Bee honeycomb

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We admire not only snow-white colour of bee honeycomb, but their amazing structure. Cell wall thickness is only 0.005 cm. Each wall is so fragile that crumbles from the touch, and yet tons of honey in the comb are transported for thousands of miles.

Relatively recently we do not have information on honey bee and did not know from where wax appears from which bees build honeycombs. In 1684, John Martin found that with the point of the needle you can collect flakes of the real beeswax from the abdomen of the bee, building the honeycomb . Such wax flakes are easily found in large numbers on the bottom of the hive during the detuning of combs. The scales are pear-shaped (Fig. 1). They are much more fragile than wax from which bees build honeycombs, and its transparency similar to mica. Colouring of scales is white or light – yellow, depending on the type of pollen.

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Fig. 1. Wax scale (a) and the jaw of the working bee, which produces wax (b).
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Fig. 2. Wax, secreted by glands, appears in the form of flakes on the abdomen of bee.

Eight wax glands secrete scales. Glands are located on the underside of the abdomen of the working bees (Fig. 2). If you see the bees in the just settled in the hive swarm, then on many of them can be found wax flakes or mirrors. Wax is produced by bees from the blood, then it is wetted by salivary gland secretions and long chewed.

High temperature favors partitioning of wax, and when it is produced in large amount bees passively hang in the hive like garlands. From wax bees erect great structures – cells that serve the crib for the brood.

Bees build honeycombs with minimal wax. If the cell was a cylinder, then it would remain empty space at the very close contact to each other between the cells  (Fig. 3). If cylindrical cells are subjected to pressure so that their sides and bottoms closed, the result is a cell with six sides and bottoms, consisting of three diamond-shaped faces. Sometimes it is argued that the bees do at first cylindrical cells, and then by pressure from inside they make hexagons. However, the cross-sections of plaster casts of the combs indicate that bees from the beginning build hexagons.This is easily seen by looking through a piece of glass on which cells are built.With economical expenditure of wax they can build a square cells with a flat bottom, but such cells are unsuitable for the brood and would not have sufficient strength (Fig. 4).

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Fig. 3. Economical use of space, but the wasteful expenditure of material.
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Fig. 4. Economical expenditure of material, but the wasteful use of space.

About 19 (actually 19.3) bee cells are 10 linear cm. These cells are used for the breeding of worker bees or folding stocks of honey and pollen. In the honeycomb there is much less cells of a larger size (16 cells per 10 linear cm), in which the drones are brought. Drone cells are also used to store honey, bees rarely put pollen there (Fig. 5).

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Fig. 5. Saving the use of material and space.
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Fig. 6. Gradual transition from a drone to bee cells.

If you cut a few square centimeters of honeycomb with bee cells from the middle of the frame during good harvest, the bees will soon build drone cells in the hole. A few cells from the built cells will be no drone or bee, but intermediate or transitional. However, the transitional cells are made so skillfully that they can easily be taken as a bee or drone cells with a cursory glance (Fig. 6, 7).

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Fig. 7. On this natural cell it is seen how separate parts of it artfully combine.

Angles of the hexagonal honeycomb cells are little different. In other words, hexagons of cells mathematically are not accurate. Parallel vertical walls of the cells are not identical. These walls are usually longer than the other parallel walls. Bees are likely to try to do all of the cells in the form of regular hexagons, but under the high temperature of the hive and the considerable weight of bees vertical walls are stretched, so they form angles have different sizes. Approximately 95 combs out of 100 have two vertical parallel walls, the other  parallel walls are diagonal (Fig. 8a).

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Fig. 8. Cells with the vertical (a) and horizontal (b) parallel walls.

From the above it should not be concluded that the cell with two parallel horizontal walls are abnormal and that the bees build them slower (Fig. 8b). Sometimes cells are attached to the vertical support. Cells in this case have two parallel horizontal walls. On a horizontal support bee builds honeycombs with horizontal walls, but it happens very rarely. So naturally built cells (not from wax) always have two parallel sides, if the cells are suspended vertically to the horizontal support (Fig. 9).

Mediastinum of a cell becomes thicker and stronger as we approach to the point of support. Bees make very thick mediastinum in the beginning of detuning cells or increase it as honeycomb structure is moved down. However, thickening, apparently, does not prevent elongation of combs, and beekeepers have to come up with different ways to enhance combs.

