Honey Bee Wax Gland – A Must Have to Build a Hive

Honey Bee Wax Gland – A Must Have to Build a Hive

The honey bee is a most remarkable animal.  With a brain no larger than a pin head honey bees establish complex colonies of thousands of bees with different levels of service assigned to different ranks.  In this article we shall look at several aspects of the honey bee hive and of the honey bee itself.  One of the structures we shall consider is the honey bee wax gland and the wax it produces.


A little background

Honey bee hives are made up of one queen bee, hundreds of drones and twenty thousand to eighty thousand workers.  Each bee type serves a special service in the building, servicing and maintaining of the hive.  Also making up the hive are the developing eggs, the larvae and pupae.  All these together combine to make the colony, or hive.


The Queen

The Queen bee is the central figure around which the hive is built.  She is the most powerful but must have the help of the other castes of bees to build a functioning hive.  The queen bee is selected at birth and is fed royal jelly all her life.  All larvae are fed royal jelly for a few days but only the selected queen larvae is fed it continually.  She will develop into a sexually mature female.

She is the only bee that can lay fertilized eggs.  She is capable of producing up to two thousand eggs a day.  The queen mates early in her life and stores up millions of sperm within her body.  Typically a queen will live and produce for two or three years.  But they have been known to live up to five years.



The highest percentage of bees in the hive is the workers.  All workers are female.  Worker bees, though female, do not produce fertilized eggs.  But surprisingly, if there is no queen, some workers can lay unfertilized eggs which become drones.  How that happens will be for another article.

Workers do just what their name says.  They work.  They must go out and retrieve pollen and nectar and tend to the queen as well as the drones.  They have to feed the larvae, ventilate, and defend the hive against all intruders.  At times they must give their lives to protect the colony.  They are the ones who have the stinger.  In applying the stinger to an intruder they rip their abdomen and thereby seal their death.



Drones have one job and one job only, to fertilize the queen.  Some might think that would be the job to have.  But think again.  Upon mating with the queen, the drone then dies.  If a drone has not mated and is still a husband in waiting, the situation is not a whole lot better.  When times are hard and food is scarce, guess who is the first to be kicked out of the hive.  That’s right!  You guessed it.  The drones.



As hives grow there comes a point when there must be a separation and the forming of a new hive or colony.  This will usually occur in the spring.  Swarming honey bees are usually nothing to be feared since they have no young to defend.  They do not attack unless they are attacked.  However, it is best to leave them alone and stay away from them.

Swarms occur when a hive separates.  An old queen will take half the hive and find a place and set up a new hive.  This may take several days. The new young queen will maintain the old hive and begin to build it up.


What honey bees do

Well, if you thought that all honey bees do is make honey, you would be wrong.  Yes, they make honey.  But that honey serves as food for the hive and its’ growth.  Fortunately, they make far more honey than they need.  Because of that we humans get to share in their bounty.  At a later time we shall look at some of the great benefits of honey.

However, honey is not the only benefit we get from honey bees.  Honey bees are some of the best pollenators in the world.  Many of the plants that we take for granted and the food that we enjoy and need could not be possible without the help of honey bees.  As they seek out the nectar and pollen they need for food they act as carriers for hitchhiking pollen from one plant to another.  In this the honey bee is far more important as a pollenator than the honey that it provides.


Where did they get their degree

Bees are great engineers.  They have come up with the best configuration of a platform to be able to provide for storing food, conceiving, birthing and developing young.  It is such a well developed and complex system that scientist who study them are constantly being amazed.  The complexities of their communication and navigational systems are still being explored and are constantly yielding new discoveries.

This complex society could not exist without the honey comb.  The honey comb could not exist without the wax with which it is made.


From where comes the wax

Young worker bees make the wax for the honey comb.  Where do they get it?  The young worker bees have eight small pocket-like glands on their abdomens.  To activate these glands the young bees cling together for several hours until the hive temperature reaches about 80 degrees F.  The glands secrete tiny wax flakes which the bee scrapes off and chews it into a soft ball and places it at the base of the hive.  Another bee then begins the process of drawing it out.  It is then completed by a third worker.

The amazing thing about this is that it is not happening in one place but all throughout the hive.  It is being done in the dark and the bees are working upside down.  One might think that nothing good would come of such a situation.  But time after time this marvelous structure is built and utilized.  If it were not for this honey bee wax gland there would be no hive.  Without the hive there would be no Queen, no Drones, no Workers, no Larvae, no Pupae, and no Honey.

Thank God for little wax glands.  Yes, thank God.  No accident of evolution could have brought about these magnificently engineered wax glands which make an industry of life possible.  When one takes a little time to look and study, one can only marvel at this amazing creation.

In the beginning God created.  And part of that creation was the honey bee wax gland.


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4 thoughts on “Honey Bee Wax Gland – A Must Have to Build a Hive

  1. SmileAfresh Reply

    Hi Harvey,
    I salute you, and that was a pretty nice read!
    First, I have marveled at how much bees are worth in day to day life processes that I sometimes take fro granted- including they have a hand at what I eat! Indeed, all glory be to God who constantly makes us marvel at His great engineering and scientific art. And all of this in His- “Let there be” and it is good even today.
    I never thought of how much truth lies in “as busy as a beehive”- now I know better.
    Looking forward to when you’ll share about the marvel that is the structure and development of each of these insects’ bodies.
    Boniface from SmileAfresh

    • admin Reply

      Thank you for your comment.  The more we look at God’s creation the more we marvel at creation.  The more we understand, the more we realize how much we do not understand.

      God bless you as you grow in amazement at His creation.

  2. Spot On Website! Reply

    Holy Cow who knew. What a great read!

    For one I never considered a queen was actually selected. Wonder what that process is like.

    I don’t think I want to aspire to be a drone, too much downside risk. Basically you are gonna die one way or another.

    The swarm resulting from a split hive was very interesting in that the older queen takes half the hive. I guess a new queen is selected for the new hive with corresponding drones.

    I love honey and now I appreciate more what honey bees give to our quality of life, very cool.

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