Beeswax, Honey Bees, and Apiary Information - Wave Equation Surf Products

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Wave Equation 100% Natural Surf Wax is made from beeswax and other all natural ingredients.  Here's some info about what beeswax is and what it can be used for.

What Is Beeswax?

According to the EPA it is: The wax obtained from the honeycomb of the bee. It consists primarily of myricyl palmitate, cerotic acid and ester and some high-carbon paraffins.

Beeswax Properties

Flash Point: Open Cup 204.4 degrees C, 399.9 degrees F

Melting Point: 63.5 degrees C, 146.3 dgrees F

Specific gravity: 0.955 (Water=1)

History of Honey Bees and Beeswax

(Apis mellifera L.) preceded humans on earth by 10 to 20 million years. Honey bees are one of the oldest forms of animal life still in existence from the Neolithic Age. Primeval humans gathered and ate the honey and honeycombs of wild bees, the only available sweet, as far back as 7000 B.C. Bronze Age societies celebrated preindustrial triumphs by drinking mead, probably the first intoxicating beverage, fermented from honey. In fact, the words mead and mellifera (the specific name for honey bees), which are similar in several languages, were derived from root words referring to honey bees, liquor, doctored drink, etc. In the past, words for mead, honey, and honey bee have been used interchangeably, revealing the importance placed on the alcoholic beverage derived from honey.

Like honey, beeswax has been prominent in ancient folklore and mythology. In the pre-Christian era, wax was offered as a sacrifice to the gods; used in the rites of birth, circumcision, marriage, purification, and death; and used in embalming, sealing coffins, and mummification. The use of beeswax in religious candles carried over into Christian times and led to beekeeping by clergy and monks in order to ensure an adequate supply of the raw material. In the past, beeswax served as a medium of exchange and taxation; it was exacted as tribute from conquered nations and was used in writing, painting, sculpturing, and protecting works of art, as well as for illumination. Honey, beeswax, and propolis (a mixture primarily of plant resins and beeswax that bees use in nest contruction) have been used extensively in pharmacopoeia since 2700 B.C. The principal medicinal value of honey arises from its antibacterial properties when used as a wound dressing.

Honey bees originated in southern Asia, probably in the region of Afghanistan. The earliest record of humans gathering honey from wild colonies is from 7000 B.C. Man first kept bees about 3000 to 4000 B.C., perhaps as early as 5000 B.C. There is no way of knowing to what extent honey bees have evolved since then; we can assume that some evolution has taken place, particularly with regard to the social organization of the colony and foraging behavior. Apis mellifem, the most widely distributed of the species of Apis, is not native to the Americas. The first record of the introduction of honey bees to the western hemisphere was in 1530 in South America. It was introduced to North America by colonists from Holland in 1638. Since bees visit a broad range of host plants and are able to conserve heat by clustering, they have become widely dispersed and are now found throughout the world. Honey bees are limited in their distribution mainly by an absence of suitable forage and/or less than 19.8 cm (7.8 inches) of rainfall annually.

The scientific name, Apis mellifera, was given the honey bee by Carolus Linnaeus in 1758. It liter- ally means "the honey-carrying bee * " A more descriptive name, A. mellifica, or "the honey-mak- ing bee ' " was proposed in 1761. While this second name more accurately describes honey bees (which carry nectar but make honey), the rales governing precedence in scientific nomenclature dictate that the earlier name be retained. Nevertheless, the term A. mellifica can still be found in some bee literature.


Honey bees and their life history and products were topics of study for early philosophers, such as Aristotle, Pliny, and Virgil. Many others have studied bees throughout history. Yet, most basic knowledge of the natural history of the honey bee has been gathered only since the sixteenth century. Twentieth-century scientists have revealed the nature of honey bee sensory systems, behavior, communication, and population dynamics. For example, it is now known that while honey bees do not possess the fine-grained retinal mosaics of humans, they can navigate with precision by optically scanning the sky's polarization patterns through their ultraviolet receptors. Moreover, they easily perceive other colors and rapidly flickering patterns (as in flight at close range). Honey bees possess senses of taste and smell about as acute as those of humans and even more acute for some flavors and aromas. Other revelations are fast emerging about the flight muscle physiology of bees, their learning, memory, dances, chemical communication systems, and reproductive physiology. Although it is often more appealing to believe that bees are somehow special, honey bees are simply insects. Careful study of the literature reveals that many insects behave and function in the manner of honey bees; that is, they generate and conserve heat, raise young, forage, communicate, swarm, store provisions (some even garden), and pollinate or otherwise provide food for humans. Moreover, they do so just as efficiently as do honey bees. Honey bees may seem unique because they express all the above behavioral and physiological traits; but special combinations of traits such as these are present in other insects, in plants, and in animals, where they are equally compelling. So we must ultimately conclude that physiologically, behaviorally, and biochemically honey bees are just insects, remembering, of course, that insects themselves are quite remarkable.

