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Bees are known for the construction of one of the most aesthetically pleasing and practical sights in nature – the architectural phenomenon of the honeycomb has been studied and copied in our modern society as a symbol of order, utility and strength. The honeycomb is a combination of small, interlocking hexagonal shaped cells carefully created by the bees. The shape of honey in this hexagonal comb allows it to be most efficient use of bees wax material that can hold the most amount of honey and resources by volume.
Creation of wax
The honeycombs are made of wax secreted from glands located underneath the thorax of the worker bees. The beeswax is the material used to make the honeycomb. The worker bees have up to eight pairs of wax glands located under their abdomen. Wax is secreted when the worker bees are 12-18 day old workers and have mature, engorged hypopharyngeal glands. During this time, their glands are more active and are 2-3x larger than during the other periods of her life. They quickly degenerate and the bees hypopharyngeal glands become smaller as she ages and becomes a foraging worker bee. The wax glands produce small amounts of flat wax of about 3 mm long and 0.5 mm deep. Bees at this age will engorge themselves with honey and are often seen festooning where comb will be built.
When creating what we know as bees wax, the worker bee scrapes off the wax scale underneath her abdomen using the spines on her pollen basket and passes the wax to her front legs. With her front legs, the bee mixes the wax scale with saliva by repeatedly chewing it with her mandibles. The chewing adjusts the flexibility of the wax, making it a suitable building material. A single cell is then built and the process is repeated over and over until the internal structure of their hive, the honeycomb, is built.
Bees Wax and Honeycomb uses:
Fresh Comb Honey – Bees use the honeycomb to store honey and beekeepers will often market fresh, comb honey straight from the hive. This honey can be used as a spread, wax and all, and is perfect for a wine and cheese plate or mid-day snack.
Candles – The honeycomb is also used in the making of beeswax candles. Candles made from the honeycomb burn longer and are cleaner than those made from paraffin. Candle manufacturers melt the honeycomb, filter it, and mold the wax into useful candles.
Cosmetics – Beeswax is a very valuable ingredient in the making of cosmetic products such as lip balms, lotions and creams. The ingredient helps in softening the skin and also helps in enhancing the effectiveness of sunscreens. Beeswax is also an essential ingredient in the manufacture of lipstick, face and body lotions just to mention but a few.
Honeycomb is important to the bees and it is beneficial to people. It’s pretty amazing to think these little architects have built one of the most functional shapes