A reader asked if I knew a source of lavender beeswax. She wrote:
I’m wanting to make homemade beeswax candles and wanted to source the beeswax from bees that have pollinated lavender. I know this is a very niche request, but if you could point me in the direction of this type of beeswax source … it would be much appreciated.
The problem with this request is a process called temporal polyethism or age-related division of labor. Many insects, including honey bees, change jobs in a strict progression as they age. In honey bees, jobs go from less dangerous in-house chores to more dangerous, life-threatening activities such as foraging.
Life in stages
A newly emerged honey bee worker is called a callow. She is readily identified by pale hairs that appear matted or wet and a somewhat slow or awkward gait. She stays near to her birthplace for a day or two, eating bee bread and honey, while her exoskeleton hardens and her glands develop.
Once her hypopharyngeal and mandibular glands mature, she becomes a nurse bee, secreting brood food for her sisters or royal jelly for developing queens. She remains a nurse for perhaps ten days, from day two through day twelve. Then, around day fourteen, she will begin to secrete wax if the colony needs it for making comb, cappings, or queen cups.
Not a regular work assignment
These jobs are not like human assignments you might see posted on a chalkboard. For creatures with age-related divisions of labor, the individual changes physically in order to meet the demands of the next job. Changes occur in gene expression, in the endocrine system, and in the entire physiology.
Jobs like nursing, cleaning, nectar processing, food storage, fanning, and wax secretion are all done before a bee ever leaves the hive. Then, at about three weeks, the aging bee ventures outside for dangerous work such as guarding and foraging for nectar, pollen, water, and resins. The lifespan of a foraging bee can range from a few seconds to about two weeks, with an average of around one week.
Getting out of order
For this reason, you will never find beeswax that was secreted by bees that previously pollinated lavender. Beeswax is secreted by bees that have never left the hive and never foraged. With few exceptions, once a honey bee has foraged, she will not go back to wax secretion.
Under extreme conditions, honey bees have sometimes reverted to prior skills for short stints. A devastating blow to hive membership or to the hive itself can cause a redistribution of worker responsibilities. However, this is not the normal state of a colony and not something you could find easily.
Lavender wax once removed
You may be able to find beeswax that was secreted by bees that ate pollen collected from lavender by a prior generation. In other words, if previous generations stored lavender pollen, subsequent generations may eat that pollen and then secrete wax before they begin foraging for themselves. It would be an indirect path and the source of the wax would be difficult to identify.
Just keep in mind that foraging is an end-of-life activity. The vast majority of foragers will never revert to wax secretion.
Honey Bee Suite