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And now . . . normal wax scales

Back in September I wrote about the wax scales that were so prominently displayed in a photo by Debbe Krape of Delaware. Since then Zachary Huang, a bee researcher at Michigan State University, sent me the following photo of a “normal” set of wax scales.

In my post, I wrote that, “The segments where wax is produced are equipped with smooth surfaces called mirrors or plates. The clear liquid wax flows in a thin layer over the plates where it hardens into little white disks that look like fish scales or ice flakes. If the disk remains in place, the bee may add another liquid layer over the first, creating a thicker disk.

According to Zachary, the bee in Debbe’s photo had secreted four to eight layers of wax. The layers hardened one atop the other to give the very thick, blocky looking scales in her photo. I thought it would be useful to see the normal condition next to a very unusual one.

Debbe found her bee outside the hive. My theory is that the poor bee somehow got separated from her comb-building cohorts and the wax secretions just kept coming. Normally bees secreting wax don’t stray far from where they are working, but this bee was definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time, and her wax scales just kept getting thicker and thicker.

By the way, if you haven’t had a chance to see Zachary’s bee photos you can catch them at Cyberbee. Still more of his photos can be seen at his blog, Bee the Best. If you love great bee pics the way I do, Zachary’s work is a treat.


wax_scales_Zachary Huang
This photo shows normal wax scales being secreted by a worker bee. These are one layer thick. Photo courtesy of Zachary Huang.
This bee strayed from the comb-building area and was photographed outside the hive. The scales from her abdomen are probably 4 to 8 layers thick, an abnormal situation. Photo courtesy of Debbe Krape.

The best bee butt photo

After I complained about bees doing a quick turn-around just as I tried to shoot a portrait, Debbe in Delaware sent me her best bee butt photo which is nothing short of fantastic. It is certainly one of the best photos I have ever seen of wax glands in action. She writes:

I took this photo a couple of years ago with an inexpensive point and shoot camera. The bee was from a recently installed package and was clearly confused about the inside/outside part of the whole deal [the bee was on the outside of the hive]. Nevertheless, I thought it was a cool picture; so for anyone who ever wondered about exactly where the wax glands are, this “butt picture” appears to provide the answer.

Honey bee exuding wax. Photo by Debbe Krape.