Basic Beekeeping Glossary
Like any area of expertise, beekeeping has its own special language. Nucs, supers, brood, bee bread…much of the terminology is completely mysterious to non-beekeepers.
If you’re a new or would-be keeper, it’s important to know the terms. That way, when you research techniques, buy equipment or ask questions, you’ll know what you’re looking for.
Here’s our glossary of commonly-used beekeeping terms:
Apiary: the area where hives are kept. “My apiary has five hives”
Apiculture: another word for beekeeping – the practice of caring for honeybees and harvesting honey.
Apis: the scientific name for a bee. The most common honeybee species is Apis Mellifera.
Bee bread: a substance used for feeding larvae, drones and the queen, made of honey, pollen and royal jelly.
Bee space: 6-8mm – the ideal space between comb/frames, as discovered by L.L Langstroth in 1841. Any smaller, and bees won’t be able to move freely. Any larger, and bees will start to fill the space with comb.
Beeswax: the wax bees make to build hexagonal comb in the hive.
Bottom board: the floor or bottom part of a beehive, including the entrance/exit.
Brood: bees in the egg, larval and pupal stages, all taking place in the wax cells. Uncapped brood refers to eggs or larvae that are still being fed by nurse bees. Capped brood has been sealed with wax, and contains pupae that will emerge as adult bees. “The brood pattern looks great, it must be a good queen!”
Brood chamber / brood box: the box/super or area in the hive containing the queen, where eggs are laid and brood is cared for. This is usually one of the lower boxes in a Langstroth hive, below a queen excluder. “The brood box is full, let’s add another super”.
Capping: the thin layer of light-coloured wax used to seal in mature larvae or preserve fresh honey. “The honey cappings have been removed from the frames, so we can spin the honey out”.
Colony: a community of thousands of bees, made up of a queen, drones and workers, that live together in a hive or other space. “The colony is strong!”
Comb: used for storing honey, eggs and larvae, comb is made up of thousands of tiny, hexagonal cells. “The comb is looking a bit dark and old - it might be time for some fresh frames”
Corbicula: an indentation on the bee’s back legs, also called the pollen basket, used to carry pollen back from foraging.
Drawn comb: full wax cells built by bees onto a foundation frame. “The bees have drawn out the comb on that frame”.
Drone: male bee, identified by larger eyes, wider thorax and lack of sting. Drones are born for mating with a virgin queen, but many don’t get the chance to do so. There can be anything from six to a few hundred drones in a hive, depending on the season.
Flightpath: the route bees take when they leave and return to the hive. This is usually the same each day.
Foragers: worker bees that leave the hive each day to gather nectar, pollen and propolis. “Look at the foragers returning with pollen on their legs!”
Foundation: a plastic sheet coated with, or made of, wax and printed with an impression of honeycomb cells. Inserted into a frame, it guides the bees to build comb in the right place, making it easier for beekeepers to remove and inspect. “I use plastic, wax-dipped foundation in my hives to save on wax”.
Frame: a rectangle of wood or plastic that sits inside the hive. Honeybees build comb from edge to edge, and the beekeeper can remove the frame for inspection without damaging the comb. “I use plastic frames as they are less prone to rotting”.
Hive: a man-made or natural structure that houses a honeybee colony. “My hive is made of wood and painted on the outside!”.
Hive tool: a simple metal tool used to lift, separate or scrape frames. “Where’s my hive tool? I need it for the inspection”.
Honey: the sweet, sticky substance honeybees make and beekeepers collect.
Honeybee: a small flying insect that lives in large groups and produces honey.
Honey stomach: a special organ used to store nectar on foraging trips. When bees return to the hive, they regurgitate the nectar and it’s placed in cells to be turned into honey.
Langstroth hive: the most common type of hive in use, made up of flat boxes stacked on top of each other, with vertical frames inside.
