A typical hive has from 20,000 to 50,000 bees living in it. Some hives can have up to 80,000 or more bees in residence.
A honeycomb is an impressive piece of architecture. It provides food and shelter for bees during cold months, and it houses eggs, larvae and pollen along with honey.
Making a honeycomb is a laborious process for the worker bees, who build their structure with regurgitated honey. The youngest worker bees make the beeswax used to construct the honeycomb. The wax is produced in eight paired glands on the underside of the bee’s abdomen. They secrete little wax droplets, which harden into flakes when exposed to air. The bees then work the wax flakes in their mouths to soften them into a workable construction material for the honeycombs. They then create hexagon-shaped cells. Some of these cells are used to house the queen and the brood (adult bees), and some are used to prepare and store the honey.
Scientists have long tried to synthesize wax artificially, they managed to create a certain substance with similar properties. It is impossible to argue with nature: nothing can replace natural beeswax.
What is honeycomb wax made of?
The wax is formed in the special glands of young (no older than 20 days) honey bees. These glands are located in pairs on the ventral side, the substance is secreted through the smallest pores of wax “mirrors” and on their surface turns into hard wax plates, each of which weighs from 0.18 to 0.25 mg.
The process of wax production by bees is very complicated: on the 10–12th day of life, the bee begins to intensively feed on fresh honey and pollen, since a sufficient amount of enzymes must accumulate in the body. A bee colony receives from 0.5 to 2 kilograms of wax per season and uses it to build combs and furnish their homes. Thanks to the antibacterial properties of the wax, honey does not ferment until it ripens, and pollen does not become moldy when the humidity in the nest rises.
A young swarm, which has a very strong building instinct, can build 10 frames in 3-4 days. And during the season, one bee colony can create up to 50 frames. They will serve for several years until they darken.
Even the ancient Greeks made wax dolls for children; they used wax-coated tablets for writing. Melted wax was added to the paints and hot covered the sides of ships to protect the tree from wind, water and sun. Beeswax was used to seal amphorae with food. Beeswax was used by artists, it was in Greece that the popular and today encaustics – wax painting – developed.
Wax sheets with hexagons squeezed out on them – the bottoms of the cells, are attached to the hive and serve for the construction of honeycombs by bees.
- In medicine, the wax is added to ointments, suppositories, emulsions for the treatment of skin inflammations, burns, wounds.
- In cosmetology, creams, masks, lipsticks are made on the basis of beeswax.
- In the perfumery industry – for the manufacture of soap.
- In the food industry – for the manufacture of sweets, it has anti-inflammatory and wound-healing effects.
- In the leather industry – for impregnating, polishing and dyeing leather. Due to its water-repellent properties, beeswax is added to shoe creams.
- In ferrous metallurgy, the wax is used to check molds for casting machine parts.
- In the aviation industry – for the preparation of impregnating and coating emulsions.
- In the printing industry – for the production of thick grades of paper.
- In radio engineering and electronics – in the manufacture of insulating tapes, dielectric sensors.
- In the paint and varnish industry – in the manufacture of varnishes, inks, furniture pastes, lithographic pencils, added to oil paints.
Also, wax is widely used in optical factories, railway transport, in the electrical, woodworking, automotive, glass, and textile industries.