Bee Glossary

Find out what all these new words really mean…

Do you know your anthers from your aldehydes?

Beekeeping is full of lots of new words… here is a useful summary.

Alarm pheromone – This alerts guard bees to potential threats to the colony. It is produced by worker bees.

Abdomen – The third section of a bee’s body. It contains the stomach, honey stomach, intestines, sting and reproductive organs.

Acarapis woodi – The tracheal mites (different from the varoa mite). It lives in the tracheal (throat) and affects their breathing.

Aldehydes – An organic compound that contribute to the flavour and aroma of the honey. If you heat your honey, these will be released reducing the flavour of the honey.

Anthers – Part of the stamen of a plant that contains pollen.

Bee bread – A mixture of pollen, yeast and honey, which when mixed and fermented creates delicious bee food. It is stored in the combs and fed to larvae.

Bee blower – Rather like an industrial hair dryer – a bee blower is used to blow bees off supers of honey.

Bee brush – A soft brush used to remove bees from comb. Can be artificial or you could use a goose feather. If you choose a goose feather you should choose a left- or right-handed feather to give a better brushing action. If you are harvesting honey, you should clear bees from the honey boxes using a bee escape rather than a brush.

Bee escape – A one way valve or exit which the bees can go through.

Bee space – Spaces smaller than this will be filled with propolis, larger than this will be filled with comb. The magic space is 6-8mm. This allows bees to pass without them building anything in the way. The discovery of this led to moveable frame hives.

Bee veil – Protective cloth of wire netting which stops a beekeeper’s head and neck from being stung.

Bees wax – Wax that is secreted by special glands on the underside of the bees.

Blending – Like making a fine whiskey, mixing various varieties of honey can make something better than the sum of the parts, typically improving flavour and colour.

Breeding stock – The brood (i.e. eggs and larvae) from a good colony from which queens will be reared.

Brood – The area comb that has developing bees in its cells (i.e eggs and larvae).

Brood chamber – The part of the hive where the brood is based.

Brood pheromone – A pheromone produced by the brood which tells the house bees to provide food, and for foragers to collect food.

Burr comb – Comb which has over grown the frame (ignoring the beespace) and linked to the hive body.

Capped brood – As the larvae cells develop they are capped with wax allowing them to spin cocoons and turn into pupae and eventually a bee.

Castes – A term which describes the three types of adult bees in a colony – drones, workers and the queen.

Cell – The hexagonal wax compartment in the comb. Amazingly these start round but by the tension in the comb change into hexagons. Bees use these cells to store honey, pollen or raise bees.

Chalkbrood – A fungal disease which affects bee larvae. If left untreated the larvae turn into hard, chalky mummies.

Chilled brood – If the brood become too cold the immature bees (including larvae and eggs) can die. This is often cause by the hive being opened on a cold day.

Cluster – A mass of bees which huddle together. These are commonly seen in winter when the bees try to keep warm or in a swarm hanging from a tree.

Colony – A working group of bees which would include a queen, worker and drones.

Comb– A group of cells.

Crystallisation – This natural process occurs when the honey turns from liquid to solid creating granulated honey. You can make the honey liquid again but warming it slowly.

Drawn comb – The processing of building comb is called ‘drawing’. Once the comb is completely built it is called “drawn comb”.

Drifting – Sometimes bees loose their location and enter another hive. This might occur if you keep two hives next door to one another and it is a slightly windy day.

Drone – The male bee. The main role of the drone is to fertilise the queen, although this will only happen once in her life.

Extractor – A device which removes honey from the comb. This normally involves spinning the comb around.

Flight path – The area and direction that the bees take when leaving the hive. It is best to keep this area clear.

Foulbroad – A bacterial disease which affect bees, causing the brood to become brown and sticky. See the bee health section for more information on this disease.

Foundation – A thin sheet of wax that is the ‘foundation’ on which the bees build honey comb. Normally foundation is embossed with lots of hexagons – to encourage the bees to start building.

Frame – This is a rectangle of either plastic or wood in which comb will be built by the bee. It allows the beekeeper to move the comb around and was invented by Langstroth in 1852.

Frame wire – Wire used to reinforce frames to keep the foundation from moving or sagging in the frame.

Guard bee – Worker bees that guard the hive entrance from predators (including bees from other colonies or wasps).

Hive – A bee’s home.

Hive tool – A multifunctional tool used by a beekeeper to open and clean their hives.

Honey flow – A term used to describe the collection of nectar (to make honey) by the bees.

Honey stomach – The stomach the bees use for carrying nectar, honey and water. It is in the abdomen.

Honeycomb – Comb which has been filled with lots of lovely honey.

Larvae – The stage when an egg undergoes metamorphosis into a bee.

Marked queen – A beekeeper typically will attempt to find the queen while tending to their bees. To help speed this process up many beekeepers mark their queen with a coloured dot.

