WHAT IS BEESWAX?
WHAT IS BEESWAX?Beeswax is a pure wax produced by female worker honey bees, formed within wax glands beneath the abdomen. When the bee eats large amounts of honey, the sugar content of the honey is converted into wax. It appears as a wafer-thin ‘scale’ which the bee scrapes off and chews until it becomes soft. This process also adds saliva and other enzymes to the wax.
The temperature in the hive has to be right for this wax production to happen. Somewhere around 33-36 degrees Celsius (91-97 degrees Fahrenheit) is ideal. In cooler weather, the bees will cluster around the worker bees to help keep them warm so they can keep making the wax.
The new wax is colourless, then opaque after chewing and becomes progressively more yellow or brown, depending on how much pollen and propolis it comes into contact within the hive. It takes around 1,000 scales to form just one gram of beeswax! Little wonder bees are known as ‘busy’. The exact compounds found in beeswax will differ according to the location of its production.
Inside the beehive, the bees use this processed wax to build their honeycomb structure, made up of thousands of individual hexagon-shaped cells. These cells have several uses such as honey and food storage for the hive. The queen also lays her eggs in these cells which gives protection to the young.
In yet another amazing feat of nature, the hexagonal cylinders that make up the wax honeycomb structure have been mathematically proven to provide the strongest and most effective shape, using as little wax as possible.
The melting point of beeswax will vary according to the amount and type of other components within the wax and will become brittle when cold.
HOW IS BEESWAX DIFFERENT FROM HONEY?As mentioned above, beeswax is produced by glands in the body of a female worker bee, and is used by the bees to create the honeycomb structure in their hive.
Honey is the sweet, thick, golden-coloured liquid bees (yes, it’s the female worker bees again – go girls) make from nectar, that most of us love and use regularly in our homes. It is also a food source for the bees.
Although it’s not that simple.
The female worker bees collect nectar, mostly from flowering plants, by using their long, tube-like tongue and then store it in their crop. The crop is sometimes called the ‘honey stomach’. It isn’t part of their digestive system but a kind of pouch for storing nectar.
It can take more than an hour, visiting over 1,000 flowers, for each bee to fill its tiny crop.
During this time in the crop of the bee, the nectar mixes with enzymes and proteins from the bee that begin breaking down the sugars, raising the water content a little. This process also makes the honey more suitable for long-term storage within the honeycomb.
When a worker honey bee returns to the hive with a full crop, it passes the nectar into the crop of another bee by a process of regurgitation. This is repeated amongst the bees until the processed nectar finally reaches a honeycomb cell where it is deposited for storage.
At this point, the processed nectar is still a liquid and is nothing like the thick honey we use at home. So, to remove further water from the mixture, the bees fan the open honeycomb cells using their wings to speed up the process of evaporation. This also raises the sugar concentration and helps to protect the honey from fermentation.
When enough of the water has evaporated, the bees seal the comb with a secretion of liquid from their abdomen, which then hardens into beeswax. Honey can be stored indefinitely if it’s sealed tight from exposure to air and water, and the greater majority of bacteria do not grow in honey. So, this store of honey will provide the hive with the perfect food source, especially in cooler times of the year when flowers, and therefore nectar and pollen, are less plentiful.The colour, taste, aroma, and texture of honey can vary greatly, depending on the kind of plants the bees are taking their nectar and other products from.
Save Our Bees Australia
The Tasmanian Honey Company
The Australian Academy of Science
The National Center for Biotechnology Information
Mother Earth News