Although honey bees (and other bees) are often confused with their near relatives, the wasps, bees can be easily identified by their fuzzy appearance (branched body hairs), robust body, and flattened hind leg. There are more than 20 races of honey bees, the result of natural selection in their respective homelands. But only 4 principal races are important to beekeeping in the northern hemisphere: the Carniolans, Italians, Caucasians, and Dark bees. In the southern hemisphere, other races are also important. Honey bee colonies are perennial and nearly worldwide in distribution; they are distributed from the tropics to subarctic regions. This is possible because they hoard resources and because they can thermoregulate their nests, by fanning to evaporate water for cooling, by metabolizing honey to produce heat (0.1 cal per minute per bee), and by clustering to conserve the heat they produce. Other insects are capable of producing similar levels of heat energy; for bees, however, temperature regulation via clustering is the key to winter survival.

Feral (wild) colonies nest in hollow trees, rock crevices, and ground holes. They seem to prefer living trees. In the northern hemisphere most nest entrances are knotholes facing southwest, undoubtedly because this is the side of the tree that weathers and cracks first. Acceptable cavities are approximately 40 L (about the size of a one-story-deep Langstroth hive), and wild colonies therein consist of about 18,000 to 20,000 bees in the most populous summer months. Unlike most other insects, bees build their nests out of their own body products, primarily wax and salivary secretions.

Over the years apiculturists have gathered statistics in order to better explain the organization and activities of a colony of kept honey bees. While such figures are useful and interesting, one must keep in mind that they depend on season and locality, so extreme variations are normal. In the summer, colonies managed by a beekeeper may consist of 40,000 to 60,000 adult bees (2 to 3 times that of feral colonies). These will likely be distributed among the three castes as follows: 1 queen, 100 to 300 drones (up to 10,000 drones have been reported), 13,300 to 20,000 foraging workers, and 26,600 to 40,000 workers engaged in various hive duties such as brood rearing, comb construction, housecleaning, defense, and temperature regulation. The brood (eggs and young) in a typical colony includes 5,000 to 7,000 eggs, 7,000 to 11,000 larvae being fed, and 16,000 to 24,000 pupae in sealed cells. A single worker larva is fed approximately 1,300 meals per day for 5 days and grows to 300 times its original weight before pupation ensues (human growth is only 10 to 20 times original body weight). Three-fourths of a larva's weight is made up of fat.

During brood rearing, the temperature of the brood nest is maintained at 32-35'C (90-95'F), usually 33-34'C (92-93'F). Since worker bees metabolize honey to generate the heat needed to warm the hive, honey must be present in the hive at all times. Colony humidity is also relatively constant at 48-50 +-6 6 percent relative humidity. To accomplish this bees gather water and evaporate it in the hive when atmospheric humidity in the hive is low. However, most hive humidity, including that needed for cooling, is derived from the water content of nectar and from bee metabolism. When ambient relative humidity is high the bees are apparently able, by some means, to maintain a lower level in the hive.

Bee behavior is instinctive and genetically pro-grammed. Yet bees have plasticity in their central nervous system, as exhibited by their well-developed ability to learn and remember. Bees can learn in most sensory modalities (i.e., distance, sight, smell, taste, and touch). There is some evidence of a rudimentary ability to reason, such as associating flower type with reward. Bees are opportunists, as well, exploiting the most lucrative floral sources to save time and energy. Nevertheless, habituation (training) is an important part of bee behavior; bees can become accustomed to such things as frequent manipulation by beekeepers or the presence of floral sources. Bees have evolved with numerous highly specialized sensory receptors that are unevenly distributed over the head, thorax, and abdomen. In function, the head is principally sensory for sight, smell, taste, and touch. The main portion of the brain within is a coalescence of three ganglia (nerve centers) that process much of the sensory information and initiate appropriate behavioral patterns.

