The wax honeycomb of the bees inside the hive fulfills multiple functions, since it serves as a food container, a cradle for the young and also works as a thermal insulator in the different seasons of the year.
Beeswax is composed of esters of C 24 – C 33 alcohols and C 18 – C 36 fatty acids, with melting points in the range of 61-65ºC; it also contains lactones, flavonoids, alcohols and free acids (1). It is fat-soluble and dissolves in organic solvents.
How do bees build?
It is made up of honeycombs made up of hexagonally shaped cells, and it is also part of the development of the bees’ physiology, for this reason letting the bees put their own wax is very important.
First of all, the wax comb plays a key role as the visible expression of the superorganism of the bee colony.
Its importance for the function of the colony goes much deeper than what comes to mind for nests in general, that is, a shelter built with materials from the environment.
In fact it is an integral part of the superorganism; it is the structure, sensory organ, memory, immune system and as such is essential for its functioning.
Bees produce their wax
It is the bees themselves that produce the material that forms the honeycombs, that is, the wax, from eight groups of glands called wax glands that are positioned ventrally in the last four segments of the abdomen.
They develop slowly, in bees of 12-18 days they are in the phase of greatest development and after this period they begin to involute.
Therefore, if necessary, the older bees can recover the activity of the wax glands by producing wax again.
Flexibility in anatomy, physiology, and behavior is a characteristic aspect of the biology of Apis mellifera.
The wax glands
The wax leaves the body of the bee and solidifies in small flakes which will be passed to the oral apparatus and worked with the secretions of the mandibular glands until reaching a consistency suitable for use.
The honeycomb apart from its function of shelter, honey factory, storage of honey, pollen and cradle for breeding, has other functions that depend on its special physical and chemical properties.
In fact, it functions as a communication and memory network, sending information to the bees that are part of this superorganism.
the outer edges
The cells present a thickening, studies have shown that due to this particular conformation the vibrations produced by the bees that «dance» above the empty cells
They are optimally transmitted throughout the honeycomb, producing a greater number of visits to the food source compared to when they dance on top of already capped cells, which do not transmit vibrations with the same efficiency.
This means that the vibrations of the edges that spread throughout the honeycomb have a fundamental role in the exchange of information between the bees that make it up.
Some beekeeping practices inadvertently interfere with this exchange of information, an example is the wooden frames that close the honeycombs, normally used in beekeeping.
These prevent the transmission of vibrations in the honeycomb, which is why in some cases the bees create a space between the honeycomb and the frame to allow the diffusion of vibrations.
The chemical memory of wax.
The wax also has a chemical memory, in the hive you can find honeycombs with very different compositions.
Due to the different ages of the hive or the intrusion of foreign substances , it thus provides information to orient oneself within the hive.
Similarly, the composition of the wax present on the surface of the body of bees is not the same for all individuals.
In part it depends on the environment in which the bees live, since they absorb part of the wax from the comb, producing a specific identity of the colony.
The immune system of the honeycomb
It has an important role in the first line of defense against pathogens, particularly the cell walls are lined with a thin layer of propolis.
Finally, this substance has antibacterial and antifungal properties that the bees store in the hive to use according to their needs, however today it is one of the most contaminated products .