"Buzz" Words

Absconsion: Honeybees leave the hive for no apparent reason, even in cases when they are leaving brood and honey stores behind. This is a major symptom of Colony Collapse Disorder.


American Foulbrood (AFB): Spore forming bacterial infection. Infected brood is liquified, and has a very foul odor like old socks and sewage. If the bees are weak during the spring season, seem angry, have low entrance activity, have sunken brood cell cappings with some holes in the caps, and if there are many dead bees in the bottom of the hive, check for AFB. Test: puncture a capped brood cell with a toothpick and pull out. If it has a snot-like consistency, they likely have AFB.


Apiary: A location with multiple beehives.


Bee Bread: A mixture of fermenting pollen and nectar used to feed developing worker and drone bees. Pollen is the only protein source for bees, and it is only fully digestible once it is fermented by microbes.


Bee Space: The amount of space required for 2 bees to comfortably move through back to back. Bee space is ⅜ inch, which is why frames and top bars are spaced to have ⅜ inch in between. Any space larger than that will be filled with comb, and any space smaller will be sealed with propolis.


Brood: Eggs, larvae, and pupae stored in comb cells.


Brood Box/Brood Chamber: The area of the hive where the queen lays eggs, and the larvae and pupae develop and hatch. A healthy queen usually lays eggs in chamber closest to the entrance, and honey will be stored further from the entrance, so when they need to cluster around food stores for the winter, they will be further from cold air. In a Langstroth hive with a bottom entrance, the brood chamber will be in the lowest box or boxes depending on the size of the colony.


Brood Break: When the nurse bees stop feeding the queen so that she stops laying eggs. This is observed through the absence of uncapped brood and unhatched eggs in the hive. In combination with Swarm Cells, this is a sign that the bees are starving the queen so she is thin enough to be able to fly away with the swarm. Brood breaks are also a response of the colony to high varroa mite levels in order to disrupt their reproductive cycle.


Brace Comb: Comb built between the frames for stability. This can be scraped off with a hive tool during inspections to make maintenance and pulling frames out easier.


Bottom board (Screened vs. solid): A hive bottom board separates the hive body from the ground, and props the hive body up to form an entrance. Bottom boards can have a screened or solid wood base. Screened bottom boards are used to allow ventilation, and to allow debris and mites to fall out of the hive.


Cappings: Wax used to cover up developing pupae, and ripened honey. Brood is capped after 10 days, and honey is capped once the nectar is dehydrated to around 17% water.


Cell: Individual hexagonal unit of wax comb. The hexagon is the most efficient shape for these individual units because it can hold the largest volume while using the least amount of building materials (wax).


Cell Size: The width of individual cells. Natural cell size (comb built without foundation) for worker bees is approximately 4.9mm in diameter, and 6.4mm for drones.


Chalkbrood: Fungal infection of 3-4 day old brood when spores are ingested by larvae. Infected larvae turn white and cottony and shrink up like a mummy. Some evidence suggests the presence of this fungal spore is beneficial to fight against Nosema, and only causes problems when it is ingested, which is rare.


Colony: Honeybees are social insects that live in colonies with one reproductive female (queen) to lay all of the eggs, female worker bees with different tasks at different life stages, and male drones. Each social “caste” is responsible for a specific set of tasks necessary for the survival of the whole colony, and each individual could not survive on their own.


Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD): A phenomenon where the bees abscond or abandon the colony when they otherwise would not, leaving brood, honey, and sometimes the queen behind. This was defined as a disorder in 2006, when this was occurring at a rate of nearly 50% in the commercial sector. Research shows that a combination of pesticide use (particularly neonicotinoids), varroa mites, changing annual cycles of forage and pollinator habitat, and a narrow gene pool are major causes.


Comb: The double sided collection of hexagonal units made of beeswax connected by one area at the top. Comb is used to store developing brood, honey, and pollen turning into bee bread.


Comb Guide: Area at the top of a frame where the bees can festoon and draw comb from naturally. These are often milled wedges, though they can be paint sticks, popsicle sticks, or something similar glued into a groove at the top of the frame as well. The purpose of a comb guide is to encourage the bees to build straight.


Cross-combing: When one comb unit goes “off the tracks” of the comb guide in a foundationless frame. The bees sometimes build comb crooked and across multiple frame tops. This is easy to repair early in the comb building process when it is still white. You can simply mold crooked comb back into place with a gloved hand when it is fresh and still pliable. If the crooked comb is old, you can cut it off the adjacent frame, and zip-tie or clip it back into place on the correct frame. This can get messy once the bees start storing lots of honey in the summer. It is best to correct cross combing early, and to checkerboard some already straight and built out comb between empty frames as they expand. Once they start building straight, the will continue to build straight in order to preserve bee space.


