Apicultura Wiki




VERY little do we know of the mysterious process of wax-making. The interior of the bee is a chemical laboratory where no visitors are allowed; at best we have been obliged to stand outside and guess at the formulas used within. We know that honey enters largely into the composition of wax, and that the bees when secreting wax usually have pollen in their stomachs, although Huber and Cook have both demonstrated that bees make successful comb when deprived of pollen, and when fed on sugar syrup instead of honey." But to make this experiment of much value the bees must needs have been deprived of pollen all of their lives instead of a few days. It seems to be generally conceded that nitrogenous food is needed for the best product of wax-manufacture, though nitrogen does not enter into the composition of the wax itself.

It is variously estimated that it requires from ten

to twenty pounds of honey to produce one of wax;

so it is apparent to even the novice in bee-keeping

that wax is a very expensive product. One of the

Photograph, by Brown Brothers


Honey capped over; drone cells bulged out; upper cells partly filled wuh honey but

not capped over.

results of the process of wax-making is the elimination of oxygen from the honey. There is of weight eight times as much oxygen in honey as of hydrogen and carbon combined; while in wax there is at least sixteen times as much carbon and hydrogen as of oxygen. Though wax is a fatty substance, yet it is not the animal fat of bees, as is so often asserted; it is a product especially developed for a far different purpose than is the fat of animals. The bees are much superior to us in this respect, since they manu- facture from their own bodies the building materials for their homes.

The special apparatus for the secretion of wax is very interesting to the student skilled in microscopic investigation. The outward or visible portion of this apparatus consists of four pairs of little mem- branous plates on the under side of the abdomen; these are not visible unless the body is torn apart and dissected, because they are on the front portions of the second, third, fourth and fifth abdominal seg- ments, and each is covered by the rear portion of the segment just in front of it. Immediately within each of these wax plates is a gland which secretes the wax in liquid form, and it passes through the membrane by a kind of osmosis, considerably more mysterious than is that most mysterious process ordinarily. As the wax passes through the mem- brane it hardens and is pushed backward behind the segment which covers it and protects the wax plate, and appears as a pearly scale on the abdomen of the bee. (Plate VI.)

The wax glands, when studied by the histologists, are found to consist each of a specialised area of the layer of cells that form the active living part of the body-wall of the insect. When active these cells are much thicker than the corresponding cells in other parts of the body-wall; but if examined during the winter, they do not differ greatly in appearance from other cells of the hypodermis. (Plate XXV, Fig. 5.)

When wax is needed, a certain number of self- elected citizens gorge with honey and hang up in chains or curtains, each bee clinging by her front feet to the hind feet of the one above her, like Japan- ese acrobats; and there they remain, sometimes for two days, until the wax scales appear pushed out from every pocket. It is not hard to understand that, since much honey is needed for the manufacture of wax, a bee after filling with the raw material would produce much more wax by keeping quiet than by using any of the gorged honey for energy in moving about and working. But the necessity of "holding hands" while this work goes on must ever remain to us another occult evidence of the close rela- tions of the citizens in the bee commune. (Plate X.)

While most of the wax is produced from these quiescent suspended individuals, yet any bee-keeper who is observant has discovered that at the height of the honey season many of the workers coming in laden from the fields will have wax scales protruding from some or all of the pockets. We once captured one of our bees, working on a white clover blossom, which had six of these wax scales ornamenting her abdomen, and which proved her a bee of resource, since she was able to work and make wax at the same time. However, there is a choice about the wax- making. It is no willy-nilly production caused by gorging with honey, for it is never made except when the colony needs more comb.