Mead – A delicious wine made from honey. It is highly recommend that you are patient and leave your mead to mature. It only gets better with age.

Nectar – A sugar-rich liquid secreted by plants. It is derived from the Latin word nectar which means “drink of the gods”. The bees collect the nectar and turn it into honey.

Nucleus hive – Often called a Nuc, it is a small colony from which a full colony will group. Typically, this will be a group of bees living on 4-5 frames of brood.

Nurse Bee – An immature worker bee whose role in the hive is to feed the larvae.

Observation hive – A small hive normally made from glass which allows the colony to be observed.

Pheromone – A chemical signal which triggers a response in other bees. For example, if the colony is attacked they release an alarm pheromone which alerts other bees to the danger. By using a smoker the beekeeper disrupts this pheromone signal and keeps the bees calm.

Piping – A sound made by a queen which normally preceding her emerging from her cell.

Pollen – A fine powder product produced by the male part of the plant. It fertilises other plants and also provides a valuable source of protein for the bees.

Pollen trap – A device which is placed on the entrance of the hive and rubs the pollen from the legs of the incoming bees. The beekeeper can use this to collect pollen.

Porter bee escape – A type of bee escape based on two thin metal leaf springs.

Propolis – A resinous substance that bees collect from trees and plants. It is used by the bees to seal up cracks (reducing movement or vibration). Sometimes it is used to mummify something within the hive that they cannot throw out – such as a mouse.

Pupa – The final stage of a bee within its cell.

Queen – A mated female. Normally, there will be only one queen within a hive. Unlike a worker bee, she has fully developed ovaries and can lay eggs which can develop into other queens, workers or drones.

Queen cell – A largest peanut like cell which is design to rear a queen. It normally hangs vertically and is about 2 centimetres in length.

Queen excluder – A metal or plastic crate which is large enough for worker bees to climb through but through which the queen cannot fit. It is normally used to stop the queen from entering and laying eggs in the comb used for honey.

Queen right – A queen right colony is a colony that has a queen.

Requeen – To introduce a new queen to an existing queenless colony.

Robbing – The stealing of honey from a weak colony by other bees or insects.

Royal jelly – A food produced by the young worker bees. Royal jelly is fed to all of the larvae in the colony however, if a queen is being reared then she is fed purely royal jelly.

Sacbrood – A viral disease which affect the larvae.

Scout bee – A worker bee who looks out for sources of pollen, nectar, water or a new site for the colony.

Skep – A traditional simple beehive made from straw. It resembles an upturned basket.

Smoker – A container with bellows in which a wide variety of materials are burnt to product cool thick smoke. The smoke is used to hide the pheromone signals produced by the bees allowing the beekeeper to easily access the hive.

Supercedure – The process of replacing an existing queen with a new one. This is natural process – but can be induced artificially.

Surplus honey – If a colony is successfully it will produce more honey than it can use for its own stores. This surplus honey can then be collected for the beekeepers own use.

Swarm – A group of bees that have decided to move hive.

Winter cluster – A cluster of bees that huddle together to keep warm.

Worker bee – A female bee which does not lay eggs. The vast majority of bees in the hive are workers. The worker bees keep the hive running smoothly (feeding, cleaning, searching and gather nectar and pollen for the hive).

Important dates in the history of beekeeping

6000 BCE

Early Cave Folk artists created the first images of bee culture in history with their cave paintings in Spain, The actual dating remains slightly controversial, but archeologists seem fairly certain that the Cuevas de la Araña cave art is at least 8,000 year old. The scene includes a person on a rope ladder with a honey bucket in one hand while the other is stuffed into the bees’ nest.

2600 BCE

Egypt: Knew how to smoke bees using earthenware pipes and remove honeycomb.

340 BCE

Aristotle’s “Historia Animalum” discussed floral fidelity, winter feeding, the fact that bees assume different tasks at different stages of adult life, and mentions foulbrood disease.

25 BCE

Virgil (Roman) told about placing hives out of the wind and away from livestock, and the importance of a clean water supply.

60 AD

Comella (Roman) described beekeeping tools, including a smoker and a hive tool very much like the ones used today.


Straw skeps introduced by Anglo Saxons, replacing fragile pottery hives.


Nickel Jacob This German scientist/beekeeper discovered that workers could raise a new queen from a young larvae, This discovery led to modern queen rearing systems.


Luis Mendez de Torres Spanish scientist, discovered the queen is a female and mother to the bees in the hive. This discovery is sometimes credited to Charles Butler, but Mendez published his findings twenty years earlier.


Charles Butler (1560–1647) This versatile beekeeper realized the “King Bee” is a “Queen Bee”, finally sinking Aristotle’s 2,000-year-old mistaken notion when he printed a book that asserted that drone bees are male bees.  Charles Butler’s book was Feminine Monarchie, the first full-length beekeeping book in the English language. It was a practical beekeepers’ guide and also the first time the feminine nature of the queen was described in print. Butler was also the first to show that bees make wax and don’t gather it from plants, as was commonly assumed. 