The thorax, tightly packed with well-innervated muscles, is the locomotory center for flight, walking, and sound production. The feet and legs are believed to bear important taste and touch receptors, as well. Certainly, the ability to build hexagonal wax cells of uniform size is dependent in part on sensory receptors on the legs. In the abdomen are found digestive, circulatory, reproductive, and defensive organs, along with the wax glands. Nerve and respiratory systems are distributed throughout the body. Since the insect is encased in a hard exoskeleton, it must of necessity have specialized external sensory areas. The bee's numerous external sensory receptors inform the central nervous system about the external environment, as well as about events within the body (such as the direction in which legs and wings are moving, whether the head is up or down, if the sting is in or out, or whether the bees is in contact with food or forage).

Honey bees communicate with one another both phonetically and kinetically. Tonal qualities of sounds produced by bees suggest that several 14 moods" can be communicated. The best known of their communication systems is the dance language that provides information regarding the location of a particular source of forage. Information in this dance includes distance, direction, and quality and quantity of food. The recruitment dances instinctively performed by worker bees are in fact ritualized, miniaturized versions of the foraging trip the returning bee has just taken. The recruit bee learns and practices the trip in miniature and then leaves on her own (rather than being led, as with other social insects) to the source. Several other lesserknown dances are performed by bees, and sound production by the dancing bees is an essential part of the dance activity. Bees also communicate via the aroma and taste of the products they bring back to the hive, as well as by at least 31 pheromones (chemical compounds) they produce from glands in their bodies.

Honey bees have no unusual nutritional re-quirements, only a balanced diet containing carbo-hydrates, fats, proteins, minerals, vitamins, and water.'Even so, the logistics of honey bee foraging and food consumption are incredible. A typical colony may use up to 100 lb pollen for brood rearing each year; 4 million foraging trips are required to collect this quantity. A single bee may carry up to 5 million pollen grains in a single trip. Some pollen is probably consumed, but most is mixed with small quantities of honey or nectar and possibly salivary products and packed into cells adjacent to the brood nest where it undergoes a chemical change to a product called bee bread. This product is stored until consumed by adult bees for conversion into glandu- lar larval food, a kind of "mother's milk " Bee bread is the principal food of the adult nurse bees. This nutrient was so named by primitive man because of its bready taste. Nurse bees eat and convert bee bread into at least two different glandular secretions, which are then fed to bee larvae. The diets of workers, queens, and drones are entirely dissimilar. Brood food recipes for each of the three castes involve differing ratios of the two glandular products (each is the product of bees of a different age); a quantity of honey is then added, the amount being caste dependent. Cannibalism of eggs and larvae, which occurs during periods of food scarcity, can preserve the colony by conserving vital nutritional elements.

Under ideal conditions and depending on the plant species involved, a colony may produce 90.7 kg (200 lb) or more surplus honey. The bees visit 2.5 to 500 million flowers for the nectar from which this quantity is produced. Approximately 3.6 kg (8 lb) honey are consumed in foraging and brood rearing to produce 0.45 kg (1 lb) surplus. Estimates of energy consumption indicate that foraging bees get about 11,265,100 km (7 million flight miles) to 3.8 L (1 gal) honey. Normally bees forage no more than a 3.2- to 4.0-km (2- to 2.5-mi) radius from the hive, covering 324 to 5062 ha (8,000 to 12,500 a) but may on occasion fly up to 16.1 km (10 mi) at a speed of 19.3 to 24 km (12 to 15 mi) per hour. The farther that bees must fly from a colony to forage for nectar, the more fuel they burn and the less efficient they are at producing a surplus of honey. The top speed of a worker bee is about 29 km (18 mi) per hour. As with the production of heat mentioned earlier, honey must be present in the hive to refuel foraging bees; without it foraging ceases.


