Honey Bee Cell Size

Understanding the important role of cell size in bees is paramount and cannot be understated. The effects on bee behaviour and survival into the future are linked to our understanding of Cell size.   Beekeeping for the past 100 years has been greatly influenced by the introduction of Wax foundation and the mistakes in measuring cells per square inch advocated by Baudoux. 

Baudoux advocated a cell size of 4.9mm to 5.0mm but due to a misunderstanding in the way people measured cell size and the different methods used by Baudoux a miscalculation showing a cell size of 5.4mm has wrongfully been advocated by beekeepers and foundation makers the world over.  Understanding the writings of Baudoux is crucial as his influence on beekeeping is second to none and people still read his works which were widely published in beekeeping journals around the world and the mistaken measurements showing he proposed a cell size of 5.4mm are still reported to this day.

http://resistantbees.com/blog/?page_id=1524  old rhomb method V’s Square box Method

With any scientific study of bees one must take into consideration the cell size being used as the cell size plays a crucial roll in how bees behave and how they deal with disease and mite infestation.  Genetics also play a crucial role in controlling disease and mite infestations but cell size is by far the quickest and easiest method of changing the way bees behave.

Most people refer to cell sizes as either large cell (5.2mm to 5.6mm) or natural Cell size (4.6mm to 5.1mm) also referred to as small cell.  Most commercially available foundation is 5.4mm and most advocates of natural cell size refer to cell size of 4.9mm.

Around the world today people are seeking a solution to the issues of Mite control and CCD but have neglected to take cell size into account when seeking there solutions.  They miss completely the issue of bee behavioural changes that occur when bees change in size. 

Putting chemicals into beehives to control mites and disease is extremely damaging to the bees and destroys the bacterial processes the bees use to ferment pollen into usable bee bread that is used to feed new emerging bees. It also upsets the gut flora of bees and opens up a door for further disease and infestations in the beehive which is now unable to properly ferment the food it requires and subsequent generations of bees become undernourished and less healthy.  If it’s not good for people it’s not good for bees and if it’s not good for bees then it’s not good for people.  Stressing bees with constant moving and changes in environment now contaminated with many differing chemicals all contribute to the decline of a bee colony and CCD.

Baudoux made comments about the smallest of bees and how he viewed them as pitiful specimens of bees.  This was a reference to bees on foundation or very old natural brood comb below 4.6mm which was very common at that time as beekeepers would do all they could to make the brood chamber as compact as possible.  Despite Baudoux’s comments about the pitiful state of smaller bees the beekeepers at that time had little to no disease issues

Bee’s from natural cell sizes of 4.8mm to 4.9mm have a number of natural advantages over large cell bees.

Fact…More bees in the hive. Natural Cell size shortens the time from egg to hatch by around 2 or even 3 days.  Bees on natural cell sizes of 4.8mm or 4.9mm will naturally hatch earlier.  This would immediately alleviate at least one of the issues associated with CCD where young bees are going out to forage some 2 days before they are normally ready. http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2015/02/10/4176386.htm. It also increases up the hive numbers in spring and makes for more bees in the hive.

Fact… Tracheal Mites (Acarapis woodi) are mites that live in the trachea of Large Cell bees or any bee born from cell size of 5.2mm and above.  The mites live and bread in the trachea of these bees and shorten there lives.   Thankfully this is not true of Natural sized bees from cell sizes of 4.8mm or 4.9mm.  For natural sized bees the mites are no longer a problem as they do not readily fit in the trachea of these bees and are forced to live between the hairs on the bees back performing cleaning duties for the bees that helps to extend the bees life.  Queens are variable in there ability to negate the effects of tracheal mites and selective breeding from resistant queens works well.

Fact… More Compact Brood Chamber. With the use of Natural cell size foundation the breeding chamber becomes much more compact and the number of bees required to perform brood temperature control duties etc is lessened.  This frees up nurse bees to perform hygienic duties such as cleaning the hive and removal of diseased brood such as brood infested with Varroa Mites.  As Varroa mites are naturally attracted to larger cells this means it’s mostly drones that get infested as natural sized worker cells are less prone to attack. Apis Cerana worker cell size is 3.6mm to 4.9mm and a natural co-existence has been achieved with Varroa.  The only real difference is that Apis Cerana leaves a small hole in the capping of there Drone brood to make easier detection of the Varroa mites for removal. Natural cell sized bees with plenty of workers freed up for other duties means the Varroa Mite is more vigorously detected then removed and a natural balance can be achieved without the use of chemicals.  In fact the use of Chemicals can only be effective as a short term solution as no chemical works forever.

Fact… Hygienic Behaviour.  The holy grail of beekeeping is to bread the perfect super hygienic bee and some small success has been achieved in this area but it has a long way to go.  Creating the right conditions to naturally increase this behaviour in all your bees would make more sense as its quicker, cheaper and more productive.  Creating the right conditions to induce better hygienic behaviour means less disease in your hives naturally, zero treatments and greater productivity.

Fact…  Natural sized bees produce more honey.  I find it’s ironic that most studies that look at cell size completely fail to properly regress there bees and then conclude it’s a failure but always it shows increased honey production within the second or third years of regression in there study.  If you are a commercial beekeeper then this is something you need to take seriously.

Fact… How to regress your bees.  After more than 100 years of using large cell foundation it can take time to regress bees back to a natural cell size of 4.8mm or 4.9mm.  Advocates of Foundationless hives will find that bees naturally make smaller cells by .2mm with each removal and rebuilding of the brood chamber and this will continue down to 4.8mm where most bees naturally settle and some bees will regress to 4.6mm.  This method of removal and forced rebuilding of the brood chamber every 4 to 6 months can take some time so the use of either plastic foundation for super-fast results or wax foundation is used to speed up this process.  Often a cell size of 5.1mm is used as a transitional foundation size in hives that don’t readily take to the 4.9mm foundation.   Most bees are happy to use the 4.9mm wax foundation without issue. The full regression process can take 2 to 4 years and creates what is called an epigenetic change in the bees where different genes are turned on or off to facilitate the different behavioural traits within bees that change according to there size.

More information is available on my website www.ikeepbees.com.au or for a truly detailed look into this fascinating area of beekeeping visit www.resistantbees.com.