The Warré Store-Providing the highest quality beekeeping
supplies, and support to help the hobbyist beekeeper succeed


Beekeeping terminology

Every beekeeper needs advice from time to time and new beekeepers usually need quite a bit. But whether you're asking us for advice, or someone else, it's important that you understand and use proper terminology. It's the simple garbage-in, garbage-out theory. Poorly worded questions will usually receive answers that are at best, less helpful than what the adviser is capable of giving, or at worst, totally wrong for your situation. Even if you're not asking for advice, it's nice to sound like you know what you're doing, at least to some degree, when conversing with other beekeepers. For these reasons, we want to help you learn some common beekeeping terms, and the list below contains at least most of what you should know.

Glossary of terms

Absconding: The act of a bee colony just up and leaving it's home, with essentially no remnant of the colony being left behind (there may be a few stragglers). A colony may do this if the bees find the nest site objectionable for some reason(s), or if the nest is very old and no longer inhabitable. Please note that absconding differs greatly from swarming.

Bee: In reference to beekeeping, a European honeybee; a member of the species apis mellifera. There are several different breeds of honeybees, such as Italian, Russian, Carniolan, mixed breed, etc.. Most stinging insects that people refer to as bees (wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, etc.) are not bees. There are several other types of bees that are not apis mellifera, such as carpenter bees and bumble bees, and some produce small amounts of honey, but they are not generally kept by anyone. Please see About Honeybees to learn more.

Beehive (bee hive): A man-made shelter in which bees build their nest.

Bee colony: A bee "family", regardless of where it is living or located at any given time. A typical colony consists of one queen bee, thousands to tens of thousands of worker bees, and sometimes, several hundred to a few thousand drones. Please note that a bee colony is not a beehive, nor do colonies always live in beehives. Please see About Honeybees to learn more.

Brood: Young bees start out as eggs and become larvae after three days, at which point they are referred to as brood. They remain brood until they become fully developed, adult bees.

Brood box (or brood chamber): A hive body, or box, in which brood is being raised. It can be a box that is designated for raising brood, or it can be a box designed for multiple purposes.

Brood cells: Cells in which brood are being raised. They may or may not remain brood cells indefinitely.

Capped brood: Bees in the pupal stage of development. The caps over brood cells have the color and texture of a brown paper bag.

Capped honey: Cells containing nectar that has been dehydrated to the point that it is "ripe" honey, are capped by the bees to preserve it for consumption at a later date. The caps over honey have the appearance of yellow/brown wax, very similar to the comb itself.

Cells: Hexagonal shaped cavities that make up a comb. Cells are where brood is raised and also where honey, pollen and royal jelly may be stored.

Comb: A bee colony builds it's nest out of wax, which the worker bees secrete from their wax glands. Combs are built in rows that are usually (but not always) parallel to each other. Each comb is made up of many thousands of cells on each side, with a dividing wall in the center (each cell has roughly the depth of half of the comb's total thickness).

Drone cells: Drones are larger than worker bees and are, therefore, raised in larger cells. Drone cells are usually about 6.5 mm wide and are preferred breeding grounds for the varroa mite.

Drone comb: A section of comb that is made up of (at least mostly) drone cells.

Eggs: Bees begin their lives as eggs laid in cells, usually one in each, by the queen bee. Fertilized eggs can become workers or queens. Unfertilized eggs can only become drones. The queen controls whether or not any particular egg that she lays is fertilized.

Feral bees: A colony of wild bees that live on their own and are not kept by humans. Please note that these bees do not usually live in beehives (unless they have actually moved into an abandoned hive somewhere), but rather, they build their nests in trees, overhangs and walls of buildings, etc.

Foundation sheet: A man-made beeswax sheet that can be placed into a frame. The sheet provides the foundation for the cells, just as blocks can form the foundation of a building. Usually, bees build their cells as they are started on the sheet. This means that man can manipulate the size of the cells that the bees build. The process of the bees using their own beeswax to build cells onto the foundation is known as "drawing out the foundation".

Frame: An object that is used, like a picture frame, to hold something. In this case, what a frame holds is a wax comb, or one section of the bee colony's nest. Please note that a frame consists of a top bar, two side bars and a bottom bar. Only framed hives use frames, and although framed hives are different from top bar hives, they still use top bars; the top bars are the top piece of the frame.

Framed hive: A beehive in which each individual section of the colony's nest, or each comb, is contained within a frame that can be removed from the hive for close inspection by the beekeeper. Framed hives are very useful if one wishes to study the eggs, brood and bees closely, or to raise queens. Obviously, a framed hive does not provide any kind of natural environment for a bee colony.

Hiving bees: The act of installing a bee colony into a beehive, whether it be a package of bees or a swarm.

Hive body: A box from any vertical beehive, usually containing either top bars or frames for bees to build comb on or in. These are stacked, one atop the other, and are often referred to as "hive boxes" or just "boxes".

Honey: Dehydrated nectar. The bees add enzymes to the nectar while it is in their honey sacs. Honey will contain different levels of pollen, depending on how it is harvested by a beekeeper. Honey harvested from supers will contain only trace amounts of pollen.

Honey flow (or nectar flow): Any period of time during which there exists an abundant supply of nectar for the bees to collect, and during which a lot of honey is produced. While some areas of the country may have two or three separate honey flows each season, others may have only one.

