Misfit Animals is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn More.

How Do Bees Make Wax & How Do They Use It?

Bees make wax with their special wax-glands, which they develop when they’re about 10 days old. The wax-glands produce this waxy substance and then secrete flakes onto wax mirrors located on their abdomen.

Beeswax is a natural substance that the honey bee uses to build their homes, create new cells for the brood, seal cracks in the hive, and also as a coating for food stores.

This beeswax is produced, and secreted, by special glands in their abdomen.

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into how bees produce wax, what wax-glands and wax mirrors are, and how they use them.

What Is Beeswax?

Beeswax is a natural substance produced in bees. Bees have specialized wax-glands, which convert sugar into this wax-like substance. It consists mostly of fatty acids and long-chain alcohols.

Honey bees use wax to build honeycombs, their nest, or waterproofing. Many other insects also produce a similar waxy substance on their bodies to keep them dry. [1]

Beeswax is also used by people, originally as the first plastic, as a lubricant, and as a waterproofing agent.

Other uses of this wax include candle making and other forms of candle-making, making polish for furniture and floors, glazing pottery, making cosmetics, and in the food industry [2].

bee wax close view

How Do Bees Make Beeswax?

Bees produce wax in their wax-glands. These transform sugars into wax, whereafter the wax is secreted on eight wax-producing mirror glands on the inner sides of their abdomen.

After the wax has been secreted, the bee will, using its front legs, transfer it to the mandibles and chew it. This is done to transform it from scale wax (used on their bodies) to honeycomb wax (used for building). [3]

The worker bee then deposits the wax onto a surface. Other worker bees can collect wax from around the hive, and use it to build honeycombs.

Bees use their mandibles and front legs to shape the honeycomb into hexagonal cells, which are later used to store brood or honey.

The quality of beeswax varies depending on species, nectar flow, the health of the hive, and other factors. [3]

bee antennae

Are Bees Harmed When Making Beeswax?

Some people believe that bees are harmed when making beeswax, but this isn’t true. The production and secretion of wax is a natural process in the wax-glands.

How Long Does It Take Bees to Make Wax?

It takes bees about 12 hours to produce 8 scales of wax, one scale every 1.5 hours. Bees need 

Do Bumblebees Make Wax?

Yes, bumblebees do produce wax. The female worker bees secrete wax through the hard “plates” on their abdomen, which they’ll then use to form brood cups, build their hive, and perform other tasks.

drone bumblebee

Why Do Bees Make Wax?

Bees naturally produce wax in their wax-glands as protection for their bodies, much like other insects. Additionally, bees figured out how to use the wax for other tasks, such as building cells.

Bees make wax because they need to:

  • Build honeycombs used for storing brood and honey.
  • Build queen cups (vertical honeycombs) used to store queen brood.
  • Seal, or cap, stored honey.
  • Build their nest.

Beeswax is made up of a mixture of hydrocarbons. The hydrocarbons are made of long chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms. The length and type of these chains determine the properties of the wax.

What Do Bees Use Beeswax For?

Bees use beeswax for several things such as building honeycomb, building their nest, as well as storing pollen and honey, which they eat during the winter months.

Bees aren’t the only creatures that use their honey. Humans do too. Beeswax has been used throughout history for things such as embalming for mummification in Ancient Egypt, in art, preservation, and waterproofing. [4]

1. Honeycomb Building

Bees forage for nectar and pollen. When bees eat these, their wax-glands turn them into wax, which they can then use to make honeycomb.

Before bees can use their wax for honeycombs, they chew on it to transform it from anisotropic scale wax into isotropic comb wax. [5]

The honeycomb has a series of hexagonal cells that are used to store honey and pollen. The cells also help to keep the brood warm.

Honeycomb is built into hexagonal shapes, as this shape has the optimal shape for building storage. This shape fills a plane with equal size units and leaves no wasted space.

When bees initially place the wax into cells, the cells have a circular shape. Only after the workers heat up the beeswax, will it turn into a hexagonal shape. [6]

Related: How Long Does It Take Bees to Make a Hive & Honeycomb?

honey bees on honeycomb

2. Nest/Hive Building

Bees use beeswax to build their nests and hives. 

The wax secreted by bees is a natural waterproofing agent, and it helps to keep the hive warm and dry. The wax also provides a smooth surface for the bees to walk on, and it makes the hive strong and sturdy.

Beekeepers often use the melted wax to seal up cracks in a hive or to fix broken frames.

bee workers working on beehive

3. Honey Capping

One of the more interesting things that bees do is “honey capping”. 

Honey capping is the task of sealing, or capping, the top of the honeycomb with additional beeswax when it’s been filled with honey. Bees do this to preserve the honey.