It is often stated that after the wax is secreted and pushed through the wax pockets the scales are removed by the wax shears on the hind legs of the producers, and are passed forward to the front claws, and then thrust into the mouth; here the wax is warmed and perhaps chewed with saliva and -made malleable, thus somewhat changing the chemical composition and fitting it to be moulded into comb. But there is a hiatus in our knowledge just at this point as to whether the bees which secrete the wax take it off and make comb, or whether other workers harvest wax-scales from the suspended individuals and mould them into shape; or whether perhaps the scales fall from the suspended "curtain" to the bottom of the hive and there are gathered by the ever-busy young workers. Professor Kellogg, who studied bees in an observation hive, is inclined to think that all of these methods are used, while Mr. A. I. Root describes the process graphically thus:

If a bee is obliged to carry one of these wax scales but a short distance she takes it in her mandibles, and looks as businesslike with it thus as a carpenter with a board on his shoulder. If she has to carry it from the bottom of the honey-box she takes it in a way I cannot explain better than to say she slips it under her chin; when thus equipped you would never know she was encumbered with anything, unless it chanced to slip out, when she will dexterously tuck it back with one of her forefeet.

Honey-comb has been the delight of mathema- ticians from the earliest ages. The plan on which it is built, if perfectly carried out, would be the incar- nate perfection of strength and space for holding fluid contents. This fact so delighted the earlier mathematicians that they set to measuring the angles of the cells and their pyramidal bases, with truly wonderful results. But with the later methods of exact measurement it has been demonstrated that the cells are rarely perfect in construction; and that the angles, as well as the faces of the rhombs on which they are built, vary. Because of this there have been developed doubters and pessimists who declare that honey-comb is the result of chance; and that cells, crowded together, must, from the nature of things, become six-sided; and that bees are not mathematically wise. With this conclusion we do not agree in the least, although we admit that the fortuitously six-sided cell may have been a step in the education of the bee-artisans. But we would ask the pessimists to explain why, if all is chance, the bees build so perfectly the central part of the comb which forms the bases of the cells. This central part is built first and is fashioned of rhombs, which are made into alternating three-sided pyramids. Who dare assert that reasonably perfect, alternating rhombic pyramids are fortuitous! The fact that the combs are rarely perfect in construction proves naught against the mathematical prowess of the bees; it simply proves that the bees are a practical race, and not bigoted, and are therefore unwilling to sacrifice everything for the sake of precision. The construction of their waxen cells is for economic purposes rather than for proving mathematical formulae. Honey-comb shows how economy of room, building materials and mathematical theories may coincide, and shows also that the bees have taken advantage of the fact. Some of the savants have asserted that the rectangle or the equilateral triangle would have been quite as efficient as working plans for constructing cells for storing honey.' But probably the bees, originally, made their cells to fit their brood and would not thus build a cell which would surround a larva with unfilled corners. The hexagonal cell was better fitted for their needs, so they developed it.

After a piece of the central portion of comb has been constructed the bees begin, usually, at the centre and pull out the sides of the cells from the foundation. Experiments in coloured foundation shows that this may, if thick, be pulled almost to the margin of the cell. This is why bees so readily utilise machine-made foundation; they pull out the edges of these pressed combs and thus save them- selves much labour in wax-making. The worker- cells are a little more than one-fifth of an inch in diam- eter, and a little less than one-half an inch deep; the

drone-cells are a little more than one-fourth an inch in diameter and a little more than a half-inch in depth. It is interesting to see the comb which has in it both worker- and drone-cells, and note how the transition is made; the two sizes are harmonised by a row or two of cells that are irregular. Honey is stored in both drone- and worker-cells, usually in the latter; although our bees seem to have a fondness for making drone-cells for storage. When the bees begin to cap a cell, they commence at the outside and work toward the centre. There is not a prettier piece of engineering anywhere than the cap of a honey-cell, with six little girders extending from the angles of the cell and holding the flat cap at the centre. Honey is capped with wax, but brood is capped with a mixture of wax and pollen, which admits air. Though the cell-walls may be thinner than .0018 of an inch, comb is wonderfully strong, and may weigh one-twentieth or less than the weight of the honey stored within it.

An interesting fact about the manufacture of comb is that no one bee constructs a cell and no one bosses the job. A bee will come along with a little wax and put it in place at the side of a cell, and then will run off and do something else; another bee passing sees this bit of unfinished work, gives it a few winches and polishes it a little, and then does something else. Several bees may thus lend a mandible before the cell is perfected. Any bit of comb-building seems to be the result of a con- sensus of public opinion and not of individual skill and enterprise. There is a oneness in bee enterprises which harmonises capital and labour, and which precludes strikes and lockouts.


