Work done by Beo. Cooper many years ago proved that larger
cell base foundation would produce larger bees. (I have never fully
understood his original reasoning for wanting larger bees. I
personally expect such enlarged bees to be less efficient fliers.)
My point here stems from documents written by Dee Lusby---
That can be read on Barry Birkey's site:-
Under the heading 'cell size, comb and ramifications'. (There are a
number of documents, save them to disk as they are quite lengthy.)
Would a smaller cell size be beneficial to the strain of
bees that Terry Theaker started and BIBBA have been trying to
propagate? (There are also some other documents on the
Beekeeping magazine articles
Measure the cells in your comb (especially any wild or non
foundation based comb)
Then divide by 10 to get the individual cell size.
The foundation that I used to use (Kemble Bee Supplies) has a cell size
of 5.45 mm.
The cellsize produced by my leaf press is 5.40 mm.
I did notice that my bees tended to be of a more calm
disposition when I changed over to my home made foundation. I do not
know if that is as a result of the foundation or luck or just better
management or even some other, un thought of, reason. I had never
considered the possibility that most commercially produced foundation
was in fact 10% or 12% too big. If I had realised that then I would
have looked into the ramifications of it earlier.
I am building a press that will produce 4.9 mm and I
have high hopes that this will help differentiate against the bulkier
Italian bees and the many mongrels that contain proportions of
Italian blood. I am intent on equipping all my mating nucs with the
4.9 mm foundation, but it will take some time for this transition
to be completed.
Drone sizing for use with 4.9 mm worker cell foundation
works out to 6.125 mm (including 1 wall thickness) to achieve
this I intend to stretch some 5.45 mm by 10% (first in one
direction then the other) warming on a plastic coated hotplate. The
stretched foundation will the be used to form a mould for various
The above paragraph was written before the 5.9 mm press
came to light, I now intend to try this instead as I am told that the
bees raised drones in it if they had not had some degree of previous
During my reading I have come across the following
3:4:5 is the ratio of queencell : drone cell : worker cell (no tolerance
3 different measurements are stated in different texts:- one inch,
15/16 ths of an inch and 25 mm.
Individual cells are neither regular or accurate and vary as much as
plus or minus 10%, (hence why we measure 10 cells and take an average).
The following table collates this (all figures metricated for
Whichever of the original dimensions is "correct" they
show that the ranges of worker cell size have a much larger excursion
towards the lower cell sizes than the upper ones when compared to our
5.45 mm "modern" foundation cellsize.
This indicates to me that our foundation has been increased
from the "original" norm.
The figures were taken from books dating from earlier than
1900 (as that was the period that I was looking at) no references
were written down as at the time I was not aware that the current
debate would occur (I was researching a different subject). (from
memory I would expect these figures refer to the British Native Bee.)
Another point that occurs from the above table is that if
the tolerance is reduced to plus or minus 8% instead of 10% then
modern cell sizing goes completely outside the original possible
Yet one further point was that early queencell forming
sticks (for wax dipping) were 5/16" diameter and that the
"modern" 9 mm (3/8") diameter is only referred to
in texts from about 1940.
None of the above amounts to "proof", but they
suggest to me that our bees and their cells have been artificially
increased in size over the last century or so, and that the proposal
for regression to 4.9 mm would sit much nearer the centre of the
ranges quoted in the table above.
I have also found a couple of significant references in
Sammual Simmins' Book "A Modern Bee Farm".
In 1888 he writes... In chapter 13, Comb Foundation... The
foundation is gauged to the size of worker cells (five to the inch).
In another text that I remember, drone cells were used and
the mouths of the cells were "belled" out by the use of a
stick, but no size was quoted for the "stick".
In 1894 he writes about a method of extruding wax queencell
cups... He takes a wooden block with a 3/8" (9.525 mm) hole
in it, he places discs of wax foundation in the bottom of the hole and
presses a forming stick "slightly larger than that of a drone
cell" firmly into the hole and the wax is extruded upwards to
form a cup. Thus the outside diameter of his cups is no
more than 9.5 mm and the inside diameter would be in the region
7 mm-8 mm.
