English for beekeepers writing and blogging

Comb decoded

Every now and again someone asks the difference between burr comb, bridge comb, and brace comb. I wrote about these briefly in a post called “Strange comb in strange places“, but apparently my definitions were lacking. So here, I will explain.

But first, I will make two assumptions: one, that you know what comb is (after all, you are a beekeeper) and two, that you have a dictionary (if you are reading this, you are on the internet—a place rife with dictionaries).

When I look up burr, I find “a rough edge or ridge left on an object.” Also, “a rough covering of a nut or seed.” Based on these definitions, burr comb would be a rough spot or ridge of comb. Sometimes we see ridges running down the center of a frame, sometimes we see little mounds of comb on a inner cover, or perhaps a little dome attached to a brood box or super. To me, these rough spots are all burr comb.

When I look up brace, I find “a device that clamps things together or holds and supports them in position.” For example, comb that connects a frame to the side of the brood box could be called brace comb. Surely it supports the frame and holds it in position—you need a pry bar to get it loose.

Similarly, when I look up bridge, I find “something that joins or connects other parts.” A piece of comb that connects two frames could be called bridge comb, as could comb that connects your inner cover to your brood frames. Have you ever tried to pull out one frame but got three? They may have been bridged together with comb.

My interpretation is that brace and bridge comb are basically the same because they connect parts of your hive together, while burr comb is just an extra chunk of comb in the wrong place.

There is nothing obscure about these words; they have no mysterious definitions, hidden meanings, or secret handshakes. Beekeepers have named these types of comb by comparing them to known objects, and the names have persisted because they make sense. If you just think about the words, you will understand what they describe.


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  • It was all burr comb to me — until now. I suppose most of what I see is bridge comb, comb connecting two or more frames. The grossest comb is drone comb connecting the bottom bars and top bars between two supers. Is that bridge comb too? I’ll try to pull a frame out of the top super and it won’t come up because it’s connected to the frame below it by drone comb. I’ve taken up the practice of slowly rotating the top super to break up the connecting drone comb. Drone larva enviably squirts all over the place, but it squirts everywhere even if I pry the frames up slowly.

    Any tips on dealing with that particularly situation?

    • Phillip,

      Yup, I’d call it bridge comb. I like your idea of twisting the boxes free—I will try that. Once I get them free, I just stand the boxes on end and scrape the comb off. I don’t have any particular technique, although I do hate to get squirt in the face with drone goo. Disgusting.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Very clear and logical.
    (NB – Phil – why was there drone brood in a super? )
    Now, is there a name for a layer of two-sided comb that they build down from the upper bar alongside the wax foundation, because for some arcane bee-reason the foundation doesn’t suit them? We left it cause it was nice worker brood, but if they’re going to do much of it, it would make more sense to go foundationless. I’ll see if I have a picture to send you.

    Shady Grove Farm
    Corinth, Kentucky

    • Nancy, a super, in my book, can be a shallow super, a medium and a deep super. I have drone comb just as I would any brood comb which, in my case, would be in the deep supers.

      • Phillip,

        This is why I’m picky about terminology. Technically, brood boxes are where the colony lives and supers (superstructures) are where the honey goes. So Nancy’s point is that you wouldn’t normally have brood in the supers. As I’ve explained so many times, you can’t have a superstructure (a structure that goes on top of a base structure) unless you have a base structure in the first place (a superstructure, by definition, has to be on top of something else). In a bee hive the base is composed of brood boxes and the superstructure is made of honey boxes call “supers” (which is just a shorten from of the word “superstructure”).

        That said, nearly anyone has ever bothered to wonder where the word super came from or what it means, so confusion reigns supreme. This is one of the many reasons new beekeepers are so confused: experienced beekeepers who know what they mean don’t use the right word and they confuse everyone else.

        I don’t want to get in an argument over this: I can see both your points of view. Technically, I agree with Nancy but from a practical point of view, one uses the words the way they learned them. I generally don’t correct a person for calling a brood box a super (unless they ask), but I never, ever, use that terminology myself or in any of my posts . . . way too confusing.

  • Thanks Phil & Rusty for clarifying. I am afraid I am becoming a RPITA with our club’s mentees. But goshdarn it, there is a REASON to know that eggs hatch, while brood emerges: that honey is capped, and brood is sealed: and that no worker bee is “he”. (!!!!!!!!!!)

    Science is under assault from all sides. Careful language is one of the its main defenses.