Many new beekeepers looking inside the hive may be unable to distinguish between capped honey and capped brood.
After all… Once it’s covered in wax, how do you tell the difference?
In this article, I’ll teach you how to identify and differentiate the two.
This will give you a better idea of your bees’ health and resources.
Difference Between Capped Honey And Capped Brood
Capped ripe honey has a moisture content of less than 17%, usually in cells positioned at the crown of the comb. The cap on honey cells is light in color and has a shiny, waxy appearance. The cap on brood cells protrudes slightly from the surface. They look more textured and are lower on the comb.
Many beekeepers use a queen excluder between their Langstroth brood box and the honey supers. The queen excluder prevents the queen from entering the honey super above and laying eggs in the drawn comb.
This means that all the capped cells in the honey super will be only capped honey, which is an excellent way to visualize what capped honey looks like compared to capped brood.
However, beekeepers that do not use queen excluders and those that do not use Langstroth hives may not have this advantage for comparison.
There is no distinction between brood and honey cells in the brood chamber, which may make it difficult to tell which is which when pulling a frame from a brood box for evaluation.
One of the difficulties in distinguishing between capped honey and brood is that the honey cells are the same size as the worker brood cells. This means you need to look for other clues to differentiate between them.
Bees can store honey in both drone and worker-sized cells. Still, they generally only do this once they run out of space because most drone cells are on the periphery of the comb, below the worker brood cells.
I’ll explain several things about each type of cell on the comb and what to look for to discern the differences.
What Is Capped Brood?
Bees are insects, which means they begin life as an egg, hatch into a larva, and then morph into an adult as part of their life cycle.
The brood cell starts off open for the queen to lay the egg in the cell. Once the egg hatches, the larva grows in the cell and is fed by nurse bees until it’s ready to morph into an adult worker bee.
At this stage, the nurse bees sense the change and will seal or cap the cell for the final stages of development of the larva into the adult bee.
When Does Bee Brood Get Capped?
When the queen lays the egg in the brood cell, it incubates for 3 days before hatching into a tiny larva.
The larva lives, feeds, and grows in the brood cell for an additional 4 or 5 days while raised by the nurse bees. The larvae do not leave the cell during this life cycle stage.
When the larva has reached this age, they exhibit changes recognized by the nurse bees, who stop feeding them and seal them in the cell by capping them with a wax cap.
The bee larva will spend the rest of its development period (an additional 6 or 7 days) in the capped cell. At that time, it will emerge as an adult worker bee.
The total development time from egg to emerging adult takes between 18 to 20 days. There may be some variance in this time between bee species worldwide.
What Does Capped Brood Look Like?
Brood cells protrude from the surface slightly and have a more grainy, textured appearance. They have a more tanned color compared to capped honey.
On a brood frame, the crown of the comb closest to the top of the frame, if you use Langstroth frames, is reserved for honey storage.
The end of the honey section is typically delineated by a few rows of bee bread before the brood cells below. Consequently, the cell’s position on the comb can indicate whether it’s a brood or honey cell.
Brood cells also have a different cap on them compared to honey cells. The cap on brood cells looks more leathery or fabric-like than the caps on the honey cells.
The cap on brood cells also has a slightly domed appearance, while the cap on honey cells is often reasonably flat.
Note: capped drone brood is bigger and more bulging than capped worker bee brood.
What Is Capped Honey?
Capped honey is what beekeepers call ripe honey. It is honey that is completely processed and has achieved a moisture content that will prevent it from fermenting inside the cell.
The bees will leave the unripe honey uncapped while it matures, allowing moisture to evaporate. The bees will also actively fan the honey in the cells to increase moisture evaporation.
Once the honey is mature and has reached a humidity level of less than 17%, the honey is ready, and the bees cap the honey with a waxy cap.
What Do Bees Do With Capped Honey?
Honey is the bees’ reserve food storage which will see them through periods where resources out in the fields are limited and honey cannot be made.
Bees will create a store of honey in the hive to see them through periods of dearth, such as the winter months when no food is available.
The honey is used for food for all the bees in the colony; workers, drones, and the queen. The queen will also be fed royal jelly along with the honey. Honey and bee bread are also used as food for the larvae in the colony. The nurse bees will feed the larvae on a combination of these resources to grow them to adulthood.
Do Bees Eat Capped Honey?
Capped honey is honey that is ripe and ready for use and for storage. The bees will methodically eat the stored capped honey as the need for food in the hive demands, for example, during the winter when they cannot forage for food.
Honey is a rich combination of proteins, carbohydrates, and natural sugars, making it a superfood for bees. Honey is liquid energy for worker bees returning to the hive to recharge their energy levels before heading back out into the field.
What Does Capped Honey Look Like?
Capped honey cells have a shiny, waxy appearance and are usually light in color, sometimes almost white. The cap on the honey cells is also flatter in appearance compared to capped brood.
Capped honey on a brood frame is usually located at the top crown of the comb, while capped brood cells are located lower on the comb.
Telling the difference between capped brood and capped honey is an important skill to master as a beekeeper. Being able to differentiate between honey and brood will allow you to quickly assess the condition of your brood frames.
When the difference is pointed out, it becomes evident 🙂