The reason for honey capping is twofold: 

  1. To prevent the honey from being stolen by other insects.
  2. To protect it from moisture and bacteria. 

By sealing the honey in with beeswax, the bees are essentially creating their own container that will keep the honey fresh and safe.

Related: How long does it take bees to make honey?

Close up of bees and honeycomb in wooden beehive.

4. Brood Capping

Beeswax is also used by bees for brood capping.

Bees spend about 21 days as brood, from egg to pupa. During 12 of these days, the brood cell (where the brood is located) will be capped, meaning, they’re in an enclosed space. [7]

The cell is capped after approximately 5-6 days after the egg has been laid.

bee larvae

When Do Bees Make Beeswax?

Bees typically begin making beeswax when they are about 10-12 days old. They will continue to produce beeswax until they are about 20-22 days old. After that, they will no longer be able to produce beeswax.

They also need certain conditions in order to make beeswax:

  1. A strong nectar flow
  2. No available honeycombs
  3. The correct temperature
  4. They need a queen
  5. A high reproduction rate

Strong Nectar Flow

Beeswax is a natural product that is produced by honey bees. The quality and quantity of wax produced are affected by the strength of the nectar flow.

Nectar flow describes the amount of available nectar. A strong flow means there are plenty of blooming flowers, hence a lot of nectar.

When there is a strong nectar flow, bees will produce more honey, hence they need more honeycombs, resulting in increased wax production. Poor nectar flows will result in less wax production.

honey bee full of pollen on body

No Available Honeycombs

Bees are efficient workers, meaning they only do what they need to. If there are plenty of available honeycomb cells, they won’t construct anymore.

Hence, for bees to spend time producing wax, to build honeycombs, they need to have already filled up the existing honeycomb cells.

The Queen Is Present

The queen bee is an important part of a beehive, and her presence can affect how bees make beeswax.

If there’s no queen, the bees will switch their focus from foraging, making honeycombs, and caring for brood, to raising a new queen.

Without a queen, there’s also no new brood, which means less use for honeycomb cells.

queen bee close up

Increased Reproduction

The production of beeswax is directly related to the honeybee’s reproductive cycle. When bees have plenty of resources (water, honey, nectar, and pollen), the honeybee colony will produce large amounts of young bees. 

This results in an increased reproduction rate and an increase in beeswax production.

As the queen lays more eggs, more honeycomb cells are needed to house the new brood, hence a spike in the amount of beeswax needed.

Temperature Requirements of Wax Creation

Bees will produce wax when the hive has a temperature of 91 to 97°F (33 to 36°C)

In order to work with and shape the beeswax, the wax needs to be hot enough. This can only be achieved if the hive is hot enough.

A study shows that beeswax reaches temperatures ranging from 93°F (34°C) to 161.4°F (71.9°C). These temperatures vary depending on the species of bees.

Worker bees will regulate these temperatures themselves. They can heat specific areas of the nest, depending on what honeycomb needs to be heated.

Related: Bee temperature tolerance

swarming worker bees around queen bee

Can You Eat Beeswax?

Humans can eat food-grade beeswax, and many people do exactly that. Our bodies are fully capable of breaking down beeswax. 

It is a natural, edible wax produced by honey bees. It is mainly esters of fatty acids and various long-chain alcohols. 

Beeswax consists of a mixture of several chemical substances such as palmitate, stearate palmitostearin, oleate oleopalmitostearin, and beeswax.

Beeswax is sometimes mixed with carnauba wax, which comes from the leaves of palm trees, to improve its texture and gloss for use in lip balm and other cosmetics.

Related: Can you eat beeswax & honeycomb?

honeycomb on a plate

How Long Does It Take Bees to Make Honeycomb?

It takes anywhere from 2 to 3 days for bees to make honeycomb, depending on the size of the comb and the weather conditions. In order to make honeycomb, bees need to have access to both nectar and pollen.

Bees take longer to build their nest, which can take a new colony a full season. An established hive can however build a new nest in under a month.

Related: How long does it take bees to make honeycomb?

Conclusion

Beeswax is a byproduct of bees. They use it for various purposes such as building homes and coating for food stores. Bees produce beeswax in their wax-glands, located in their abdomen. The wax is then secreted onto 8 wax mirrors, located on their abdomen.

When the wax has been secreted, it’s in a flaky form. Bees then chew on it to transform it into honeycomb wax, which they can use to build cells.

About Teodoro Pittman

Teodoro is a nature and animal lover. He specifically focuses on insects, such as ants, bees, and the like. In his free time, he takes care of his own ant farm, where he analyzes their behavior. Teodoro has spent the last 7 years studying the intricate behavior of these small creatures.