In trying to fathom the mysteries of honey-produc- tion, scientists have dissected the bee with greatest care; but they have usually been obliged to guess at the uses of such organs as they could not understand by analogy. To-day, after all the excellent work of investigators, the process and formulae of honey- making remain unrevealed.

The nectar, when taken from the flowers by the bees, is received in a special reservoir, called the honey-stomach. It is supposed that the secretion from the glands in the head and thorax is added to the nectar as it is swallowed, and induces the chemical action which, in the honey-stomach, changes the cane-sugar to the more digestible grape-sugar, and brings about the other changes that finally result in the production of honey. The chemical composi- tion of honey varies, perhaps for two reasons: It may be more perfectly digested sometimes than at others; and the nectar of different flowers may vary chemically. However, all honey contains water, glucose, a small amount each of albumenoids, mineral matter, essential oils and formic acid. While most of the chemical changes take place in the honey- stomach of the bee, yet the honey is made perfect by ripening in the cells; these are left uncapped for a period of time and the current of air, always in action in the hive, evaporates the water and thus thickens the honey.

Ignorant people believe that honey is regurgitated from the true stomach of the bee, which is far from true. The honey-stomach is simply a reservoir in which the honey is made and then stored until the bee can empty it into a cell. Her true stomach lies behind the honey-stomach and connects with it by a mouth that can be opened or closed at will; when she wishes to eat some honey, she opens the stomach mouth and takes in what she needs. The chyle which she manufactures in her true stomach to feed the young bees, when regurgitated, does not pass through the honey-stomach; instead, the mouth of the real stomach is pushed up through the centre of the honey-reservoir until it connects directly with the sesophagus. (Plate XXVI, Fig. 7 p.)

When an ancient Roman was asked on his hun- dredth birthday how he had preserved his vigour, physically and mentally, he answered laconically, Inerius melle, exterius olea " Inside with honey, out- side with oil." He spoke wisely, for honey is un- doubtedly the most healthful of sweets, because it is so largely composed of the predigested grape-sugar.

It is hard for us to realise that, until comparatively recently, honey was the only sweet in general use. Cane-sugar was not commonly eaten in Europe until the seventeenth century, and previous to that time honey held sway as the sweetening medium of all foods. The amount of honey produced in the United States now is estimated to be more than 125,000,000 pounds per year, which shows that it has retained its value as a food, though it must compete with cheaper cane- and beet-sugars. It still remains the most wholesome and digestible of all the forms of sugar, and should be used even more generally than it is at present.


Flower wisdom is scarcely appreciated by those who deem all wisdom the product of consciousness; but if wisdom may be attained through the ex- periences of living and overcoming difficulties, then there must be such a thing as flower wisdom. Other- wise there would not have been such a prodigal production of pollen that a tithe could be spared for the bees, to induce them to become common carriers of the flower world. Many blossoms which do not secrete nectar pay their taxes in pollen, the bread- stuff of the bees, while others pay in both com- modities.

A bee when gathering pollen for food collects it with her tongue and forelegs, mixing it, perhaps, with nectar or saliva so it will hold together. It is cleaned off the tongue and front legs by the middle and hind legs, and by them packed in the pollen baskets on the tarsi of the hindlegs, and moulded there into great golden balls. Little wonder that the ancient Greeks, noticing bees thus laden, and consequently flying low, declared that the bees of Hymettus tied pebbles on their legs to weigh them down. (Plate VII, A, B.)

When the bee arrives at the hive she selects, usu- ally, a worker-cell and, backing up to it, thrusts in her legs and scrapes off the pollen by a dexterous movement like that made by a cook scraping dough off her hands. The bee bringing the pollen con- siders her duty done in furnishing the flour, and leaves the bread-making to one of her younger sis- ters, who is devoting the day to domestic duties. Needless to say, bee-bread is unleavened ; it is made by the very simple process of packing the pollen firmly into the cell, the utensil employed being the head of the bread-maker, which she uses cheerfully as a mallet for this purpose.