In another part of the same work, he mentions using drone
cells for queen rearing purposes.
There is a collection of cell size information on
Allen Dick's Webpage.
Here is a distillation of the results of present day sizings.
Measured results:- from around the world
10 cells across in three areas... 5.2 cm to 5.3 cm. 10 cells = 53.5 mm
Old German Textbook... Ferdinand Gerstung... Der Bien und seine Zucht
((( The correct German wording should be something like "Die Biene
und ihre Zucht". Comment from... Marianne Arnold ))) 7th edition
1924. Page 136, The worker cell measures from wall to wall 5 mm
and from tip to tip 6 mm. Drone cells... From wall to wall
6 mm and from tip to tip 7 mm.
Belgium 5.2, 5.0, 5.3 per 10 cells Drones 6.4, 6.6.
New Zealand foundation... 5.35, Drone... 6.7.
Swedish foundation... 5.4, 5.7.
Danish foundation mould... 5.3 mm.
Swedish wild comb... 5.03.
German Textbook: Büdel and Herold: Biene und Bienenzucht quotes 5.37.
Yugoslavia foundation... 5.3. Swedish Plastic foundation... 5.1
Swedish wax foundation... 5.5.
Danish foundation... 5.4 cm. (10 cells assumed)
Steele & Brodie foundation... 5.55. Thorne... 5.65, 5.7, 5.75. Kemble Bee Supplies... 5.45.
Kemlea...5.45. Dadant (old)...5.3. Dadant Plasticell... 5.35. Pierco foundation... 5.25.
Pierco one piece frames... 5.2.
Scottish wild comb... 5.4, 5.25, 5.3, 5.55. Netherlands... top bar hive... 5.3 mm.
New Zealand foundation... Ceracell... 5.55. Un-identified old roller mill... 5.275.
Fiji... top bar comb... 5.325.
Brian Cramp's press that was used during the 1960s enlargement trials = 5.90 mm
Old Brazilian roller mill (about 5.2 mm) exact details will follow when I have used it.
The above part of this page deals with the enlargement of
comb over the period since foundation became widely used. No exact
date can be established for the adoption of foundation... It was
invented in Austria, in 1857 by Johannes Mehring, but it was not
accepted either quickly or widely. I guess that a date of 1880 is
reasonable for such adoption by a significant number of individual
There is much conjecture that this gradual enlargement of
comb cell size has resulted in the bees being in some way less healthy
or less able to combat mites. This view is strongly held by Dee
Lusby... Who cites the success of her own beekeeping operation in
Arizona, where no treatments of chemical derivation are used at all.
I am not personally convinced that her success is due
entirely to the use of small cells or any of the other unusual things
that she does in her management of bees, however I consider there is
much that is not properly understood about the use of small cells and
the genetics of the Arizona bees used by Dee Lusby.
I have been actively campaigning for more research to be
brought to bear on this matter, but the entire
"establishment" of beekeeping research and university
departments, all over the world, seem to have made up their minds that
it is not worthy of study. I find this 'certainty' of knowledge
As far as susceptibility to disease or mites is concerned, I
can see that 'over sized' bees would be at a disadvantage in some
|a, ||Acarine or Tracheal mites... A
large bee will have larger tracheal openings that will admit a larger
range of sizes of mite to cause infestation.
The bee size is proportional to cellsize, but the relationship is not
linear in that smaller bees are a tighter fit in their cells than any
larger cellsize sisters. This may be relevant to the ability of a
varroa mite to survive and breed in a smaller cell.
The enlarged bee has only the same number of cells making up it's body
and so each cell is actually larger than it would have naturally been.
I wonder about the fitness of purpose of such enlarged cells.
There are various issues regarding the linear, area and volume
relationships of various body parts. These issues are dealt with on a
The Aerodynamics Bee Flight.
The cellsize issue has been debated several times on various
discussion groups, but all that tends to happen is the individuals
polarize into 'for' and 'against' groups, resulting in progress or
Written... May/June 2000, Revised... 20 December 2001
Additions... 11 October 2002