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January 22, 2009

Honeybee cell size facts and discussion

See here for measurement conversion chart. Take about a moving target. Bee cell sizes are a highly debated subject. In addition, discussions about the number of cells is another. They include:
  1. How many cells are required for a healthy hive.
  2. How many cells are on a sheet of foundation.
  3. What is best size of cell.
  4. How to determine the number of cells on foundation.
  5. And so many more your head will hurt.
You can see that the size of the cell in foundation has changed over the years and continues to change. If you ask a dozen beekeepers about this you are almost assured to get a dozen different answers. So what is the answers? Well, the answer will depend on your source.
Old beekeeping books used measurements based upon comb obtained from the wild or from apiaries usually ran by the researcher. This is not to say that manufactured foundation was not, but it's sizes are effected by other design elements, such as the quality of the engraving or casting of the form, feedback from users, yield per pound of wax and current thoughts of the day. Bees don't read trade journals or research papers, nor do they brag about their quality to influence you. But to be fair they also are not consistence with their sizes, build at times in less than pleasing manners, vary sizes depending upon their type and do not maximize easy handling.
It is easy to see that over time the cell size offered by foundations has increased. Is this bad? Some say yes, and some say no. It is generally agreed that large cells produce larger bees. Some research indicates that these larger cell sizes may play a role in Varrora infestations. Some research and experiments seem to indicate that smaller cell sizes help control Varrora, while other research says it does not.

Here is some additional comb info:
It takes about 2.6 lbs. of wax to construct about 100,000 cells.  Bees generally need to consume between 6-8 pounds of honey or sugar water to make one pound of wax.  The honey comb has hexagon (six sided) cells on both sides of a vertical central wall.  It actually consists of two layers of cells placed back to back.  Such a cell is a prism whose section is approximately a regular hexagon, while the ends are three-faced 'steeples'.  The walls of each honey cell are fashioned from the wax and are manufactured to a high tolerance (within 0.2% of their 1/1000 thickness) and support 25 times their weight.  These cells are inclined upward 13° from horizontal to retain liquid nectar and honey.  All the cell walls stand at 120º to each other, forming a perfect lattice.  Natural comb cells for non-Africanized bees are generally 1 inch deep and 4.9 mm wide.

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