Bee-bread is necessary as a food for young bees and admirably supplements honey in its composition, being rich in albumenoids and nitrogen. To our taste it is rather bitter and disagreeable, as those of us can attest who ate comb-honey from the hives of old, before movable frames and supers were generally used. However, under the new regime, it is rarely placed in the sections of the supers, but sensibly stored in the brood-combs, near where it is used, and thus seldom appears upon the table.


Though bees are most successful manufacturing chemists, yet they are not above using ready-made substances if they find such to their liking. Thus, propolis is not produced by bees, but is gathered by them from various sources, and is used as a cement and a varnish. Certain trees and smaller plants protect their buds in winter by resinous coats; and it was quite like the adaptable bee to find use for this resin in her own domicile.

The elder Huber, whose observations of a century ago have been verified, discovered the source of propolis; he planted poplars in pots and placed them near the hives, and the bees were seen in the act of collecting the resin from the buds. They have been observed by others, working on the buds of the horse-chestnut, birch, willow, alder, and even the balsam fir. However, the bees have no preju- dices in favour of any kind of resin, anything will do so long as it answers the purpose; hence they visit shops where furniture is being finished and appro- priate the varnish without saying "please." And Darwin mentions the fact that bees collected a cement of wax and turpentine, used to cover trees from which the bark has been removed. If any old hives or fixtures with propolis on them be left around the apiary, the bees make all haste to save every particle of the precious stuff.

One of the oldest superstitions about bees is that they will gather on the coffin of their dead master; and authenticated instances of the kind are on record. But this beautiful tradition is made empty of senti- ment by the assertion that the bees assemble there not to mourn their dead master, but to gather the varnish from the coffin. Some iconoclasts ascribe to this the origin of "telling the bees" when some member of the family dies; but we believe this beautiful custom originated before varnished coffins were in use, and was the natural outgrowth of the close relations of bees and the home for many cen- turies.

The bee collects the propolis by cutting it off with her mandibles and packing it in her pollen baskets; and when she arrives at the hive, she never attempts to unload it herself, evidently deeming it safer to let the sister, whose business it is at the moment to stop cracks and crevices, take it from her legs and apply it at once.

There are various uses in the hive for the bee-glue: It is used as a filler to make smooth the rough places of the hive; it holds the combs in place; it calks every crack; it may serve as a sarcophagus for any intruder too large to be pitched out : snails and slugs have been found thus encased; it is applied as a varnish to the cells of the honey-comb if they remain unused for a time; and it is especially useful as a window shade. A nature-study teacher of our acquaintance established an observation hive in her school-room, which had an uncovered pane of glass set in one side so that the pupils might observe the interesting life of the hive. To her dismay the bees straightway hung a curtain of propolis over the win- dow and so shut out intrusive eyes.

One of the chief uses of propolis is to try the tem- per of the bee-keeper. If there is the least crack between hive and super, or cover, the two are glued together so that nothing but a knife and much muscu- lar force can loosen them. Cover blankets are stuck fast; the frames are welded to their places by it,

Photograph by ye PLATE XI. HIVING BEES Cutting down the swarm.

and it plasters into immobility all the modern appli- ances of the hive which man invented to be movable; and section-boxes are so stained with it that they have to be scraped before being sent to market. Above all, it gets on the hands of the operator, so that the digits of each act as one, or not at all, and everything touched sticks to them as if they were magnets; it also daubs the clothing, and if profane men were ever bee-keepers, it would incite them to wicked remarks. However, alcohol, applied to hands and clothing, solves the difficulty by dissolving the propolis; and a bottle of it is a most necessary adjunct to the equipment of the apiary. Benzine, gasoline, ether, and chloroform are as efficacious as alcohol, but not so pleasant to use. Boiling lye will clean clothes and apparatus that have become clogged with bee-glue.