Deformed Wing Virus: Varroa mite vectored disease that causes wings to shrivel and not form properly. Bees with this virus cannot fly, and can only perform duties that occur inside the hive.


Drone: The only male bees in the colony who develop from unfertilized eggs. Their only job is to mate with virgin queens from other colonies to spread the genetics of their mother hive. Once they mate, they die.


Drone Comb: Where the queen lays unfertilized eggs to develop into male bees. Drones are larger than worker bees, and can be determined in the comb by their large size of 6.4mm, and protruding Kix cereal-like capping.


Drone Congregation Area (DCA): Areas where drones fly around and wait for virgin queens to mate with.


Drone Eviction: In mid to late summer, the probability of finding virgin queens to mate with is low for drones since swarm season is over. Since the drones inside the hive were unsuccessful at mating (since they are still alive), they are a drain on the colony’s resources, and the worker bees will drag them out of the colony, which leads to their deaths.


Entrance Reducer: A piece of wood used to block off the entrance with a smaller entrances cut into the block . This is used to block cold air from moving through the hive in the winter time, and to reduce the amount of space the bees need to guard from pests and predators at times of high prevalence.


Extractor: A large tub centrifuge where foundation frames can be placed that spins the honey out.


Festoon: Worker bees link legs to form a chain. They form these festoon chains in the space they will be filling with comb.


Flight path: The trajectory of the bees when entering and exiting the hive.


Forage: noun: Plants and flowers the bees collect nectar, pollen, and propolis from. Verb: the act of collecting nectar, pollen, and propolis from flowers and plants. Forager bees are worker bees in the last 2 weeks of their lives.


Foundation: A pressed plastic or wax insert that fits in the center of Langstroth frames that acts as a template for the bees to build comb on. The template consists of a completely uniform hexagons with a diameter of 5.4mm. The idea behind using foundation is that the cell size is smaller than drone comb, so the bees will be encouraged to produce more worker bees and less drones. Foundation provides some stability to comb, and allows for the use of an extractor when harvesting honey.


Foundationless: A Langstroth frame that is empty in the middle with a comb guide on the top for the bees to festoon on to build comb down naturally. Honey must be harvested with a crush and strain system rather than an extractor.


Frame: A removable four sided insert that fits into the hive for bees to fill with comb.


Guard Bees: Worker bees that defend the colony from predators and pests at the entrance, or at any opening in the hive by stinging, or blocking the area off. All worker bees do this job between the ages of 18 to 22 days.


Honey-bound: When worker bees do not move through queen excluders in Langstroth hives, and rather deposit nectar in comb in the brood chamber rather than in the honey supers above. This triggers pre-swarming behavior.


Honey Gut: A specialized pouch or crop that bees drink nectar into that is not being digested by the bee. They fill up their honey gut and bring it back to the hive to deposit into the comb.


K-Wing Virus: Varroa mite vectored disease that causes the hooks between the 2 sets of wings to not form correctly. Bees need their 2 pairs of wings to hook together to form a rigid edge for flight. This disease makes it so the bees cannot fly properly, and can be seen as a split between the pairs of wings that resembles a K-formation.


Larvae: The infant form of bees after hatching from an egg prior to pupation. Bees undergo complete metamorphosis similar to a butterfly before becoming adult bees.


Laying Workers: A queenless hive will sometimes have workers laying unfertilized eggs to develop into drones. This is a last-ditch effort to spread the genetics of a colony that will not survive.


Mating Flight: When virgin queens leave the hive to mate with drones. They become sexually mature 5-6 days after emerging from their cocoons as adults, and after 1 or 2 orientation flights mate with multiple drones to store sperm in a specialized organ called spermatheca. Moving sperm from the oviducts to be stored in spermatheca takes about 24 hours and can last the rest of the queen’s 5-6 year long life.


Nadir: Maintenance method used for vertical hive styles like Langstroths and Warres in which empty space is added to the bottom of the hive for the bees to expand into rather than the top. This means the brood chamber will shift downwards as you add more space in that direction since the queen will continue to lay eggs closest to the entrance.


