This is an ongoing and frequently updated list of commonly used beekeeping terms.
Don’t see a term here that you need to be defined? Let us know in the comment section below!
Any terms that are associated with bees and beekeeping will eventually make it to this list.
Absconding – When a honey bee colony leaves a hive, never to return. This is different from swarming in that the colony doesn’t split. All the workers and the queen leave the hive at once and settle elsewhere. It is usually caused by stress, e.g., harassment by predators or over-eager beekeepers doing their inspections too frequently.
AFB – American Foulbrood (AFB) is a fatal bacterial disease that affects the brood, killing them and turning them into slime. The name is derived from the sulfurous smell in the hive caused by the decomposition of the infected brood. As it spreads quickly in the apiary and can be spread by contact, infected colonies are destroyed and equipment burned. Honey from an infected hive cannot be used as a supplementary source of food for another colony as this could spread the disease. Because there is no cure, the challenge becomes early detection and management before it spreads to neighboring hives.
Apiary – Also known as bee yard, is the place where beehives are located. The beehives house the colony of bees.
Apitoxin – Also known as bee venom, it is a colorless liquid produced by honey bees and delivered when the bee stings a person. It contains proteins that could affect the immune system and the skin cells, causing pain during a bee sting.
Baggie feeder – The use of a polythene bag (e.g., Ziploc bag) filled with sugar syrup, with slits cut into it, to provide the honey bees with access to the liquid inside. The feeder is placed inside the hive above the frames and caters to only one colony at a time.
Bee bread – The primary food source for bees and their larvae. It is composed of a mix of pollen, nectar, and honey,
Bee brush – This is a tool that resembles a small broom used to gently brush honey bees off frames of drawn comb during inspections.
Bee escape board – This is a piece of hive furniture that is used to separate bees from honey supers. It resembles the inner cover with a hole in the center but has a mesh on the underside with 2-3 openings to the side. The bee escape allows bees to leave the super but briefly prevents them from returning to the super. That allows the beekeeper to take away the honey supers without having to brush away bees on each frame.
Bee races – Different strains of bees bred for different traits. Some examples include Carniolans bred for temperament, Russian bees bred for varroa resistance, and Italian bees bred for honey production and pollination.
Bee space – The space needed for a bee to pass between two objects. This is the principle that the construction of the Langstroth bee hive is based on. The frames are about 3/8 of an inch apart. Anything bigger would cause the bees to construct a burr comb. Anything smaller would cause the bees to seal the space with propolis.
Bee suit – protective clothing worn by a beekeeper comprising of a bee veil, jacket/coveralls. Gloves are usually sold separately because some beekeepers prefer to perform their activities without them.
Brood box – The section of the hive where the queen lays her eggs. A colony can have one or two brood boxes, depending on the strength of the colony.
Brood pattern – How close together the cells containing brood are. A good queen should lay her eggs in cells that are close to each other as this enables the nurse bees to care for the brood effectively and keep them warm. A queen that lays eggs in a haphazard pattern, known as spotty, with several empty cells between any two occupied cells, could be a sign that she is failing and should be replaced.
Candy board – Solid sugar supplement used to feed bees during the winter. The bees will not feed on syrup that is below 50°F, which makes it necessary for a beekeeper to use solid sugar as a substitute when the bees run out of stores.
Capped brood – When the larvae develop into a pupa, they make a cocoon while in the cell, and the nurse bees seal the cell with a layer of wax. That action is known as capping, and the result is a pupating bee in a capped cell.
Chalkbrood – A fungal disease that affects the brood. Bee larvae ingest the spores when feeding. These spores then spread inside the gut of the larvae starving them and causing them to mummify. It is most common in chilly, damp weather and worsened when the colony doesn’t have enough bees to keep the hive well-ventilated.
Chunky honey – A honey product that combines liquid honey with a large piece of honey still in the comb.
Cleansing flights – When bees need to defecate, they do so outside the hive. During the year, when the weather is favorable, the bees do so as they go about foraging. In the winter, there’s no nectar or pollen for them to collect, so they wait until the weather is mild enough to take flight and find some relief.
Creamed honey – honey crystallized in a controlled manner that small crystals form, giving the honey a creamy texture. It is often sold as a premium honey product.
Crystallization – Process by which crystals are formed from a solution. Honey is known as a supersaturated solution and is thus unstable, making crystallization inevitable. What varies is the amount of time that honey from different nectar sources takes to crystallize. The glucose in honey is the principal cause of crystallization. Contrary to popular belief, crystallized honey is not spoilt and can be used as it is.
