How do bees make Beeswax?
Beeswax is an amazing and versatile product and we've all probably used it at some time in our lives, perhaps as candles or in cosmetics, lotions, balms and polishes etc, but have you ever stopped to wonder just how do bees produce it?
Why do bees make beeswax?
We all know that bees live in hives, but inside it's the beeswax foundation (or comb) that creates the structure on which the entire hive relies on. Its used for storing their precious honey and pollen, housing the larvae, capping the honey cells when they are full and also helps to provide insulation from weather extremes.
The role of the worker bee
Bees that perform day to day tasks in the hive are referred to as worker bees. When they are around 10 - 20 days old they develop a unique gland in their abdomen used for producing beeswax. The age of the worker bees actually determines the size of the gland and after many flights these glands can actually start to waste away.
When they collect the nectar they store it in their pouches where it mixes with a special enzyme called invertase. They then take the nectar back to the hive and pass it on to another worker bee via their tongue.
So how do they make beeswax?
So this is how honey is made, but how do they make beeswax? After they pass on the honey, the glands in the bees pouch takes the sugar from the honey and makes beeswax from it, which they then ooze from their pores in small flakes onto their abdomens. Other bees then come along and take these tiny bits of beeswax and chew it up to make it soft and pliant. They'll use this to build or repair honeycomb or to cap a cell when it's full of honey.
Did you know that when the beeswax is first produced, it is actually clear like glass and odourless? It gets its milky colour and scent from other worker bees when they chew the beeswax and mix it with the pollen.
Keeping the hive at the right temperature
The worker bees crowd inside the hive to keep the temperature between 30-35 degrees Celsius. This is the perfect temperature to rear their brood, evaporate excess water from their stored honey and makes the beeswax easy to manipulate to the right consistency.
If the hive gets too hot the beeswax may melt, and if it gets too cold the beeswax becomes brittle. This is one of the reasons why it's important to never open a hive in extremely cold or hot weather, as the hive may die if they are unable to regulate the temperature back to the optimum level quickly.
How we harvest our beeswax
Here at Collombatti Naturals, we use an apple press to harvest our honey. It squeezes the honey from the comb and after several hours will leave a round cake of beeswax. We soak the beeswax cake in water and use the residual honey-flavoured water to make a type of mead. After that, we render the beeswax down rain water and filter it several times to remove the impurities.
Why does beeswax come in different colours?
Raw, unrefined beeswax should always be natural in colour. Bleached beeswax has been chemically treated and should not be used for cosmetic purposes. Typically our beeswax is a rich, caramel colour, but the colour of beeswax can vary from region to region to be almost white to a dark golden yellow. It all depends on what flowers the bees collected the pollen and nectar from, and it can also vary from season to season.
Why we need to protect our bees
Bees are amazing creatures and are such an important part of the ecosystem, with their pollination services being second to none. They need to be protected and cherished because without them, the world and our food choices would be in a much poorer state.
How can you help? Avoid using pesticides in and around your home, especially in your garden. The use of pesticides is one major causes in the decline of bee numbers. And plant more flowers, you'll appreciate it almost as much as the bees!