Natural Beekeeping: A method of beekeeping that allows the bees to thrive with minimal intervention based on the understanding that honeybees are extremely prolific, efficient, and adaptable on their own. This is done with foundationless frames, which allow the bees to control the cell size and ultimately the health of the overall hive, and no use of chemical or natural treatments the bees may become reliant on to survive.


Nectar: A sugary, carbohydrate rich liquid produced by plants as a reward to bees and other pollinators for transferring pollen to other flowers to produce seeds.


Nosema: Microsporidian parasite that infects honeybee guts. The resulting disease is like bee dysentery. Spreads quickly and becomes a problem in the winter and early spring when it is too cold for the bees to leave the hive to defecate. Signs are collected bee waste inside the hive, slow to start brood production in spring, crawling (not flying) bees, and higher likelihood for supercedure cells if the queen is infected.


Nuc: A miniature temporary hive. When purchasing bees, you may buy a Langstroth hive nuc, which is 5 built out deep frames of brood and honey stores that can be transferred into a permanent hive. Nuc boxes for other hive styles including the horizontal top bar hive and Warre hive will be the same shape and enclosed on all sides except for 1 entrance, and will allow for comb and bees to be transferred into a permanent hive. Empty nuc boxes are great for catching swarms.


Nurse Bees: Worker bees that feed and take care of the brood and the queen. They eat pollen and nectar in the hive to produce an excretion from glands around their heads called royal jelly to feed larvae and the queen. This is an amino acid and nutritionally rich food that is essentially bee milk.


Orientation Flight: When a bee first leaves the hive and does loops increasingly farther and farther from the hive until they can go far enough to forage and still find their way back to the hive.


Overwintering: A state of relative hibernation through the winter when a colony reduces their size and forms a spherical cluster around their queen near their honey stores. The cluster vibrates their flight muscles to generate heat, and the worker bees undulate from the inside to the outside of their cluster to stay warm. Honeybees are unique in their ability to survive the winter as an entire colony. Most native bees and other bee species die in the winter, and pupal stages hibernate until spring.


Piping: Chirping behavior of virgin queens when they hatch from their cocoons. Other virgin queens in the hive will respond with the same chirp so they may find each other in the hive, where they will fight to the death. The strongest queen will win, go on mating flights, and be the new queen of that colony.


Pollen: The male sex cell created of plants. Many plants require their pollen be transferred from the bodies of pollinators like bees, butterflies, flies, beetles, wasps, bats, and birds to the stigma and ovary of another flower in order to produce seeds and fruit.


Pollen Baskets: Specialized structures on the back legs of worker honeybees with long hairs to hold balls of pollen in place for transport back to the hive during foraging trips. The foraging bees groom pollen off their bodies and into their pollen baskets mid flight.


Pollination: Method by which plants reproduce sexually. Pollen is moved from flower to flower to fertilize plant eggs to produce seeds and fruit. This can be done by wind, or transferred by animals like insects, birds, or bats.


Proboscis: Straw-like tongue that extends into the nectar tube of a flower to drink nectar.


Propolis: Sticky plant resins collected by bees from plant leaves and tree bark in order to coat the inside of the hive and seal up any cracks and crevices smaller than ⅜ inch inside the hive. Propolis has antimicrobial properties and protects the hive against bacteria and fungi. Many beekeepers scrape and harvest propolis from inside the hive to use it for medicinal purposes.


Pupa: Developmental stage of the bee between larvae and adult. During this stage they no longer eat, and are immobile as their bodies develop within their capped brood cell. This stage lasts between to to 20 days after the egg is laid.


Queen: The only reproductive female within the hive. She lays up to 2,000 eggs a day in the peak of the spring season. She lives 5-6 years, and only leaves the hive on mating flights at the beginning of her life, or when the hive swarms.


Queen Excluder: A plastic or metal grate placed between the brood chamber and the honey supers that worker bees can fit through and the queen cannot. This is used to ensure eggs are not laid in honey supers.


Robbing: Bees from other colonies stealing each other’s honey when food sources are scarce. When robbing is particularly bad, entrance reducers can be used to help colonies guard their stores.


Royal Jelly: Nutrient rich secretion from glands around the heads of nurse bees to feed larvae and the queen.


Small Hive Beetles: Beetles that get inside the hive and chew through wax similarly to wax moths, however they seem to do more damage. Small hive beetles hide in crack and crevices of the hive where bees cannot fit. Strong hives are generally good at kicking hive beetles out, but if you notice vinegary smell, or see many beetles or black spiky beetle larvae, you may consider soaking the ground outside the hive to drown pupating larvae.


