Educational Guide

Honeycomb and Swarming

Honeycomb

The honeycomb forms the interior structure of the hive, is made up of six-sided cells, and is made of beeswax. It is used for storing food, both honey and a special food called beebread, which is made of glandular secretions that are added when bees work pollen, as is some honey or nectar. Microorganisms play an important role in the final product as well. When honey is stored in a cell of the honeycomb, it is sealed in with beeswax.

Another function of the honeycomb is as a place for rearing immature bees. The queen lays eggs, one to a cell, in the honeycomb. This area is called the brood nest. When an egg hatches inside the cell, the workers care for the young larva. This is the reason you will find the bees densely clustered in the brood nest; they are rearing the brood. In an artificial beehive, the brood will be confined to specific sections called the brood chambers or hive bodies. When a larva pupates, worker bees seal its cell with beeswax.


Swarming

Swarming is the natural method bees use to create new colonies. Each swarm contains several thousand worker bees, a queen, and several hundred drones. When the brood nest becomes crowded, the bees build “swarm cells” (new queen cells), and the old queen leaves with a swarm. The bees that leave with the swarm cluster congregate at a nearby site. They then seek out a new nest site to start a new hive.

Beekeepers try to prevent swarming in their hives by giving the bees more room and ensuring that the colony has a productive queen. Beekeepers may decide to increase their number of colonies by dividing the strongest colonies or buying packages of bees (wire-screened boxes that contain bees and a queen), or nucs (small nucleus colonies in a small hive that includes frames, comb, etc.). These methods are called “artificial” or “controlled” swarming. Some beekeepers collect “wild” swarms from trees or buildings. Or they may get them from other apiaries (groups of bee hives tended by beekeepers).