to waterproofing wooden furniture and fabric. Beeswax candles are particularly cherished for their ability to improve air quality by causing dust and pollen to settle.

Honeycomb is not just an architectural feat but essential for the honey bee's survival. By understanding the process and purpose behind its creation, we gain a deeper appreciation for the complexity and efficiency of these remarkable insects.

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