Bees are famous for producing honey, but they also produce and build with honeycomb. Not all bees produce honey so which species do? How do bees make honeycomb? What is the purpose of honeycomb? Keep reading to learn the answer to these questions and more!
Honeycomb is a natural product produced by worker bees within a nest. Only certain species of bee can produce honey, most of which belong to the family Apidae.
Bees use honeycomb to build the inner chambers of their nest. The honeycomb structure provides support and protection for the nest. The structure of the honeycomb maximises space within the hive and increases the available storage areas. Individual honeycomb cells are used for both resource storage and rearing of larvae.
Bees are particular about storage within the nest. Each cluster of honeycomb rows is reserved for storage of resources or rearing of young.
The topmost honeycomb cells are used for storing honey. Pollen, nectar and water are stored on the rows below. The lower rows are used for the rearing of female worker larvae, the rows below this are reserved for drone larvae and the lowest cells are reserved for potential queen larvae.
Honeycomb begins as nectar, the same as traditional honey. Bees collect flower nectar and return to the nest, where it is collected by other worker bees.
Worker bees ingest lots of honey and the sugars from the honey are converted into wax, which is secreted via glands located the bees' lower abdomen. The bees then mold the wax into circular cells. As they work, their body heats melts the wax, creating a slow flow which fills in the gaps between cells.
Once the bees have finished constructing the cells, the wax hardens, creating the classic hexagonal honeycomb shape. Hexagonal building is optimal for construction as it is much stronger and provides better support.
Each hexagonal honeycomb cell can be constructed in as little as 6 seconds if they are warmed to the perfect temperature. Even if the wax is only partially warmed, each cell would take no more than 40 seconds to form.
In terms of a usable product, honeycomb is unique, as it does not need to be processed. It is a naturally occurring product with antimicrobial properties, thanks to the bees' efficient and clinical lifestyle.
The most common use of honeycomb is as a food source. Honeycomb can be eaten raw, as it is produced from honey and natural wax. People may enjoy eating honeycomb with their morning cereal, on toast or as a baking ingredient.
Honeycomb can also be used as a natural sweetener in food and drinks. A cube of honeycomb in hot water is the perfect beverage to soothe a sore throat.
There are many health benefits to honeycomb too. It is high in protein, as well as vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, iron, potassium and calcium. These nutrients help to support liver and gut health and maintain a strong immune system.
Many herbalists and natural remedy doctors advocate the use of honeycomb in the management of seasonal allergies like hay fever. Honeycomb has antibiotic and antimicrobial properties, as well as natural alcohols produced from the sugars in honey that can lower cholesterol levels. This same fermentation can actually affect bees to the point that bees act drunk.
Anyone with a pH imbalance in their digestive tract is recommended to eat honeycomb as it can balance acidity levels. Ingesting honeycomb will have a natural effect on blood glucose levels, which in turn protects the liver. Additionally, honeycomb contains antioxidants that neutralize toxins and prevent tissue damage in the liver and kidneys.
As honeycomb is a naturally occurring product, it does not contain gluten, so it is safe for people with medical conditions that mean they must stick to a strict gluten-free diet.