Split: Moving full frames of brood, honey, unhatched eggs, and nurse bees from a strong colony into a new hive prior to swarming. The nurse bees will turn unhatched eggs into queens, and once the queens emerge and mate, the colony will function normally.


Super: noun: A medium or shallow Langstroth box added to the top of a Langstroth hive for the colony to store honey in. verb: The act of adding a medium or shallow Langstroth box to the top of a Langstroth hive.


Swarm: The reproductive function of a honeybee colony as a whole. When the hive becomes crowded, worker bees produce several queens. When these queens hatch, they will exhibit piping behavior, and the strongest queen will be the new queen of the existing hive. The old queen will leave with half the workers to start a new colony somewhere else. The bees that leave are the swarm. The swarm will form a cluster on a branch or similar structure while scout bees look for a new hive site. It is at this time, people may catch the bees in a box to transfer into a hive.


Swarm Cell: A unit of comb in which virgin queens are developing in order to replace the old queen when she leaves with a swarm. These cells are positioned around the outside of the comb.


Swarm Season: Time of year in which strong honeybee colonies are swarming and splitting. In the Pacific Northwest, this season extends from mid March to late June. Honeybees may swarm later than this, however, they will most likely not have enough time to build up food stores to make it through the winter once it gets into July.


Supersedure Cell: A unit of comb in which virgin queens are developing as an emergency replacement. If the old queen dies, or is rejected by her worker bees, the workers will turn an unhatched egg already laid in worker comb into a large comb cell, and feed the larvae high quantities of royal jelly and no bee bread. These types of cell are usually found in the center of the comb, rather than around the edges.


Tracheal Mites: Parasites that live inside tracheal holes in the bee’s exoskeleton (bees and all insects breathe and absorb oxygen through these holes). They clog these tracheal holes which causes difficulty in movement and flight. Most hives live with tracheal mites and never show difficulties or symptoms detrimental to the hive.


Treatment: Chemical or natural compounds used on beehives in order to treat for bacterial and fungal disease, and parasites.


Treatment Free: A philosophy in which beekeepers do not use chemical or natural compounds to prevent disease and parasites in order to maintain the living structure of the hive biome, and to allow only the strongest honeybee colonies to survive the winter. This helps to spread strong honeybee genetics to the greater bee population via swarms and splits, and allows weak genetics to die out. This beekeeping philosophy operates under the assumption that honeybees are highly efficient and adaptable animals, that should be able to survive with minimal intervention from humans.



Top Bar Hive: The top bar hive is the oldest and most commonly used hive style in the world. It features individual bars laid across the top of the hive cavity. The bees build their comb down from these bars naturally, without the use of a 4 sided frame or foundation. Generally the bars are a wooden wedge or strip with a guide to ensure combs hang straight.


Varroa Mite: Parasites that attach themselves to the outside of adult bees to suck their hemolymph (bee blood). They are transmitted between adult foraging bees on flowers, and reproduce inside cells of developing brood. Introduced to the United States from Asia in the 1980’s, these pests have become one of the top problems for beekeepers, and a major cause of CCD. These mites vector diseases including K-wing virus, deformed wing virus, and acute paralysis virus.


Warre Hive: A Warre hive is a vertical top bar hive that uses bars instead of frames, usually with a wooden wedge or guide from which the bees build their own comb. The Warre (pronounced: WAR-ray) hive is named after its inventor, French monk Abbé Émile Warré. His design focused on simplicity, ease of management, and mimicry of honeybees’ natural environment. This hive is a vertically stacking top bar hive that incorporates natural comb and the retention of nest scent and heat.


Wax: A secretion made by worker bees through a specialized gland in their abdomens to build comb. When worker bees hold nectar in their honey guts for too long, the gland in the abdomen turns on, and secretes a white wax flake. This flake is passed up the chain of festooning bees and is molded into place on the comb that is being built.


Wax Moths: Moths that lay eggs in old brood comb inside the hive. The eggs hatch, and the caterpillars tunnel through the comb eating up wax and leaving a silky thread trail. Wax moths are generally not a problem for strong colonies who can kill and remove them easily. They can be prevented by removing very old comb from the hive going into the spring.


Winterize: The act of preparing beehives for the winter. This process includes reducing empty space inside the hive, forming physical wind barriers (like stacking hay bales) near hive entrances, clustering hives together for warmth, adding insulation boxes to the hives, treating the wood of the hive to become water resistant, and practices ensuring ventilation.