Beeswax consists of at least 284 compounds, varying from polyesters, acids, esters and alkanes.
They are the wax produced by honey bees, specifically, worker honey bees. A worker honey bee has 8 glands in their abdomen, which manufacture and secrete wax. The wax is secreted in thin, clear and odorless sheets called scales.
Beeswax is normally produced by the younger bees when they are 12-20 days old. The older bees normally go out to gather nectar from plants.
Beeswax has a melting point of 60°C (140° F).
How is Beeswax made?
When the bees secrete their wax, they line up in formation and pass the wax along the chain, molding it in shape using their mouths and legs. Eventually, they create enough wax to make scales, and continue to work hard to build a honeycomb from scratch. Honeycombs have a large surface area, the hexagonal structure of each comb allows bees to maximise on the amount of honey it can hold, whilst needing the least amount of wax in order for it to be built. The honeycomb structure also assists the metamorphosis from egg to bee.
It takes around 1000 scales to make 1 gram of wax.
A huge amount of resources are required for bees to create their wax. It takes approximately 8 pounds (4kg) of honey to be converted into one pound (455g) of beeswax.
The honey could be used to feed the nonforaging bees or it’s saved during nectar droughts.
Bees often chew their wax off their old comb to transfer to another spot where it is needed. The old comb might have been used for brooding or for storing honey and would’ve contained propolis, cocoon remains and pollen. As a result, the reuse of old combs contributes to the color of the wax.
How is wax harvested?
Most of the commercially available wax are made through a process called cappings. When bees collect honey, the foraging bee collects nectar and store it in one of its two stomachs, yes two stomachs! Bees use one of their stomachs for normal digestion, the other is used for collecting honey. The enzymes secreted from the honey stomach will mix with the nectar. When bees return to the hive, they place their nectar in a hexagonal waiting cell. As more and more waiting cells are filled with nectar, the bees will use their wings to fan out and dry the nectar to evaporate moisture and prevent spoilage. The bees then cap off the cells to prevent any further loss in moisture.
Beekeepers will determine to process the wax cappings in the most common way - applying heat to melt them into wax and honey. The wax will float to the top, while the honey will sink to the bottom.
The wax will then be filtered a few times before it becomes clean and ready to be used. Beeswax will vary in color depending on how many times it gets filtered. They vary in colors from, dark brown - yellow - white.
Beeswax retrieved from cappings is usually dark in color as it is unfiltered and unseparated from bee propolis, cocoon and comb remains. Yellow beeswax is the product of several iterations of the filtration process. White beeswax is obtained through naturally bleaching yellow beeswax.