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First Place: Paige Costello, Tennessee

Why is Beeswax Important? 

When anyone mentions the word honeybee, Apis mellifera, one usually first thinks of the sweet treat of honey they produce, but there is another product they make that may be just as useful to both bee and humans and that is beeswax. While humans use it in many ways, honeybees use the wax for storage, brood control, and communication within the beehive.

Beeswax plays an important and beneficial role in the activities that occur in the colony along with projects outside of their hive.

Beeswax is naturally occurring wax and produced by honey bees. It is secreted in a flake form from the abdominal glands of the female honeybee. The composition of beeswax consists of different compound groups that are made in different amounts based on both the species of honeybee and their location5. The bees form it into a hexagonal shape which provides great strength to support the weight of the beehive. Newly made beeswax is white in appearance, and can range in colors from white to yellow to almost black, depending on the age and diet of the bees. It becomes darker with use inside the hive as pollen and larval debris are incorporated1.

In beekeeping, beekeepers may provide the foundation on which the honeybees build the wax into hexagonal cells. Wax production and comb construction activity in the bee colony are determined by several factors, like the amount of nearby nectar flows, the presence of pollen as a protein source, and the number of eggs the queen lays. The greater the need, the more wax is produced3. Therefore, beeswax is of great importance because it is used to make the foundation and honeycomb hexagonal cells for the bee’s “pantry” storage and organization of the nectar and pollen they collect, as well as the honey they produce. The more storage for these goods, the better the colony can reproduce and survive seasonal conditions, such as dry summers (dearth) or long cold winters, without incoming food.

Honeybees also produce beeswax cells for the queen to lay her eggs in, which form a nursery of bees in the hive. The more available wax cells, the more eggs she lays. The wax cups are important because they help to protect and cradle the queen’s eggs as they mature into larvae and prevent them from drying out 4. If the queen feels she has ample room to lay within the hive, it may also prevent swarming of the bees when the colony size increases. The more bees that emerge, the better they can protect the hive.

A final important attribute of beeswax in the hive is that it serves as a “dance floor” in bee communications. Beeswax is the network that runs throughout the entire hive. It is where bees convey imperative information to one another about the direction and distance the location of resources through their waggle dance on the beeswax dance floor2. Beeswax provides the surface area to quickly relay the message for this incoming news from the field.

For humans to utilize this great bee product, beeswax is obtained after the removal of the honey by melting the honeycomb, straining the wax to remove impurities, and pressing the residue to extract any remaining wax. Beeswax is used for the making of wax foundations. It also has many major commercial applications, including candle making, metal castings, modeling in cosmetics, and polishes4. It is one of the most useful natural, industrial waxes. Most mixtures made with beeswax are smooth and inert with other recipe additives.

Beeswax has been used around the house in many ways because of its diverse applications. While I have made the traditional homemade soaps, candles, lip balms that I very much enjoy and use for personal use, my favorite is homemade beeswax crayons.  I love to draw and create with different types of materials and this one I feel is unique. I can create different textures with the wax, make my own color palette, and even use leftover old pieces of crayons so nothing goes to waste. The crayons are quick and easy to make, can be made into any fun shape, and can be used by anyone. Here are the crayons and recipe below:

Homemade Crayons

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:
Directions:

In conclusion, honeybees are not only popular for their honey, but for their natural beeswax, too. Whether it is used for building a strong wax comb to better keep the apiary’s pantry stocked, or to keeping delicate brood safe until they hatch, beeswax plays many important roles in the daily operations and life of the beehive. Beeswax may just may “bee” the most important product in the beehive.

Bibliography 

  1. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopedia. “beeswax”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 19 Jul. 2019.
  1. Chittka L. Rossi. “Bees Learn to Dance.” Science (New York, N.Y.), U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36893251/.
  1. Kane, Terry Ryan, and Cynthia M. Faux. Honeybee Medicine for the Veterinary Practitioner. Willey Blackwell, 2021.
  1. McCreath, Simone Badal, and Rupika Delgoda. Pharmacognosy: Fundamentals, Applications and Strategies. Academic Press, 2016.
  1. Resh, Vincent H., and Cardé Ring T. Encyclopedia of Insects. Elsevier/Academic Press, 2009.
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