Beeswax (cera alba) is a natural wax produced by honey bees of the genus Apis. The wax is formed into scales by eight wax-producing glands in the abdominal segments of worker bees, which discard it in or at the hive.
The hive workers collect and use it to form cells for honey storage and larval and pupal protection within the beehive. Chemically, beeswax consists mainly of esters of fatty acids and various long-chain alcohols.
Beeswax has been used since prehistory as the first plastic, as a lubricant and waterproofing agent, in lost wax casting of metals and glass, as a polish for wood and leather, for making candles, as an ingredient in cosmetics and as an artistic medium in encaustic painting.
Beeswax is edible, having similar negligible toxicity to plant waxes, and is approved for food use in most countries and in the European Union under the E number E901.
The wax is formed by worker bees, which secrete it from eight wax-producing mirror glands on the inner sides of the sternites (the ventral shield or plate of each segment of the body) on abdominal segments 4 to 7.
The sizes of these wax glands depend on the age of the worker, and after many daily flights, these glands gradually begin to atrophy.
The new wax is initially glass-clear and colorless, becoming opaque after chewing and being contaminated with pollen by the hive worker bees, becoming progressively yellower or browner by incorporation of pollen oils and propolis.
The wax scales are about three millimetres (0.12 in) across and 0.1 mm (0.0039 in) thick, and about 1100 are needed to make a gram of wax. Worker bees use the beeswax to build honeycomb cells. For the wax-making bees to secrete wax, the ambient temperature in the hive must be 33 to 36 °C (91 to 97 °F).
Honey in fat cells associated with wax glands are metabolized by bees into beeswax.
The amount of honey used by bees to produce wax has not been accurately determined.
The book, Beeswax Production, Harvesting, Processing and Products, suggests one kilogram (2.2 lb) of beeswax is used to store 22 kg (49 lb) honey.According to Whitcomb’s 1946 experiment, 6.66 to 8.80 kg (14.7 to 19.4 lb) of honey yields one kilogram (2.2 lb) of wax.
Another study estimated that 24 to 30 kg (53 to 66 lb) of honey are produced per one kilogram (2.2 lb) of wax.