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Propolis
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We've all been there; pushing with all our might on the hive tool just to pry the frames out of the hive, after which, we have this gooey resin stuck to our gloves or suit. Propolis is a nuisance for the beekeeper but a valuable asset for the honey bee. The sticky nature of propolis makes hive inspections challenging, stain pretty white beekeeping suits, and requires a heavy cleaner to remove from your hands. Beekeepers despise this resinous substance but the benefits far outweigh the cons.

Your first thoughts of resin may be that conifers or birch but there is a vast range of different plants and trees that produce a resin to protect their leaf buds from predators. Take a look at a poplar or cottonwood when they begin producing buds and you will find a yellow, brown, or red resin seeping out. There is a dedicated class of worker bees that will forage for resin, scraping it with their mouthparts and store in their pollen basket until they return to the hive. Upon their return, they will go to the areas that require the resin (now propolis) to fill in nooks and crannies. Other house bees are required to remove the propolis from the forager’s pollen basket as the carrying bee is unable.

So why do bees do it? Propolis is not consumed, a paint to collect, and is a specialized task.

  • Bees will use propolis throughout the hive to add structural support. Rougher wood will be smoothed over, holes will be filled, and frames will be secured with propolis. It is the bee’s glue and sealer.

  • Propolis can help in fortification against opportunistic pests. Bees will entomb small hive beetles in crevices with propolis or build “propolis prisons” that prevent the hive beetles from reproducing. The presence and contact of propolis is toxic to wax moth larvae in its early developmental stage.

  • Bees also require the variety of resins to build their immune system and reduce the immune functions of individual bees as they build stronger defenses. Studies have shown that bees exposed to propolis have a lower bacteria load in and on their body.
Colonies will increase the rate of resin foraging during evidence of pathogens. We push for beekeepers to provide feed supplements to their colony to increase the overall colony health. Here is another weapon in the arsenal to help beekeepers manage healthy bees. Next time you go in for a hive inspection, the headache of prying the equipment should be less painful knowing that the sticky resin is helping your bees!