Since humans first began keeping bees, their principal aim has been the harvest of honey. Thus beekeeping methods have been adapted to accommodate colony behavior. Some success has been achieved in manipulation of colonies to capitalize on certain behavioral traits, but honey bees must still be considered wild, not domesticated, creatures, and honey a raw agricultural commodity. Ninety percent of the world's beekeepers live in Europe, Russia, Asia, and Africa and produce 54 percent of the world's honey by averaging 9.1 kg (20 lb) per colony. Ten percent of the world's beekeepers live in Australia and North and South America and produce 46 percent of the world honey crop by averaging 22.7 to 45.4 (50 to 100 lb) per colony. Some stingless bees (not honey bees) are kept for honey production, but the number of these colonies is comparatively small. Worldwide honey production is currently in excess of 544,320 t (600,000 tons) annually. This quantity is provided by an estimated 50 million colonies kept by about 61/2 million beekeepers. The current world population is around 3,500 million people, so there are approximately 500 times more honey bees than people. Honey is elaborated from the nectar of numerous plant species but may also be produced from honeydew excretions of aphids and scale insects). Nectars vary considerably in quality and quantity, depending on the floral source. Similarly, honeys vary; some honey is nearly colorless (like water), with a light, pleasing aroma, and some is as dark as crankcase oil, with a heavy-bodied aroma. Honey from most floral sources falls between these extremes. Bees convert nectar to honey by drying it down to a moisture content of 15 to 20 percent and by adding a salivary enzyme that changes sucrose (long-chain sugar) into glucose and fructose (two short-chain sugars); honey is composed of sugars, mainly fructose and glucose. Honey also contains trace amounts of minerals, enzymes, vitamins, and colloids. Other biologically active constituents (such as hydrogen peroxide and gluconic acid) inhibit some microbial development but accelerate yeast growth. A limited number of plant sources yield nectar with toxic elements, but fortunately bees either recognize and avoid these or are able to nullify their effects. (Beekeepers avoid areas with such noxious plants.)

Honey is used as a sweetener (1 part honey 1.67 parts sugar) and in baking, baby foods, confectioneries, cosmetics, meat packing, pharmaceuticals, and syrups, and for curing tobacco. Honey is often used to maintain moisture as well. In times past, it was believed to be a powerful aphrodisiac. It is served in liquid or granulated (spread) form and in the comb; limited quantities of dried honey are now available. But for bees, honey is the all purpose food, essential for stores of body fat, for flight, and in the production of heat, humidity, and wax.

Other products of the hive include pollen, brood (still eaten by some primitive cultures), propolis (bee glue), royal jelly, venom, and of course beeswax. For making beeswax, each worker bee has four pairs of wax glands on the underside of its r abdomen; these function best in 12- to 18-day-old bees, according to the needs of the colony. Both protein (pollen) and carbohydrates (honey) are required to produce beeswax; 1 lb beeswax, which contains about 450,000 wax scales, will provide enough wax to make 35,000 hexagonal cells that can store 10 kg (22 lb) honey. Thus bees consume part of their food (pollen and honey) for the purpose of converting it into nest structure -specifically cells for food storage and brood rearing. It takes 2.7 to 4.5 kg (6 to 10 lb) honey to produce 0.45 kg (1 lb) wax. Beeswax has many uses worldwide, including the production of candles, cosmetics (the largest user-industry), electronics, lubricants, leather and fabric preservatives, polishes, inks and paints, models for dentistry, and beer. A large portion of the beeswax produced is recycled to the bee industry where it is used to produce the foundation for new honeycomb and queen cell cups. World production of beeswax exceeds 9072 t (10,000 tons) annually.

Propolis is used in the attachment of combs to the top and sides of the hive, as well as for filling cracks, reducing the size of the hive entrance, and embalming intruders. It is composed of plant resins gathered by worker bees, beeswax (30 to 60 percent), balm (perhaps a glandular secretion of bees or a product of honey bee digestion), as well as pollen and hive debris. In times past, varnishes responsible for the tonal quality of violins and the finishes ori other fine woods contained refined propolis. The human nutritional value of pollen and queen (royal) and worker jelly has been of great interest throughout the world. However, there is much doubt as to their real worth. These jellies, larval food synthesized from the digestion of pollen and secreted by the brood food glands of worker bees, have, like pollen, no proven attributes except as bee food. Nevertheless, both are used in various cosmetics, lotions, and dietary supplements. According to Greek mythology the infant Zeus, out of gratitude for the honey that sustained him, gave the honey bee its sting for defense. Because the bee abused this power, Zeus later decreed that the bee must die whenever the sting is used. Perhaps it is ironic that now we have developed the means to milk venom from bees and use this product in medicine. The collection and sale of bee venom is an increasingly popular although extremely limited enterprise. Presently, its greatest use is in the treatment of bee venom hypersensitivity. It is also reported as helpful in reducing the pain caused by certain types of arthritis.