Prince Cesi This Italian prince and beekeeper made the world’s first microscopic drawings of honeybees.


Arthur Dobbs this Irish beekeeper and botanist discovered that bees pollinate flowers while gathering nectar and pollen. Dobbs also noticed that a bee stays on the same flower type while collecting: “. . . I have frequently follow’d a bee loading pollen upon its legs, through a part of a great field in flower; and upon whatsoever flower I saw it first alight and gather the pollen, it continued gathering from that Kind of Flower; and has pass’d over many other Species of Flowers, though very numerous in the field, without alighting upon or loading from them eventhough the Flower it chose was much scarcer in the Field than the others.”


Anton Janša discovered how bees mate. He unraveled the honey bees system of no fathers for drones, sisterhood among the workers. He was the first headmaster of the first beekeeping school in the world.

In 2018, the United Nations declared May 20 as World Bee Day, coinciding with the birthdate of Slovenian beekeeper Anton Janša, a pioneer of modern beekeeping techniques.


The blind Swiss naturalist and beekeeper François Huber (1750 – 1831) developed special bee hives to improve scientific observation of his bees. His work, viewed through the eyes of his assistant (F. Burnens) and his wife, resulted in the first truly scientific observations of honeybees. Huber discovered that bees can transform worker eggs into queens, that workers could lay eggs that would hatch, that queens will fight, that queens mated in flight, studied the causes of swarming, the use of antennae, and the production of wax scales. Huber also developed a “leaf” hive so that individual vertical combs could be examined. The story of his assistant (François Burnens) and their discoveries is sweetly told in Sara George’s book The Beekeeper’s Pupil.


Although there were earlier attempts to import European honey bees (Apis mellifera) into Australia, most sources agree that the first successful introduction was in 1822 aboard the merchant ship The Isabella.


Rev. Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth (1810-1895) discovered the practical use of bee space, realizing that honeybees will leave open a space of 5/16″, building burr comb in spaces over 3/8″ and propolizing spaces 1 /4″ or less. Langstroth developed the 10 frame “deep” hive with moveable frames as used today. Langstroth’ s discoveries enabled modern beekeeping to take place on an economical basis.


Johannes Mehring (1816-1878), a German carpenter, developed wax foundations with octagonal indentations (5 per inch) for use in Langstroth’ s frames. With this development straight combs could be assured. Mehring is also noted as the author of the longest-titled beekeeping book ever published:  Das neue Einwesensystem als Grundlage der Bienenzucht oder Wie der rationelle Imker den höchsten Ertrag von seinen Bienen erzielt.


John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) This New England 19th-century poet kept bees and wrote the tale of telling the bees about the death of the beekeeper. If you’ve never read the poem, see the full piece and you may be surprised at whom the bees mourn.  Telling the Bees includes the lines:

Before them, under the garden wall,
Forward and back,
Went drearily singing the chore-girl small,
Draping each hive with a shred of black.

Trembling, I listened: the summer sun
Had the chill of snow;
For I knew she was telling the bees of one
Gone on the journey we all must go!


Abbe Collin built the first wire queen excluder.


François Hruschka of Austria developed the centrifugal honey extractor, designed for the 10″ x 10″ Austrian frames, after watching the centrifugal effect of a bucket of milk being swung in circles by a young milk maiden. (Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?) This invention allowed combs to be emptied and refilled by beekeepers.


A. J. Root designed a centrifugal honey extractor for Langstroth frames, and put gears from an apple parer on top, thereby giving geared leverage for ease of use. Root’s extractor was the first all-metal extractor.


 Moses Quinby (1810-1875) of New York State developed the first bellows-type smoker.


E. C. Porter of Illinois developed the leaf-spring bee escape.


E. B. Weed of New York State developed rollers for imprinting a continuous sheet of wax foundation of a uniform thickness. Previously, a wooden board was dipped into molten wax, the wax allowed to cool, then the sheet pulled away from the board.


Karl von Frisch, of Germany, first published on beekeeping and the scientific analysis of bee behavior. von Frisch continued to study honeybees for 59 years, discovering bee language as expressed in the “bee dance,” plus other discoveries which together were more than all other scientific discoveries in history combined. For his work von Frisch won the Nobel Prize in science in 1973.


Root and Dadant improve Hetherington’s idea of wire reinforcing in the foundation. Thin foundation would often fail in Root’s and Dadant’s extractors.


Elton Dyce (1900-1976) this Canadian developed creamed honey formulas for soft, ‘spun’, semi-granulated honey. He figured out that a little ‘seed’ from extra-smooth honey would crystallize a big vat to the same lush consistency.

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