bee biology

How can I find a source of lavender beeswax?

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.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Foraging honey bees working lavender. Foraging is the final stage of a honey bee's life.
Foraging honey bees working lavender. Foraging is the final stage of a honey bee’s life.

18 Comments

  • I can add to that by stating that beeswax smells like beeswax. Honey may reflect colors based on nectar source; and sometimes flavor. But all beeswax I’ve ever seen smells the same. No relation to any flower smell. (although some pollens can color it).

    However, add a few lavender flower pieces to the melted beeswax before you pour, and you’re all set.

  • I know that the flavour of honey is very much determined, or influenced, by the particular varieties of flowers which produced the nectar. After all, (as far as I am aware), we could perhaps describe honey as “nectar which has been processed by bees”.

    I wonder though about beeswax. Beeswax is not extracted from nectar.
    Is it a fair comment to say that “beeswax is a product of the metabolism of the bees”?

    If beeswax is a product of a metabolic process, then why might there be any differences between the wax produced in one country where the bees could only find lavender, and another country where there was no lavender at all?

    To use an analogy, electricity can be produced by a generator, but the generator is not concerned whether the power comes from steam powered turbine, or wind powered turbine. The resulting electrical power is independent of the power source.

    • Wilfred,

      Beeswax is secreted by honey bees as a liquid from glands inside the bee’s body. I think the odor is based on bee genetics rather than nectar or pollen composition. As others have pointed out, all beeswax smells basically the same.

  • Just out of curiosity would the wax smell like lavender once the lavender pollen (if the pollen even smelled like lavender once it was processed into bee bread) was processed into wax?

  • I find it difficult to find lavender honey that is not infused with lavender oil after harvesting. Over the years I have found only two sources, one in France and another in New Zealand, of honey from bees that foraged on lavender flowers. I am guessing this wax might have a lavender aroma from the honey that was stored in it. But most lavender honey in my experience is infused.

  • I learn so much by reading what you have to say. You are helping me to be a better beekeeper. Thank you for being an entertaining, as well as an informative writer.

  • Wow, what an amazing fact filled enlightening response!! You’re amazing Rusty! ;D Thank you for sharing your invaluable knowledge and experience! Happy New Year!! 😀

  • Aside from the life cycle confusion, I’m a bit puzzled as to why the reader thinks that simply carrying pollen around in one’s pollen baskets would affect the scent of anything. However, a plausible source of lavender-scented wax could be from colonies that foraged primarily in a field of lavender, which theoretically produces lavender-scented honey (you have a post on that under varietal honeys). If the beekeeper then used crush-and-strain processing, perhaps the wax would pick up some lavender from the honey during the multi-hour drip period. Or not.

    Like the reader says, a very niche request. Probably better off infusing lavender into her wax, then filtering it out (or not!) before making the candles. She’d have better control over how much lavender essence ends up in her products, too.

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See bees slurping waterSo cute!
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