Capped Brood vs Capped Honey: How To Tell The Difference

At first glance, it is difficult to tell the difference between capped brood and capped honey. It’s common for both to be on the one frame at the same time – making things even more confusing.

However, while they look similar from the outside, underneath the surface capped brood and capped honey are very different. Both healthy capped brood and capped honey are essential components of a healthy hive.

Beekeeper holding up a frame full of capped brood

Before we look at how to tell the difference between capped brood and capped honey, let’s take a closer look at what capped brood and capped honey are, and the essential role each plays in the functioning of the colony.

What Is Capped Brood?

Capped brood is the collective name for the final stage of bee development, where larvae have been capped with wax to allow them to spin cocoons and turn into pupae. Pupae complete their metamorphosis beneath the caps and emerge as adult bees.

Brood is the term used to describe the eggs, larvae, and pupae of honey bees. The brood is capped during the larval stage of development which occurs around nine to eleven days after the queen lays the egg.

The queen lays an egg in each honeycomb cell, adhering it to the bottom. She tends to lay eggs in a circular or oval pattern, beginning near the center of the frame and working outwards.

During the warmer months, when brood laying is at its peak, one frame may have brood that is effectively the same age and so will be capped at the same time. Frames that predominantly house brood are called brood frames.

Why Is Healthy Capped Brood Important For Bees?

Healthy capped brood is essential to a hive because it ensures the survival of the colony. Without healthy brood, the colony is in trouble because there won’t be enough bees to undertake all the work in the hive.

Most of the bee population are workers that live only between five and seven weeks, during which time they work without rest, inside and outside the hive, eventually wearing themselves out. Therefore there must be plenty of brood growing in the hive to replace the old worker bees.

When you look at a brood frame, a healthy brood is characterized by a solid pattern across the frame and has few gaps. The caps are usually tan or brown in color and are slightly raised or convex in shape. The top and outer edges of the frame often have honey or pollen so the nurse bees have food nearby to feed the developing brood.

What Is Capped Honey?

Capped honey is nectar sealed in the honeycomb with a wax capping. Bees do this on cells with nectar with a moisture content between 14 and 18% (which, at this point, would be considered honey). By capping the honey with wax, bees can store it for later use without the risk of the honey absorbing moisture from the environment.

There are two procedures undertaken to convert nectar into honey.

First, much of the water in nectar is withdrawn; secondly, the sucrose is converted into glucose and fructose. The foraging bees begin the work of turning nectar into honey and the hive bees complete it.

The bees add enzymes to accelerate the conversion of sucrose into glucose and fructose and evaporate excess water by exposing nectar to the hive’s warm air.

The partially ripened honey is then placed in cells where the warm air of the hive completes the evaporation process. Once the moisture content is between 14 and 18%, the honey is covered with a thin layer of new wax to protect it.

Why Is Capped Honey Important?

Capped honey is important because when nectar is unavailable, it becomes the major food source for the colony. It is capped to protect it from absorbing water and fermenting.

Stored and foraged nectar provides the bees with the necessary energy to undertake all the tasks required for the successful working of the colony. The capped honey is used when the bees can’t access fresh nectar outside the hive, and their stores of uncapped honey are nearing exhaustion.

This may occur because the weather is too cold or wet, or there aren’t enough flowering plants providing nectar. Capped honey is like an insurance policy against starvation.

Of course, the bees need more than nectar and capped honey alone. Pollen collected by the bees provides the protein needed for the developing brood and bees. Pollen comes in a range of colors depending on the floral source and unlike honey it is not capped.

Capped Honey Vs Capped Brood: How To Tell The Difference

Capped honey has flat wax caps that are white or light tan in color, whereas capped brood has slightly raised (or convex) shaped caps that are tan, cream or yellow.

Frame that has capped brood and capped honey, with labels demonstrating which one is which

Capped honey has no definite lines to determine the cells, whereas with capped brood the individual cells can be distinguished. This is because bees may cover several square inches or centimeters of ripe honey all at once, while brood cells are covered one at a time.

Capped BroodCapped Honey
Caps are slightly raised or convexCaps are flat
Tan, cream or yellow in colorWhite or light tan in color
Caps define individual cellsIndividual cells not defined
Caps dry in appearanceCaps may appear wet
Table with the differences between capped brood and capped honey

Final thoughts

It’s important for you to be able to identify the difference between capped brood and capped honey in your hive because both are necessary for the continued survival of the colony.

A hive without enough healthy capped brood won’t have enough bees to take over all the tasks of the hive when the old worker bees die.

A hive without enough capped honey might not have enough food to survive a spell of bad weather, a long winter or a nectar dearth (shortage of nectar producing flora).

Capped brood and capped honey don’t always have the same color or appearance from one frame to the next, or one hive to the next, as it depends upon the race of bees and the type of nectar being collected. I’d suggest you become familiar with the appearance of capped brood and capped honey by looking in the hives of experienced beekeepers.

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