Comb Age Significantly Influences the Productivity of the Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) Colony

Friday 16 April 2021

Continuing with the theme of spring hive management and also adding to Blog #41, another more recently published study investigated the effect of comb age on honey bee productivity. Keep reading to find out what interesting significant results are revealed, what suggestions are provided for comb rotation, and how these compare to the previously discussed publication on this topic.

As spring progresses, our bees are becoming more and more active! But as many beekeepers in the Atlantic region know, the bees are not the only ones that start to venture out of their winter homes in springtime. Bears are also coming out from their winter slumbers in the spring and a colony of bees sounds like a great treat to them! Luckily, The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida has just released a comprehensive guide for building apiary bear fences! Keep reading for more details.

Comb Age Significantly Influences the Productivity of the Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) Colony *

A honey bee colony uses beeswax combs within the hive mainly for rearing brood and storing food. Over time, with repeated use for brood rearing, these combs change in both color and size. This recent publication provides insight on the topic of colony productivity in relation to comb age. The colonies used in this study were hybrid Carniolan honey bees, and combs were categorized as new combs (1-3 years old) and old combs (4-6 years old). In this study, colony productivity was quantified by:

  • Worker weight
  • Queen weight
  • Drone weight
  • Royal jelly production (mg of royal jelly/queen cell)
  • Worker and drone brood rearing

Through analyses of these productivity parameters, significant results from this study were revealed:

  • Colonies on new combs yielded newly emerged workers, queens, and drones with heavier body weights than those reared in colonies on old combs.
  • Colonies on new combs were more active in food storage, royal jelly production, and worker and drone rearing than colonies on old combs

This study suggested these results were related to the decrease in individual cell size over time – due to the accumulation of cocoons, wax, and other hive debris – allowing less space in cells on old combs for brood growth and resulting in smaller workers. The smaller population and individual size of workers reared on old comb were physically not capable of collecting pollen and nectar to the same extent as the larger population and size of workers that were reared on new comb. This study concluded that “the body sizes of individual bees were declined, and the productivity was decreased in the colonies with the old combs.” With this conclusion, this study further suggested that, “[replacing] combs after three years with new [combs] is recommended to encourage colony growth and increase productivity.” *

The results and conclusions of this study agree with those of the comb age study discussed previously in Blog #41. This study lends additional significant results related to other parameters of colony productivity to further support the regular rotational replacement of old comb with new comb. It is important to note that both of these studies were carried out in Egypt, however, still provide interesting significant results to take into consideration when managing honey bees in the Atlantic Canada region.


* Taha, E. A., Rakha, O.M., Elnabawy, E. M., Hassan, M. M. & Shawer, M. B. (2021). Comb age significantly influences the productivity of the honeybee (Apis mellifera) colony, Journal of King Saud University – Science. Full text available online.

Building Bear Fences for Your Apiary *

Many beekeepers in the Atlantic Canada region know all too well that bees and bears are not a good mix. Bears seek out bee colonies as a nice protein snack; they are after the protein-rich brood more than the honey, but the honey is a sweet bonus for them! A good way to protect bee yards from these destructive uninvited wildlife visitors is to build a proper bear fence around the apiary. There are many ways to go about implementing some sort of bear fence and many resources available. The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension program recently put together a step-by-step guide for building a bear fence. This guide includes:

  • Background information about bears and beekeeping
  • A list of supplies and tools for making the fence system
  • Site considerations for choosing a bear-proof yard location
  • Steps of fence installation

In the ‘Steps of Fence Installation’ section, detailed instructions and photos are provided for every step of installing an electric bear fence so the builder can be sure they achieve the intended result. The general steps of fence installation are:

  • Installing posts and wire
  • Creating a gate
  • Adding charge and ground
  • Testing the fence

Another great resource for bear and bear fencing information, especially area-specific information, is other beekeepers! A beekeeper that has kept hives in a particular location for a few years or more will likely be able to share some insight as to what the bear situation is in that area.


* Post, K. K. & Jack, C. (2021). Building Bear Fencing for Your Apiary, Entomology and Nematology Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Full text available online.

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