Larvae: C-shaped white grubs that lie in the bottom of wax cells. Larvae are fed by nurse bees for five or six days before being sealed into their cells for the pupal stage. (A single grub is called a larva.) “I can see lots of larva and capped brood on this frame - must be a strong queen!”
Nectar: sweet liquid that honeybees collect from flowers and bring back to the hive to make honey. “I shook the frame and nectar came out, so the honey isn’t ready to extract yet”
Nuc (nucleus): a small group of bees, including a queen and a few hundred workers. Nucs are raised by beekeepers and sold as starter colonies. “I purchased a 5-frame nuc to start my hive off. I’m going to keep a spare nuc box handy, in case I find a swarm to catch!”.
Nurse bees: young worker bees that feed and care for the queen, drones and developing brood. “Grab that frame of brood for the split, it’ll have lots of nurse bees on it”.
Pheromone: a chemical hormone released by the queen and other bees, and used to communicate with the colony. The queen’s pheromones help keep the colony together, while defence pheromones can warn of a threat. “Once you catch the queen from a swarm the rest of the hive will follow her pheromone into the box!”
Pollen: a powdery yellow-orange substance that bees collect as they visit flowers. It’s used to feed bee larvae. “I can see lots of pollen in this frame - a sign of a healthy hive! I might need to grab some pollen patties just in case there’s not as much pollen around in the winter”
Pollination: the fertilisation of plants through the movement of pollen between flowers. Honeybees pollinate by carrying pollen on their bodies and transferring it to other flowers.
Propolis: a liquid resin collected by bees from certain species of tree. Propolis is used to seal cracks and holes in the hive and to strengthen comb. Because it has antimicrobial properties, it may also help prevent infections entering the hive.
Pupae: another stage of bee development. Pupae are sealed into their wax cells by nurse bees, then go through a metamorphosis that takes 8-14 days. Finally, they chew through the wax capping and emerge as adult queens, workers or drones. (An individual is called a pupa.)
Queen: the only bee in the colony capable of laying eggs. The queen is longer than other bees, with a fatter abdomen. After a single mating flight, the queen lives about five years, laying up to 3000 eggs each day.
Queen cage: a small container used to introduce a new queen to a colony. The cage has air holes to allow the queen to breathe and spread pheromones through the new hive. It’s sealed with a plug made of sugar, which is chewed through by worker bees a few days after it’s introduced.
Queen cell: a special cell built by nurse bees when the hive needs a new queen. Queen cells hang vertically from the edges of the frame and are roughly peanut-shaped. “I opened my hive and found several queen cells around the outside of the frame - this means my hive is trying to swarm!”
Raw honey: honey that has been harvested but not pasteurised or heat-treated.
Re-queen: the process of replacing a queen when the old one dies, leaves or becomes unproductive. “This brood and laying pattern is pretty speckley, and there’s not a lot of it - we might need to re-queen the hive”.
Royal jelly: a protein-rich secretion created by nurse bees and used to feed larvae in the first two days of life. Queens receive royal jelly throughout their larval stage.
Super: also called a hive box, supers are the wooden boxes that make up the structure of the beehive. “I have one super for my brood box, and then a honey super on top of that! Once the bees fill that I’ll super-up again, but in Winter I may need to super-down as there’ll be less bees to keep the space warm”
Smoker: a tool that emits harmless smoke into the hive, confusing the bees and preventing aggressive behaviour during inspections.
Swarm: a group of bees, led by a queen, that have split from their original colony in search of a new place to live. Swarming is a natural behaviour, but many beekeepers try to prevent swarms by splitting colonies that show signs of swarming.
Top bar hive: a less common type of hive with a single box and removable bars. The honeycomb hangs down from these bars inside the hive.
Waggle dance: a series of movements performed by returning forager bees to communicate the location of nectar sources.
Worker bees: sterile female bees that do the bulk of the work in the hive – collecting honey, pollen and propolis, feeding brood and taking care of the queen and drones. Most of the bees in the hive are worker bees.
Want to know more about beginner beekeeping? Take a look at our beekeeping basics series.