Drawn comb – Honey and pollen storage built by bees. The drawn comb is the end product of the construction process that provides cells to be used by brood and for food storage.
DWV – Deformed Wing Virus is one of the viruses carried by varroa mites. Once a larva is infected with the virus, it either dies before it is fully developed or emerges as an adult with deformed wings. If a bee can’t fly, then it can’t work, and that could lead to the death of the colony.
Floral calendar – A chart that shows the approximate date and duration of floral food sources for bees in a particular geographical area.
Flow hive – A type of Langstroth hive with a honey super that allows for honey harvesting without the extraction of the frames. It was designed by Stuart and Cedar Anderson from Australia. The main difference between this hive and a typical Langstroth hive is that the super has been modified to allow for the extraction of the honey without opening the hive.
Foraging – The action of bees collecting pollen and nectar for consumption and storage. This is done by the workers in the colony. They are older bees that first started out as nurse bees, then become guard bees. Finally, they work as foragers, tasked to collect nectar and pollen until they die of exhaustion.
Formic acid – A carboxylic acid used for treating bees against varroa. It is the only treatment found to kill mites in sealed brood cells. It is a naturally occurring compound and is found in ants and in stinging nettle.
Hive beetle – A pest that invades the hive and whose larvae feed on pollen, honey, eggs, and brood. The beetle also carries with it some yeast spores, which cause the fermentation of honey. A heavy infestation causes the hive to be filled with slime.
Hive tool – An implement used by a beekeeper to break the propolis seal when working in the hive.
Honey – Nectar collected, partly digested, and dehydrated by bees. Sugar syrup stored by bees is not considered honey because it is not originally sourced from a plant, which honey has to be.
Honey stomach – A part of the honey bee anatomy where nectar is temporarily stored during transportation from its source to the hive. It is a second stomach and is also known as the “crop.”
Honey supers – A section of the hive bees use to store surplus honey. This is the section that beekeepers harvest for consumption or sale. Honey supers consist of frames that are about half the size of a medium-deep frame and ensure that the honey harvested by the beekeeper doesn’t deplete the colony of its food requirements. Honey supers are only added during a nectar flow and are removed when preparing a colony for winter. They are usually placed above the queen excluder. The queen excluder ensures that eggs and brood are not mixed with the harvestable honey.
Inner cover – a lightweight cover placed between the outer cover and the upper hive body. It aids in insulating the hive while allowing moisture to pass through to keep the hive dry. The inner cover has a ventilation hole that allows fresh air to pass through and circulate inside the hive.
Kenyan top bar hive – It’s a horizontal type of hive where the bees are allowed to construct a comb without the use of a foundation.
Langstroth – A type of hive that was initially designed by Lorenzo Langstroth in 1852, which is the common type of hive that we use today. It has been built with removable frames, and the spacing between the frames is based on the principle of bee space.
Miticide – A chemical used to kill mites that affect bees, such as tracheal and Varroa.
Nectar – A secretion by plants consisting mainly of dissolved sugars to attract insects and birds that they rely on for pollination. Pollen and nectar are collected by bees and stored in their honey stomach and pollen basket until it is deposited back in the hive.
Nectar flow – A season where trees and flowers that provide nectar for bees are in bloom. This varies geographically.
Nosema disease – This is a fungal disease that affects the bees’ digestive system and causes symptoms such as dysentery (diarrhea). Spores from the Nosema apis and Nosema ceranae are ingested by the bees and multiply in the gut. This inhibits the bees’ ability to digest food properly. Infected worker bees are unable to produce royal jelly and have compromised immune systems which open them up to numerous infections and shorten the bees’ lifespan. The best way to deal with Nosema is to prevent it by keeping healthy colonies.
Nurse bees – Worker bees that take care of the brood. This is the task that is left to young bees. This is their first job.
Open brood – The name given to bees in their larval stage of development. It is “open” because of the fact that the cells containing the larvae have not been sealed by the nurse bees.
Open feeder – Open container used to feed bees during a dearth. It is placed outside the hive and can be used to feed multiple colonies at a time. The disadvantage is that they can spark robbing behavior.
Oxalic acid – An organic compound commonly in a crystallized form used to treat colonies for Varroa destructor mites. It does not harm the bees when used correctly via an oxalic acid vaporizer. It is administered either as a vapor or dribbled on the bees as a solution. Their use in the hive is relatively new. It is known most as a wood bleaching agent.
