From: Peter Borst
Date: Thu, 23 Nov 2006 12:32:45 -0500

On Wed, 22 Nov 2006 16:34:23 EST, Chris Slade <CSlade777@AOL.COM> wrote:
>So, in attempting to distill what may pass for facts from the rhetoric:
>a) given the choice, bees may tend to prefer to rear their young in sightly
>smaller cells than those in which they are usually encouraged to do so by the
>beekeeper, but can be very flexible.

If it is fact you are looking for, consider this:

Beekeeping with European hives has been carried out in Central America since
at least 1830. Early beekeepers used logs and simple box hives. As late as
1979, this type of hive was still the main type in use in most of Central
America. Movable frame hives were present in the following numbers in these

El Salvador     44%
Costa Rica      15%
Guatemala       3-25%
Belize          a few
Panama          none

(from Crane, 1990, 1999)


Dr. Marla Spivak spent much time in Costa Rica observing the onset of
Africanization. She measured the cell size of the European bees before,
during and after the arrival. She refers data collected by researchers as
early as 1973 indicating European bees in the tropics built cells ranging
from 5.0 to 5.4 mm. These bees, being kept in box hives for centuries, can
hardly said to be affected by manufactured comb foundation.

Africanized bee cells were found to be in the range of 4.6 to 5.0 mm,
throughout South America. (In Africa, scutellata ranges from 4.7 to 4.9.)
According to Spivak, European bees in Costa Rica in 1984 built comb with
cells measuring [average] 5.3 mm. When African bees entered the area the
numbers immediately fell to 5.0 mm. Later, the range for African bees was
shown to be 4.7 to 5.1.

She emphasizes that while cell size is a clear indication of Africanization,
these bees do not necessarily exhibit the fierce behavior normally
associated with this bee type. Even bees with cells as small as 4.7 mm were
not always extremely defensive.

Spivak refers to one apiary that she studied in the mountains. There were 9
hives, which the owners filled with swarms. These hives were plain boxes
filled with natural comb. The AVERAGE cell size in each and every hive was
5.3 mm. The first arriving hybrid African swarms built comb around 5.0 mm
and subsequent swarms (less hybridized) ranged from 4.7 to 5.0. This
phenomenon was observed throughout South and Central American and is fully


Ahlert Schmidt  Subject:     
Re: Natural comb cell size
February 17, 2002, 6:25:35 AM

I would like to comment on bee cell size. In Germany there has been
beekeeping on natural combs for over five hundred years using skeps and
there are still some apiaries using that technique. So there are bees that
never have seen foundations for hundreds of generations. The cell size of
combs constructed by these bees is still between 5.3 and 5.4 mm (805 cells
per square decimeter) coming close to 5.37 mm which is the average of cell
size for normal combs in Germany.

See for instance F. Gerstung: Der Bien und seine Zucht. 7. Auflage 1924; or:
Zander and Weiss: Handbuch der Bienenkunde Volulme 4; Verlag Eugen Ulmer
1964 (first Edition 1921).