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Cells, cells and cells

There are many things that a beekeeper needs to see when checking a frame.

This article shows the different kinds of cells that you find in comb. Knowing the differences between them will help you be able to “read” the comb and understand what your bees are telling you.

Honey Storage Cells:

  • Uncapped Honey Cells: These open cells contain shiny wet nectar. The contents do not actually qualify as being honey yet, since the moisture of the liquid is above 18.6% (must be equal to or lower than to be honey). The bees leave the cell uncapped for the moisture to evaporate until it is the correct moisture level to be classified as honey.
  • Capped Honey Cells: Once the bees decide that the substance meets all the requirements as honey, they cap the cells with a thin film of beeswax to stop the evaporation process and to keep it sealed from predators. When bees need honey for food, they simply chew the wax capping to get to the honey. Sometimes the film is translucent enough to perceive the honey inside.

Capped & Uncapped Honey

Brood Cells:

There are two types of brood cells in the hive. Adult bees cap these cells once the brood has gone through the process of egg and larvae. Once the cell is capped, the larvae spins its own cocoon while inside the cell and develops into a pupae. When it is fully developed, a worker chews its way out of its own cell, while a drone needs other adult workers to chew his cell open for him then pull him out of his cell. Once a bee emerges from its cell, it is classified as an adult bee.

  • Capped Worker Cells: Typically found in the center of the frame and are slightly domed, almost flat. Not translucent like capped honey.
  • Capped Drone Cells: Larger in diameter and are domed much higher than worker cells. Drone cells are usually in groups at the lower edge of the frame and have a round “bullet shape” appearance.

Worker Cells & Drone Cells


Queen Cells:

Two kinds: supersedure cells and swarm cells. It is important to know the difference between them because depending on what you find, the hive is sending you a different message.

Both kinds of queen cells have the same “peanut shell” appearance, are usually about an inch long, and hang vertically on the frame. The difference between the two is that they hang at different locations on the frame, and are made for different reasons.

The process of making a queen cell starts with what is called aqueen cup”. In these cups, the existing queen will lay a fertile egg, and the workers enlarge the cup, giving it a “peanut” shape to it.

The queen is longer than the workers and drones in the hive, so her cell must be larger than normal for her to fit.

Queen cup


  • Supersedure Cells: Bees can sense when they need to replace their queen because she is sick or old. They make a new queen by feeding a young larva with royal jelly, then build a supersedure cell around her.Supersedure cells are found hanging vertically in the middle of the frame.

Supersedure Cell

  • Swarm Cells: When the hive is very strong and crowded, the bees build a swarm cell. The “old” queen will leave the hive with part of the colony population, and the other part of the colony will stay in the current hive with the new queen that is being raised in the swarm cell. Swarm cells hang vertically off the bottom of the frame. Sometimes new beekeepers are confused and think that a drone cell is a swarm cell, but they are totally different. Drone cells are typically in groups at the lower edge of the frame and are close to the swarm cells, but they have a round “bullet shape” appearance.

Swarm Cells


Pollen cells:

Honey bees gather pollen from flowers as food for the whole colony. Pollen is a vital part of the bees’ diet, since it is the source of many nutrients such as proteins, vitamins, minerals, and lipids.

When we check our hives, we can find different types of pollen. The main difference is in the color, since depending on the flower, the color of the pollen will change. The appearance is also different: we will see glossy pollen, matte pollen, and even pollen mixed with nectar.

Interesting fact: an average-sized colony may gather around 100 pounds of pollen in a whole season.

Pollen Cells