Hexagonal Secret Formation Of Honey Comb

The hexagonal cells that form honeycomb are around us in many ways and each individual cell has a story to tell, through the myriad ways in which it can be used by bees.The concise and orderly pattern of comb is a ‘symbol for structure’, order, utility, strength and with good reason. This pattern hasn’t occurred by accident. Bees have discovered a way to build their home that serves them incredibly well.As we discovered in The Anatomy of Bees, worker bees have 8 pairs of wax glands under their abdomen and these glands produce small, flat wax “scales” of up to 3 mm long and 0.5 mm deep. When a worker creates comb, she scrapes a wax scale from her abdomen using the spines on her pollen basket and passes them to her front legs.

Holding the scale in place, she will then mix it with saliva by chewing with her mandibles. This adjusts the malleability of the wax, making it more suitable as a building material from which each individual cell is built. Repeated tens of thousands of time, these cells form the comb in a beehive. That comb is used for many essential purposes by bees.

When the water content of the nectar has reached the right point, bees will cap the honey. This means covering the cell with a thin layer of wax, ensuring the honey stored in the cell will maintain the same water content. Capped honey is recognizable by a white seal over each cell. At that point, the bees have produced and stored honey.The bees that collect nectar from flowers do not directly deposit it into cells when they return to the hive. Rather, a receiving bee will accept it and retire to an appropriate part of the hive for “processing”, before placing in a cell.Whilehoney is an essential source of carbohydrates, bees need a balanced diet. For proteins and fat, they collect and store pollen.

As a beekeeper you will regularly see bees returning to the hive with colored bundles of pollen, one of the more enjoyable sights as you observe your bees. You will see cells in your hive that have colors reflecting the type of flowers visited.Interestingly, while incoming bees pass nectar to other bees for processing, this is not the case with pollen. Instead, a bee with pollen will move directly to a cell and store it herself.When we look at comb created by our bees, the regularity and consistency of the pattern made by the cells is very evident. Many of cells are the same shape and size. However, as with most things associated with bees, all is not quite as simple.

 

The cells used to create worker, drone and queens are different shapes and sizes. The queen requires a significant amount of real estate, as she moves around laying 2,000 or more eggs per day.
• Worker Cells: Most cells in the brood area will be intended to raise worker (female) bees, the smallest of the three castes.
• Drone Cells: Drones are larger than worker bees and therefore the cells in which they are created are also larger. The cap on drone cells is more domed than that of worker cells, which helps with identification of drone cells.
• Queen Cells: These are often called queen cups and are a different shape and size altogether, as compared to worker or drone cells. Queen cells look somewhat like a peanut hanging from the comb. Their presence may be cause for alarm and signal some potentially negative scenarios, though this is not always the case.

By – Assistant Professor – Dr. Ashish Uniyal
Department of Agriculture
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