For half a century artificial wax was produced so that combs, built in a normal frame for brood have two parallel vertical walls. Transverse sections of the comb, built in the sectional frames, you can see that the parallel walls of the cells are in the same plane as the top line.  Parallel walls of the cells in an artificial honeycomb form the majority of the right angles to the sides of the sheet. Cut sheet is inserted into the frame of Langstroth. Wax is suspended in a frame so that the parallel walls are vertical.

Sheets from lighter wax for sectional frames are cut at first lengthwise, then crosswise into square or rectangular pieces. Last ones are inserted into the frames so that the parallel walls of combs arranged in the same plane as the upper ceiling frames. In either case, the work of bees occurs normally (Fig. 9).

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Fig. 9. A typical example of a natural cell, built on a horizontal support.

It should be noted that having the parallel arrangement of the parallel walls of cells  with the top bar combs do not stretch, as in the sectional frame down slat is very close to the top. In the frame of brood reinforced wax (three-layer or reinforced with wire) is necessary.

The thickness of the cell walls varies from 0.051 to 0.076 mm. In the newly built cell thickness of bottom sometimes does not exceed 0.025 mm. As new generations of bees come on the bottom of cell there are cocoons and secretions and its thickness may reach 3 mm. To make the depth of the cells always the same, the bees draw out the cell walls of the old combs filled with cocoons and secretions. As a result, the thickness of old cell reaches 25 mm, and the new does not exceed 22.2 mm.

If the bee cells are used to store honey, in the presence of free space depth of cells greatly increases and thickness of the cell can reach 50 or even 75 mm (2-3”). Drone cells are expanded in this way more often. The cells are directed slightly upward, although seem perfectly horizontal in appearance (Fig. 10). With a significant thickening of the honeycombs cells bent.

At first it was thought that the caps on the cells with honey do not leak air, although it is known that the white honeycomb in a wet location is watery and dark, and  diluted honey starts to bleed through the lid. Cheshayr believes that no more than 10% of caps are impervious to air. Covers on the brood cells are much more porous, allowing  the incoming air to the brood. Caps for brood cells are made from scraps of cocoons, pollen, and other materials held together with wax. White honeycomb gradually darkens and becomes almost black when is used for the brood.

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Fig. 10. Cross section of honey comb enlarged. The cells are partially filled with honey. They are not straight and not horizontal, but are curved upward.
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Fig. 11. Thick edges of the cells (magnified).

Bees often built large cells to brood drone and stock the honey. If the cells are too large (width of 6 mm), bees reduce their holes so the cells do not lose the honey that is held by capillary gravitation. If these very large cells are for drones, bees also reduce holes, thickening the edges of cells (Fig. 11).

For the experiment there were produced a few small sheets of artificial honeycombs with enlarged rudiments (3.5 cells for 2.5 cm). Bees delayed some cells with thickened edges, but they don’t like these cells, because they tried to turn some of the largest cells in the bee. Sometimes the bees are forced to raise worker bees in drone cells. The breeding of the drones in the bee cells is so difficult that they rarely appear fully developed.

In the season of construction of combs  can see the wax plate between rings of the abdomen of many bees. Castel watched the bees remove these plates by teeths of pollen comb of third pair of legs, and pass to the first pair of legs. Sometimes plates with traces of teeths of pollen comb fall between cells on the bottom of the hive.

If the bees have to carry one plate a short distance, it uses her jaws. If she has to carry a long distance, it puts it under her chin. Being under the chin, the wax becomes very soft. Bee takes it and presses to cell. Then she runs away and begins to spin, as if she does not take any part in the work. After a while another bee  jumps to the wax plate and presses, scratches or polish a plate by its smooth jaws. Cell grows out of nothing.

The finished cell is a result of common efforts of the moving mass of bees. Bees begin to fill unfinished cells with honey or eggs. Apparently, it is easier for the bees  to care for brood and add honey, if the cell walls are not high. The top edge of the cell, regardless of its depth has always a thickening, a secure support for moving bees and a material for further pulling combs. Walls themselves are thin as tissue paper, and can even break down under the weight of bees.

In the absence of artificial honeycombs in various places there are small tabs combs (Fig. 7), which gradually enlarged and connected so skillfully that after filling the entire frame it is hard to find the place of these compounds. Sometimes the in-line is a series of transitional or drone cells.

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Bee honeycomb

  1. Love says:

    honeycomb is so great. interesting information!

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