Free access
Volume 22, Number 1, 1991
Page(s) 21 - 36
Apidologie 22 (1991) 21-36
DOI: 10.1051/apido:19910104

Synthesis and secretion of beeswax in honeybees

H.R. Hepburna, R.T.F. Bernarda, B.C. Davidsonb, W.J. Mullera, P. Lloyda, S.P. Kurstjensc and S.L. Vincenta

a  Rhodes University, Department of Zoology and Entomology, Grahamstown 6140, South Africa
b  University of the Witwatersrand, Department of Medical Biochemistry, Johannesburg, 2193, South Africa
c  University of the Witwatersrand, Department of Physiology, Johannesburg, 2193, South Africa

Abstract - The ultrastructure of the cells of the wax gland complex in honeybee workers was studied in relation to the synthesis and secretion of beeswax. The hydrocarbon and fatty acid profiles of epidermal cells and oenocytes were determined in relation to the ages of the bees. Smooth endoplasmic reticulum (SER) is absent from both epidermis and adipocytes from adult emergence until the end of wax secretion. The oenocytes are rich in SER. The hydrocarbon and fatty acid content of the oenocytes, averaged for age, closely matches that of newly secreted wax. That the oenocytes are the probable source of the hydrocarbon fraction of beeswax is consistent with histochemical and autoradiographic data for honeybees and with biosynthetic data from other insects. The cyclical changes of organelles and chemical composition of the wax gland complex closely coincide with measured, age-related rates of wax secretion in honeybee workers.

Key words: wax secretion / wax synthesis / wax gland / ultrastructure / chemical composition