Pollen – A male reproductive cell of a plant that fertilizes the ovule to create a seed. Bees use pollen as a protein source for their diet. The cross-pollination service offered by bees is purely accidental. Their aim is to trap as much pollen as they can on the little hairs that cover their bodies. They then ball it up and carry it on pouches located on their hind legs.
Pollen is necessary because it enables the nurse bees to feed the brood with royal jelly. The pollen, once in the hive, is made into pollen bread. This is then fed on by the nurse bees, which they convert into food for the brood.
Pollinator – Anything that assists a flower in ensuring that pollen from the anther (male part of the flower) gets to the stigma (female part of a flower) to facilitate fertilization and seed production. The agent can be an animal, insect, bird, or element such as wind and water.
Queen – A special member of the bee colony whose purpose is to populate the hive. The queen bee does not do any of the chores that the other worker bees do. She is slightly larger than the workers because her ovaries are enlarged. When she is actively laying eggs, she cannot fly because her wings cannot carry her weight. She also lives much longer than the average worker bee. The queen can live from 5-8 years but is known to be at the peak of production in the first 2 years of her life. She becomes a fertile queen once she mates soon after she emerges from her cell as an adult and does so with multiple drone bees. Once she starts to lay eggs, she does not mate again for the rest of her life. Read more about the queen bee.
Queen rearing – The practice of raising queen bees from the young brood. The 1-3 day-old larvae are placed in a special container known as a queen cup and placed in a nuc with nurse bees that care for the brood until the queens emerge.
Robbing – When the environment doesn’t offer enough nectar, workers raid other hives and steal their honey. This behavior is known as robbing. It can be catastrophic for the victim hive because the fighting that ensues can result in many bee deaths.
Scout bees – These are worker bees tasked to find a new site for the colony to build a nest.
Slatted rack – I piece of hive furniture used to provide additional space in the hive. This helps with keeping the hive ventilated and is believed to reduce swarming by providing additional living space to the colony.
Swarming – The natural process by which colonies are created. Once the population in a hive exceeds the space that holds them, the old queen leaves, taking with her about 40% of the workers to start a new colony elsewhere. By the time the old queen leaves, there is usually a new virgin queen that has emerged and is left to continue the egg-laying duties.
Thymol – Crystalline compound found in the oil derived from the thyme herb used as a treatment for varroa mites. Its use and effectiveness are very sensitive to temperature. The concentration of the compound needs to be measured accurately to ensure that you do not harm the bees and brood. Unfortunately, it does not kill the mites breeding in capped cells and only affects phoretic mites.
Tracheal mites – Microscopic pests that live inside the trachea of adult bees. They feed on bee Haemolymph and compromise the overall immune system of the bee. A heavily infested colony is likely to die and cannot be treated. Fortunately, there are some bee strains that have shown resistance to the mite and are by far the best way to combat this pest.
Varroa mites – Varroa destructor is a mite that attaches itself to a bee and feeds on its hemolymph, also known as bee blood. The Varroa mite is also known to feed on the fatty tissue of adults, which weakens them, especially as they prepare to go through winter. They are usually introduced to the hive by infested adult bees as they forage. Robbing bees can also cause an infestation of the entire colony. Once in the hive, the mite attaches itself to a nurse bee and then moves into a cell that contains a brood. Here it will feed and reproduce as the bee larvae grow and develops. Once the adult bee emerges from the cocoon it has built, it also releases the mites that had been sealed up in the cell. These emerge and repeat the cycle.
Mites carry vectors and viruses, such as the deformed wing virus, that contribute to the deformation of the bee and possibly the collapse of the colony.
Warre hive – A type of vertical hive with square boxes and top bars rather than wired frames. Additional boxes are added below existing boxes, which is the opposite of what happens with the Langstroth hives. This is done to mimic natural bee behavior that allows bees to build new combs downward.
Wax cells – The hexagonal compartments of a honey comb built by bees in their hives as a storage place for pollen, brood, young larvae, or honey.
Wax moth – A pest that invades hives that have either been abandoned or that contain a weak colony. Their larva destroys drawn comb, particularly comb that once contained brood. They are also known to destroy frames in storage. Beekeepers need to ensure that the area used to store drawn comb is well-lit and ventilated to avoid an infestation.
Worker bees – Infertile female honey bees in the colony that perform all the tasks.