Honey sac: An organ that is separate from and located "upstream" of a bee's stomach; it is used to store nectar that is gathered in the field before it is deposited into cells back at the nest. Regardless of what you may have read or heard, honey is not "bee vomit".

Kenya top bar hive (KTBH): A horizontal top bar hive of very primitive design. It has slanted sides and, appropriately, resembles a casket. The orientation of the combs to each other make this hive a very poor choice for use in areas that experience prolonged cold during the winter months, because the bees must break cluster in order to move and access food.

Langstroth hive: A large, rectangular, vertical, framed hive. This type of hive is widely used by commercial beekeepers in the U.S.. Please note that it is Langstroth (pronounced lang-strawth) and not Langstrom.

Larva: The stage of a bee's development that is between egg and pupa.

Larvae: Plural form of larva.

Nectar: A fluid that is gathered by the bees, mostly from flowers, and then placed into cells where it is dehydrated in order to make honey.

Nectar dearth: A period of time, usually seasonal, when virtually no nectar is available for bees to forage. Severe droughts may also cause nectar dearths to occur.

Nest: Several wax combs on which a bee colony lives. Please note that nests are not beehives, nor are they always located in beehives.

Open brood: Bees that are in the larval stage of development.

Orienting: Often confused with swarming or robbing when first seen by new beekeepers, orienting is the act of newly hived or young, newly emerged bees coming out of the hive in order to become familiar with the outside of the hive and the surroundings. Several at a time, hundreds of bees may exit the hive on a fine afternoon, each immediately doing a 180 degree turn and looking at the hive entrance. This is so they will (usually) know how to get back inside. They may hover near the entrance for some time, before flying in a circular pattern, slowly working their way farther and farther from the hive. Orienting is a very easy-to-see burst of activity that usually lasts about an hour. Frequent orienting (every day or every other day) is a sure sign of a healthy colony.

Pollen: A powdery substance that is gathered by bees, mostly from flowers, and taken back to the nest in order to provide protein nourishment to developing larvae. It is stored in the cells of combs that are in brood boxes, beside and above the brood. Considered by the USDA and many others to be one of the worlds most perfect foods.

Propolis: A mixture of resins that honeybees collect, mostly from trees. It is used as a sealant for unwanted open spaces in the hive and because of its anti-microbial properties, propolis helps to protect the colony from disease. Propolis is soft and sticky at warmer temperatures, but at lower temperatures becomes hard and very brittle.

Pupa: The stage of a bee's development during which the larva transforms into an adult bee. This stage occurs after the worker bees have capped the cell in which the larva is growing. Pupae are most often referred to as capped brood.

Quilt (or quilt box): Standard equipment on a Warré beehive, this box is used to insulate, and absorbs moisture from, the hive bodies. So called because it is an "insulating blanket", and the French word that Emile Warré used to describe it translates directly to the English word "quilt".

Robbing: The act of worker bees from one or more bee colonies stealing stores from another, usually weak, bee colony's nest.

Royal jelly: A white, jelly-like substance produced by the bees; it is fed to all brood for the first four days of life and is fed exclusively to developing queens until their cells are capped. This diet of only royal jelly is what allows a would-be worker bee to develop into a queen. Royal jelly is often packaged and sold for human consumption and may very well be the world's most perfect food. Unfortunately, many people cannot stomach the taste of it.


Stores: Usually refers to the amount of honey that a bee colony has stored in its nest for consumption during the winter months.

Super (Noun): A box that is added to the top of a vertical beehive for the purpose of collecting honey; usually intended for human consumption. A super can be either a box that is designated only for supering, or a box designed for multiple purposes.

Super (Verb) or Supering: The act of adding a box to the top of a vertical hive; supers are intentionally added above where the brood are being raised so that bees will fill them with only honey.

Swarm: A bee colony that is in the process of swarming.

Swarming: The natural act of bee colony reproduction. Since many bee colonies succumb to poor weather conditions, disease, pests and predators each year, new colonies must be continuously created in order for bees to avoid extinction. The process begins when new queens are created within an existing colony and capped in "swarm cells". Once the new queens are capped in their cells, the original queen, along with about 60% of the worker bees and a few drones, leaves the nest to create a new colony elsewhere. The new queens in the original colony will usually fight each other to the death until there is only one left to be the new mother of that colony. Occasionally, one of the new queens may leave with even more bees, in order to create yet another new colony. These swarms are usually smaller and are referred to as "after-swarms". Please note that swarming differs greatly from absconding.

Top bar: The piece that is used to support a comb, at its top, within a beehive. Usually made of wood, a top bar may be used alone to provide support for the comb, or, it may be the top part of a frame. Please note that a top bar by itself is not a frame; it is only a top bar.

Top bar hive: Most any beehive that does not use frames.

Varroa mites: Although these mites are small, they can be seen with the naked eye. They are red to brown in color, about 1/16th inch long, and oval shaped. Varroa mites attach themselves to the bodies of adult bees, essentially biting them and living off of their hemolymph, or blood. Reproduction is accomplished within capped brood cells; most successfully in capped drone brood cells. Varroa mites frequently populate themselves to such high levels within a bee colony that the resulting severe weakening of the bees causes the colony to collapse from viruses.

Warré beehive: See Warre Hives.