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Discolored honeycomb

Hi all. I added a second brood box to my flow hive in March, as I was concerned about the potential for swarming. The hive initially expanded nicely, and I still have plenty of brood and considerable activity from the hive. However, there has been no expansion of honeycomb over the past two months, and some of the honeycomb is discolored (see picture).

I also seem to have quite a few small hive beetles. Certainly no activity in the flow frames, which seems a shame after 6 months. Is this a sign of disease? Or is it just that I am coming into winter?

The bottom frame has dark areas of comb from multiple generations of brood hatching. Cocoons left in the cells trap shellac produced by the pupa, and shellac is dark brown. The more generations of brood to use the comb, the darker it gets.

The upper photo is not typical of brood shellac, as it is quite patchy, but it could have had just one or two sets of pupae emerging. The other possibility is dark pollen, but I would expect to see some bee bread in some of the cells, and I don’t. Either way, it doesn’t look worrying. :wink:

Hi Dawn, it’s interesting that you call cocoons “shellac” because the single layers always remind me of shellac, not that I’ve ever used it. I saw it once on a building site when a builder was using it to coat exposed beams.

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Thank you, a relief to hear it is not something nasty. Should I just wait on Spring then? Or perhaps remove the second brood box for now? David.

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Hi @JeffH! Sorry for any confusion. I am not calling the cocoons “shellac”, but my understanding is that the cocoons trap the pigmented shellac that is produced by mature pupae. I think that the shellac the you are referring to comes from a different insect, although probably a similar process:

Without knowing how full your boxes are, that is hard to answer. If you think that the current bee population would fit into one box, then by all means, reduce them down. If that would cause major disruption to the brood pattern, don’t do it. You really need a local experienced beekeeper to look at with you, unless you can post good photos of both boxes and all frames here. :blush:

Hi Dawn, you mentioning it was the first time I ever heard shellac mentioned in relation to bees. I read that Wiki page on Shellac yesterday while looking further into it, from a learning point of view.

I did think you were calling the cocoons shellac, not that I thought you were saying cocoons were shellac, but I thought you were calling them shellac because they look like shellac. Whenever I pull them apart to show people a single cocoon, it always reminds me of the shellac I saw about 40 years ago.

It was interesting to read that at one point, in India they were producing 50,000 tons of shellac per year. That’s a lot of resin produced by tiny insects.

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They are also stiff and brittle like commercial shellac. Just an example of how many insects use the same biology to color and seal themselves as they develop. Life is fascinating, and that is why I keep bees!


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I’m easily distracted by something like this. What’s amazing is how man first discovered how to turn the resin into a varnish, by mixing it with alcohol. I guess man didn’t invent the wheel overnight.

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It was probably a woman…


OK, I am just joking. I know you were referring to a species, not a gender. Thanks for being you, @JeffH, you are priceless and Wilma is even more so! :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

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