Honeybee Cell Size

Cell size plays an essential role in beekeeping. In fact, experts link honeybee cell size to their survival and behavior. It’s therefore essential that we understand the role of cell sizes in the future of bees.

Many domestic honeybees nowadays are strains that have been artificially selected and kept in box hives. While feral honeybees are mostly selected populations. As such, they have adapted in occurring cavities and exist in self-sufficient colonies.

Now, researches, as well as beekeepers, need to be aware of these differences to develop effective strategies to combat problems facing the beekeeping industry. That means that research results from domestic honeybees cannot be used on feral strains, vice versa is also true. Researchers should thus do separate studies on these two bee strains. The same applies to comb sizes in beehives.

Now, individuals use combs from foundations containing different cell sizes but in the same hives or apiary, especially if these combs were bought from multiple sources. Experts, however, say that the beekeeping industry for the past 100 years has been affected by the introduction of the Wax foundation. But, also incorrect measuring of cells per square inch as advocated by Baudox also affects this industry.

Baudox, a professor and researcher, did cell studies in different places such as Brussels, Belgium, and Tervueren, and concluded that bees differ in sizes depending on which cells they are reared in. Those reared in small cells are relatively smaller than those reared in large cells. However, hereditary sizes were not demonstrated.

This drew scientists to conclude that larger worker bees come from larger cells. These ones have long tongues with large stomachs. They also have large cells where they store their honey. But, there’s no proof that colonies comprising large-sized bees reproduce greater strains than colonies of small bees.

Now, with this perception, many people quickly rush to keep large domestic bees. However, bees from natural cell sizes of between 4.8mm-4.9mm have numerous natural advantages over those from large cells. Beekeepers can, therefore, benefit from keeping bees in these small cell sizes.

Here’s how:

  • Compact brood chambers – as bees use natural cell size foundation, this makes their breeding chambers more compact. As such, it’ll require few bees to brood the temperatures for breeding. Thus, more bees will concentrate on hygienic duties including cleaning the hive, removing diseased brood like those infected with Varroa mites, etc.
  • Increased colony size – honeybees from natural cell sizes take a short time to hatch, that is, 2 or 3 days. This cell size naturally shortens the time needed to hatch. A short hatching time means more reproduction and more bees.
  • No tracheal mites – these are mites that grow in the trachea of large cell bees of 5.2mm and above. These mites shorten the life span of bees. But as they don’t breed in natural size bees of 4.8-4.9mm cell sizes, these bees tend to have longer life spans.
  • More honey – natural sized bees generally produce more honey than their counterparts. This benefit is extremely important for commercial beekeepers.
  • Easy to increase hygienic behavior – it’s easier and cheaper to provide conditions to increase this behavior with natural sized bees. Excellent hygiene behaviors reduce diseases hence increasing productivity.

Final Thoughts

Cell sizes influence a range of issues such as, bees’ efficiency and productivity, vulnerability to diseases, number of bees that may be reproduced as well as the amount of honey produced. It’s therefore essential that beekeepers understand their role to develop effective strategies.


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