Brood comb as a humidity buffer in honeybee nests

Naturwissenschaften. 2010 Apr;97(4):429-33. doi: 10.1007/s00114-010-0655-1. Epub 2010 Mar 4.


Adverse environmental conditions can be evaded, tolerated or modified in order for an organism to survive. During their development, some insect larvae spin cocoons which, in addition to protecting their occupants against predators, modify microclimatic conditions, thus facilitating thermoregulation or reducing evaporative water loss. Silk cocoons are spun by honeybee (Apis mellifera) larvae and subsequently incorporated into the cell walls of the wax combs in which they develop. The accumulation of this hygroscopic silk in the thousands of cells used for brood rearing may significantly affect nest homeostasis by buffering humidity fluctuations. This study investigates the extent to which the comb may influence homeostasis by quantifying the hygroscopic capacity of the cocoons spun by honeybee larvae. When comb containing cocoons was placed at high humidity, it absorbed 11% of its own mass in water within 4 days. Newly drawn comb composed of hydrophobic wax and devoid of cocoons absorbed only 3% of its own mass. Therefore, the accumulation of cocoons in the comb may increase brood survivorship by maintaining a high and stable humidity in the cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Darkness
  • Humidity
  • Larva / growth & development
  • Larva / physiology
  • Light
  • Microclimate
  • Nesting Behavior
  • Predatory Behavior
  • Silk
  • Social Behavior


  • Silk