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Second Place: Zephan Samuel, Pennsylvania

The Importance of Beeswax?

 “No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.” (Albert Einstein).

Bees are fascinating social insects. There are around 20,000 species of bees.

Honey bees fly 55,000 miles and visit two million flowers to produce just about 2.2kg of honey. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations reports that bees pollinate over 71% of crops responsible for 90% of all the food around the world. These include beans, fruits, nuts, vegetables, herbs, and spices.8 Not all bees produce honey, but it is one of the main reasons people value them. Honey is a natural sweetener with many potential health qualities.3 Beeswax is another important product that people use.13 Beeswax has been utilized by ancient Egyptians in mummification, the embalming process and to preserve papyrus writings.1

Beeswax (cera alba) is a natural wax produced by honey bees of the genus Apis mellifera and is essential to the hive. Beeswax is secreted by worker honey bees from four pairs of glands on the underside of their abdomens. The wax glands are located over the wax plates and consist of thickened epidermal cells. Wax is secreted as a liquid and solidifies into scales upon contact with the plates.4 After the wax has been secreted, the bee will use its front legs, transfer it to the mandible and chew it, mixing it with its saliva until it is soft and pliable.7 This is done to transform it from scale wax (used on their bodies) to honeycomb wax (used for building).12 Beeswax is not one material but a mixture of many long-chain hydrocarbon molecules. Hydrocarbons are made of carbon and hydrogen atoms. 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.10 It takes over a thousand secreted scales to make a single gram of wax.11

Bees are extremely organized and require specific conditions for beeswax to be produced. When there is a strong nectar flow, bees will produce more honey; hence they need more honeycombs, resulting in increased wax production. If there are plenty of available honeycomb cells, bees won’t construct anymore. For bees to spend time producing wax to construct honeycombs, they need to have already filled up the existing honeycomb cells. Bees will produce wax when the hive has a temperature of 91 to 97°F (33 to 36°C). Worker bees will regulate these temperatures themselves, as bees can heat specific areas of the nest.10 If there’s no queen, the bees will switch their focus from foraging, making honeycombs, and caring for brood, to raising a new queen. When bees have plenty of resources (water, honey, nectar, and pollen), the honeybee colony will produce large amounts of young bees. As the queen lays more eggs, more honeycomb cells are needed to house the new brood, hence a spike in the amount of beeswax.

Beeswax is extremely important to the hive as it is used both as a pantry and a nursery. When bees eat nectar and pollen, their wax glands turn them into wax, which they use to make the honeycomb. The honeycomb has a series of hexagonal cells that are used to store honey and pollen. 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 honey is prevented from being stolen by other insects and is also protected from moisture and bacteria. By “sealing” the honey with beeswax, the bees create their own container that will keep the honey fresh and safe.10

Bees spend about 21 days as brood, (from egg to pupa). During 12 of these days, the brood cell will be capped. The cells help to keep the brood warm. 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, providing greater strength and optimal space utilization.6 The cell is capped approximately 5-6 days after the egg has been laid. 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.10

Bees use their hive as a dance floor and communicate distance and direction using the “round dance” or the “waggle dance”. The round dance communicates that the food source is near the hive, and when the food source is at a greater distance, worker bees perform the waggle dance.2

Travis Schwalm, has been a beekeeper for three years. Having started out with a secondhand colony, the most cost-effective way to start beekeeping,9 he showed me how to “uncap” the beeswax with a special fork.5 He told me that a year of wax capping provides only one quart of beeswax.

Beeswax is one of the miracles of nature. It is a natural byproduct of building hives 7 and has a variety of uses. Beeswax can be used instead of plastic wrap, as a seal, as a wood conditioner/polish, in desserts, shoe polish, candles, soaps, paw wax, bug bite serum, natural deodorant, lip balm, hair balm, body butter, scar lotion, a salve for cracked heels, nose balm, sunscreen, beeswax crayons, and as a diaper rash cream!

I enjoy using beeswax to make candles and soaps that I give as gifts to my friends and family.

Without bees, our whole ecosystem will fall apart. There is nothing more beneficial than a natural product with anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as a long shelf life. Beeswax is edible, versatile, and useful. We should be extremely grateful for God’s wonderful creation of the bee and beeswax, a gift from the bees directly to us.

Bibliography 

    1. Ahnert, Beeswax Alchemy: How to Make Your Own Soap, Candles, Balms, Creams, and Salves from the Hive, 2015.
    2. Blackiston, Beekeeping For Dummies. John Wiley & Sons, 2020.
    3. Bruneau, The Benevolent Bee: Capture the Bounty of the Hive through Science, History, Home Remedies, and Craft. Quarto Publishing Group USA, 2017.
    4. Coggshall, William , and Roger A. Morse. Beeswax: Production, Harvesting, Processing, and Products, 1984.
    5. Flottum, The Backyard Beekeeper, 4th Edition: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden, 2018.
    6. Karihaloo, L; Zhang, K. Honeybee combs: How the circular cells transform into rounded hexagons. September 6, 2013.
    7. McBride, The Complete Laymans Guide to Beeswax. Ravenna Publishing House, 2021
    1. Millar, “The Importance of Bees to Humans, the Planet, and Food Supplies,” May 18, 2021. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/why-are-bees-
    important-to-humans#why-are-bees-important
    1. Morse, Roger A Year in the Beeyard. Scribner Book Company, 1983.
    2. Pittman, “How Do Bees Make Wax & How Do They Use It?” Misfit Animals, December 13, 2021. https://misfitanimals.com/bees/how-do-bees-make-wax/.
    3. Readicker-Henderson, A Short History of the Honey Bee: Humans, Flowers, and Bees in the Eternal Chase for Honey. Timber Press, 2009.
    4. Svecnjak, ” Standard methods for Apis mellifera Beeswax Research,” March 20,2019.
    5. Wikipedia “Beeswax.” Wikipedia, March 25, 2023.
Non-Toxic Wood Polish Ingredients

Add beeswax and olive oil in the double boiler and let it melt, stirring occasionally. Once the beeswax has melted, add Vitamin E along with the essential oil. Stir thoroughly and pour into resealable jar. Let cool overnight before using.

Beeswax Tuile

Place a block of beeswax in the freezer to solidify fully. Once cold, grate a thin even layer on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Little holes will help air flow, so it does not need to be a solid layer.

Pop it in a preheated oven at 375 ⁰ F until lightly browned and crisp, just a few minutes. Let cool before peeling it off the parchment paper. It’s a light, crunchy snack that tastes like delicate floral and honey combination.

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