Rumpelstiltskins In Miniature

It is an old tale indeed that let us know about the little man who could spin straw into gold.  We have some interesting little creatures who are able to turn “liquid gold” (Honey) into wax.

As a matter of fact, through evolution, bees have actually been built to turn honey into beeswax.  Parts of their body designed seemingly for specifically that purpose.

Only worker bees have the ability and the parts necessary to accomplish this remarkable feat.  Even more interesting is that only bees in a certain age range are able to do it.  When honey bee workers are 12 days old until they are 18 days old, they are best able to convert excess honey in the Honey Stomach (also known as the “Crop”) into beeswax.  Of course, besides having excess honey or nectar in them, they must also have an active need for wax in the nest to either build the nest or to expand it.

Honey bees can also work minor miracles in regard to making wax.  They can turn back their biological clocks in certain instances such as starting a new nest after leaving the old hive with a Queen bee.)  Once in the new hive and with an immediate and emergency level need for new comb, the “old” workers bees that make up the majority of the swarm can make their bodies sort of go back to the physical condition at which the could make beeswax when they were younger in order to get the new nest started right away.

Anatomically, the honey and nectar bees gorge on to begin making wax is converted into a complex of substances like fatty acids, proteins and Hydrocarbons.  Once the “mixture” is ready, it is secreted from the wax glands in the bee’s  last four visible ventral abdominal segments which are covered by the “Wax Mirrors”, those being essentially little plate-like areas that the wax comes through in the form of little flat flake sort of shapes.

All in all, worker bees have eight (8) wax glands in four (4) pairs on the dorsal (bottom) side of the abdomen.

Flakes of wax on a wax builder. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey) University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Once the wax is secreted the bees can then put it to good use in building their nest.

For the scientifically inclined, a great, in-depth article on the physiology of beeswax by Clarence Collison is at Bee Culture Magazine.

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Author: Big Bear

Owner of BBE-Tech Apiary Services and professional apiarist. Beekeeping instructor at Metro Community College. Exec. Producer, Director and Host of Bee Smart beekeeping project podcast and videos.

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