Burr Comb in Your Hive

Pinterest Hidden Image

Sometimes, honey bees build comb in undesirable places (at least from the beekeeper’s point of view). This excess comb is called -“burr comb”. While it is fascinating, it can also be a problem. Here, I share some of the reasons bees build burr comb and strategies to deal with it.

Pieces of beeswax burr comb on top bars of hive with larvae..

Burr comb (and bridge comb) are simply extra bits of honeycomb that is built in places that make beehive management more difficult. Here are some of my best ideas to reduce the amount of excess comb in your hive.

Do You Have Burr Comb in Your Hive?

Don’t be dismayed to find a small amount of burr comb in your beehives. It happens to all of us and generally poses no major problem. However, we don’t want to to get out of hand.

Normal Comb Construction

Honey bees are the only insects that produce and shape wax for their home. The beehive contains many sheets of honeycomb with thousands of hexagonal beeswax cells.

These cells are used by the colony for storing food and raising baby bees. Worker bees are constantly monitoring the condition of the comb and building new when needed. But, they can build too much of a good thing.

Common Trouble Spots

Burr comb can show up in some weird places but some areas of the hive are more likely to have extra wax.

  • on top of frames
  • around a queen cage

One of the most common places a beekeeper will find this type of wax is on top of frames. When the measurements between the bottom of the frames in one box and the top bars of frames in the box below is off. Is this a really big problem?

No, it is mostly an inconvenience. However, it is a good idea to remove the burr comb when you see it in the hive. It will only make hive inspections more difficult in the future.

Around Queen Cage

It is also common to find some burr comb constructed around the queen cage of a new package bee install. This is not a problem. Just remove the excess comb when you remove the queen cage from the frames.

Beginning of excess wax built on bottom of queen cage.

Formation of Burr Comb

In some situations, bees construct comb in irregular or unwanted locations within the hive, such as between frames, along hive walls, or even in open spaces.

This is fueled by their desire to make sure of every bit of space within the hive. However, there are factors that contribute to the formation of burr comb in the hive.

  • crowded conditions in the colony
  • irregular spacing between the frames
  • ignoring bee space in hive construction

Crowded Conditions

A strong colony with a large population has a lot of worker bees to build comb. They also need storage space for incoming food and rearing bee brood. They will build extra wax – burr comb in any available space.

Join Our Beekeeping Community

Free "Secrets to Successful Beekeeping" plus weekly newsletter with info about bees, beekeeping and more...

Frame Spacing

Modern beehives are designed for the frames to be pushed closely together – with any additional space on the sides of the box.

Sometimes, beekeepers forget to push the frames back together after a hive inspection – or they leave out a frame completely. The bees will make use of this space.

Examples of excess beeswax built by bees inside the hive.

Is Your Bee Space Wrong?

The most common reason for excessive burr comb is an error in “bee space”. Beekeeper Lorenzo Langstroth (responsible for the Langstroth Hive) noticed that bees build their sheets of comb – using a special method of spacing.

Each sheet of comb would be about 3/8” apart- this became known as “bee space” because it gave the bees just enough room to travel between the combs. The classic Langstroth hive dimensions are designed with the concept of “bee space” in mind.

However, many hive components are not cut to strict specifications and the size of boxes or frames may vary just a little bit from one manufacturer to the next.

With mixing and matching of hive parts from different sources, even boxes built to precise measurements can be off by a bit.

This results in bees having a bit too much space here and there which they don’t want to waste. They will attempt to fill that space.

You should also remember to keep bee space in mind when building your own hives. If you don’t follow the recommended measurements, you will have more problems with burr comb.

Bridge Comb and Cross Comb

In addition to extra wax located on the top bars, we sometimes find bridge comb or cross comb (brace comb).

These are sections of comb that connect 2 frames together. This is the most dangerous type of excess wax. It can cause comb to be torn from the frames during inspections.

While this can occur in any hive, it is seen more often when using new plastic foundation. Sometimes, the bees attempt to add another sheet of wax in between two frames that is minimally attached.

Larva and pupa in burr comb on top bars of a hive .

Removing Burr Comb in the Hive

Why bother removing burr comb – if they will just build it back? If for no other reason, it makes future inspections difficult and the removeable parts of the hive become stuck down harder.

Another reason to use your hive tool to scrape off burr comb is pest control. Excess wax gives Small Hive Beetles and other honey bee pests a place to hide.

  • gently smoke the bees down
  • use your hive tool to scrape wax off the top bars
  • scrape off any major amounts of wax attached to walls of hive
Drone larvae in burr comb on top of hive frames image.

Comb with Drone Larvae

It is common to find bee larvae or brood in comb between the boxes. This is very upsetting to many new beekeepers. In most cases, this will be drone bees.

Their larvae are usually located on the outside perimeter of the brood nest because they are not as valuable to the colony as workers.

Clean Up

You might be tempted to casually throw the extra wax you remove on the ground. This is not the best practice. The aroma of honey and wax attracts more pests to your bee yard.

In fact, that excess wax is valuable. You can save the small pieces of comb in a container. When you have enough saved, clean the beeswax and use it for fun bee craft projects.

Burr comb in hive with eggs and brood cells.

Why is Burr Comb a Queen Killer?

Another reason burr comb is undesirable is the risk involved for the queen bee. She will lay eggs in these sections of misplaced comb.

As you clean away the comb, it is possible that the queen will be in there. She can be damaged or killed in the process of removing frames for inspection or discarding extra wax.

Expert Tips to Minimize Excess Comb

No one is perfect and sometimes we beekeepers make mistakes too. But, taking strides to avoid problems with a lot of burr comb in the hive makes your tasks easier in the long run.

  • push hive frames close together before closing hive.
  • count to make sure all frames are in the hive.
  • if you build your own equipment – use correct blueprints or hive plans.
  • remove any extra wax the bees have started when you first see it.
  • with new foundation – monitor the progress – if bees are getting started wrong – remove the misplaced wax. Hopefully, they will build correctly next time.
  • be careful when buying used beekeeping equipment that may not be standard size.

FAQs

How can beekeepers identify burr comb?

Beekeepers can identify burr comb by visually inspecting the hive during regular inspections. Look for irregularly placed comb between frames, along hive walls, or in open spaces.

What is the difference between burr comb, brace comb and bridge comb?

In practice, all terms means the same thing and refer to wax comb built somewhere other than where the beekeeper wants it.

What should I do if I find bee larvae in the burr comb?

Brood in the burr comb are almost always drones. The best option is to simply scrape them off and discard.

However, anytime you expose drone brood-take the time to look carefully for reddish spots. If you see mites, it may be past time for a varroa mite test.

What can burr comb be used for?

After removing burr comb from the hive, save it. It can be used to make beeswax candles and hundreds of other useful items.

Final Thoughts

Finding burr comb in your hive is not a big problem – it happens to all of us. This common issue can be handled easily with routine hive maintenance. I would not replace my equipment or go to any extreme measures. Clean it up when you see it. Realize that the bees will most likely build it back if your bee space is off. And, that’s okay.