Commercial beekeeping has given rise to two additional hive products, namely, the queen and worker honey bees. Worker bees are packaged and sold by the pound by beekeepers who are engaged in this highly specialized form of beekeeping. Packages of worker bees and queens are frequently delivered by the postal service. A package of bees normally contains 0.9 to 1.4 kg (2 to 3 lb) of bees plus a mated queen. Packaged bees are used for establishing new colonies or for replacement of those lost through natural causes or catastrophic events. The selling of honey bee queens is a highly lucrative commercial enterprise. Queens are often advertised as being of a specific genetic origin with certain desirable attributes. These queens are used by beekeepers to requeen existing colonies in which the old queen is failing or was lost. Beekeepers may also expand their businesses with the purchase of additional queens; each new queen is installed in a new colony made by dividing an existing colony in half (the old queen heads up the parent unit).


Reproduction in many plant species is a sexual process analogous to that of animals. Pollen (equivalent to sperm) must find its way to the stigma (equivalent to the vagina). Flower visitors, principally bees, are essential in the transfer of pollen within and between flowers. Floral nectars and aromas attract bees and thus ensure adequate pollination and the reproductive success of the plant. The honey bee's most significant contribution to human dietary habits has been these pollination activities. Without honey bees human tables and lives would be impoverished by a general lack of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and other bee-pollinated plant products; and the human diet would be almost wholly restricted to cereals, some nuts, and the meat of wild animals. One of the world's estimated 20,000 to 30,000 living species of bees, the honey bee has become indispensable, humanity's greatest and most versatile insect benefactor. More than 90 fruit, vegetable, nut, and seed crops are partially or entirely dependent on bees for pollination, as are numerous ornamental plants and wild flowers. The value of bee-pollinated crops in the United States is estimated to be $100 million100 times the value of the honey produced. These crops represent up to one-third of the human diet in many countries. Mobile beekeepers in the United States and elsewhere can even supply bees to farmers at the time pollination is needed. Early in the year these beekeepers provide pollination services to growers in warm areas. They then move their hives into the more temperate climates, following the spring weather northward (southward in the southern hemisphere) and pollinating both orchard and field crops. When they terminate their annual trek, they collect a final large honey crop and then return home in the fall to prepare for another northward migration the following year.


Like other animal life, honey bees are beset by a variety of threats to their survival -disease, parasites, nest destroyers and predators. Their enemies include other insects, mites, spiders, birds (woodpeckers, bee martins, and honey buzzards), and mammals (bears, skunks, badgers, and baboons). The ever- present wax moth is a particular problem; larvae of this moth destroy the wax combs of weak colonies.  

Pictures courtesy of the US Dept. of State (  and Fermi National Labs (  

Beeswax Used to Clean Up Oil Spills in the Ocean

FOR THE ENVIRONMENT...Oil Spill Control -
None of Your Beeswax!

How do you clean up an oil spill? With balls of beeswax, what else?! These aren’t your usual balls of beeswax, however. These contain microorganisms (little critters that can only be seen under a microscope) that “eat” oil. Petrol Rem, Inc. of Pittsburgh, Penn. invented the idea. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Marshall Space Flight Center helped to design the tiny beeswax balls (microcapsules). The beeswax microcapsules are designed so that water cannot get in, but oil can. When the oil seeps through the shell, the microorganisms inside release enzymes that digest the oil. When the balls get full of digested oil, they explode. They release enzymes, carbon dioxide and water, all environmentally safe. This mixture is even good fish food!


Copyright (c) 2007 Ventura Enterprises. All rights reserved.

UPDATED 10-5-2007