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10 Funny Bee-Related Words You Never Knew—How to Talk Like a Beekeeper

Jana loves researching and sharing facts about the natural world, science, and history.

Interested in talking like a bee-keeper? Read on, you won't bee-lieve the things we say.

Interested in talking like a bee-keeper? Read on, you won't bee-lieve the things we say.

1. Bee Bread

Thankfully, this term doesn't refer to stirring a pinch of bees into dough and then baking a few buns. Bee bread is something that nurse bees feed the larva or baby bees. Right after they hatch, they are given royal jelly.

Bee bread is a weaning formula made of pollen and honey. This is the last food they'll get before a nurse seals them in their cells where they'll go to sleep for a while and grow some more.

2. Propolis

While most people have heard of propolis, few are really certain about what the stuff actually is. When bees leave their hive to collect pollen and nectar, they also search for a kind of resin. This is propolis and the insects gather the material from plants and trees. The sticky goop isn't used in the honeymaking process. Instead, bees use it as a kind of building material to patch up their hive.

Propolis is often a sealant pushed into cracks or an extra layer to strengthen other parts within the hive. Interestingly, the resin contains antimicrobial properties and is harvested by the cosmetic industry to make products like toothpaste and skin lotion.

A beehive fortified with propolis.

A beehive fortified with propolis.

3. Winter Cluster

Hives in cold places, especially where there's a lot of snow, see a marked reduction in activity and in some cases a total shutdown. The latter sees all the adult bees clustering tightly together as they wait for the frosty season to pass. Ergo, a winter cluster.

4. After Swarm

Sometimes, bees leave their hive in a giant buzzing cloud. This is called the primary swarm. However, as with all animal groups and even people, you'll always find a few slackers.

In this case, an after swarm could mean two things. Yes, those lazy bees that realized the colony left well over an hour ago and they finally follow as a smaller group. More often, a new queen will wait until the primary swarm has left and then take a few bees with her to start her own honey factory elsewhere.

5. Piping

Did you know that the queen is capable of making sounds? Nope, it's not the buzzing noise one would associate with a bee. She produces a sound, or series of sounds, that experts call “piping.” This often happens moments before she crawls from her cell. Creepy and cute at the same time.

6. Queen Cage Candy

Alright, that one's more like a phrase than a word but it's too good to pass up. This treat is not found in nature but emerges from mankind's kitchen. To make the candy, powdered sugar is kneaded with invert sugar syrup.

So, you know, a lot of sugar. The two ingredients are worked until they produce a piece of dough. This stiff material is then placed inside a queen cage, which holds a queen and several worker bees that are being transported after being sold.

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A queen cage.

A queen cage.

7. Skep

Honestly, this sounds like some kind of terrible insect disease, but thankfully the word describes a type of beehive. A skep is just a hive fashioned from woven straw and one that lacks moveable frames. Phew.

8. Slumgum

The delightfully named slumgum is a waste product. Wax is another valuable commodity that people harvest from bees but the process that removes it also leaves behind a melted slush, slumgum. Originally, the material comes from comb and cappings, or the lids that seal individual cells.

9. Travel Stain

Bees travel for miles and touch countless things. So, what could stain them, you ask? Indeed, nobody has ever seen a bee with any sort of stain. That's certainly true. But let's put aside the freaky fact that bees are always spanking clean. In hive jargon, a travel stain has nothing to do with the insects' bodies but something that they do.

A dark discoloration develops wherever bees continually drag along propolis, almost like a resin road marker. A better name might have been “propolis stain,” but who are we to argue with the wonderful words beekeepers come up with. Really, we love it.

10. Robbing

That's right. Crime is alive and well among bees. For as long as humans have kept the tiny honeypots, they've looked in amazement at how bees steal from each other. Rather obviously called “robbing,” this term covers all sorts of petty thefts. A brave bee enters a rival colony's hive and basically goes shopping for free. The burglar can make off with honey, pollen or nectar.

Now if bees would only form their own police force, or maybe don miniature SWAT suits, then what more do we need than ten fun words and mean-looking drones in combat gear? Nothing, because that'll just be perfect.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Jana Louise Smit


Jana Louise Smit (author) from South Africa on November 26, 2019:

The nurse bees are adorable. They're actually the 3-day-old bees that take care of the newly hatched ones. Such interesting insects!

Lorna Lamon on November 26, 2019:

Such an interesting article and you have certainly given me an education into all things bees. "Bee Bread" made me smile as I love the idea of 'nurse bees'. A thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening read Jana - thank you for sharing.

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