What is a burr comb?

For professional and amateur commercial beekeepers, it is only natural to use the common Langstroth Hive [1] or the smaller nuc hives [2]. Though they already have built-in movable frames [3] with carefully placed spaces used by bees as their guide when building their honeycombs. 

However, there are still times when the bees go out of their guide and start building combs outside the designated frames and boundaries. So, what are these structures that bees create outside the frames?

The burr comb is also referred to as a brace or bridge comb. These honeycomb structures are created by the bees in places that are not intended by the beekeepers, commonly on the top of the frame. Aside from the top of the frame, burr combs can also appear at the bottom of the frame and other separations greater than 3/8 of an inch of the bee space. Burr comb can be troublesome if they join and bind frames together, making them harder to separate.

Now let us learn more about burr combs, how to avoid them, how to remove them if they are already present, and what to do with them.

What is the bee space?

In modern beekeeping, most beginner and professional beekeepers alike commonly use the Langstroth Hive. This type of hive was first patented by Rev. Lorenzo Langstroth in the middle of the 19th Century to create an artificial beehive that would later be used for commercial use and even in modern times. 

By experimenting with the design of the Langstroth Hive for beekeeping, Rev. Langstroth also identified the bee space. This space is the distance between the frames that will discourage bees from building excess honeycombs by applying beeswax and propolis on the separation, which in effect “glued” the frames together, making the parts immovable.

Rev. Langstroth identified the bee space is about 3/8 inch, with a distance of 3/8 inch (about 1 centimeter), and 1/4 inch is an acceptable range. However, any spaces that are larger than 3/8 will be filled with propolis and wax by the bees [4, 5] in an attempt to close them.

Though the modern Langstroth hives that are commonly used today took the bee space into consideration when constructing them, there are still times when they don’t work or happen due to human errors, and the hive is still filled with burr comb.

What is a burr comb?

A burr comb is a comb or portion of honeycombs that are built by bees in various places around the hive aside from the dedicated locations of the hive frames. Typically, these burr combs can be seen on the top or bottom of the frames. But they can also appear in locations that didn’t secure the bee spaces.

Ideally, the Langstroth hive is appropriately designed so that the frames have a bee space of greater than 3/8 inch to 1/4 inch to discourage the bees from making a burr comb between them that can merge adjacent frames. Anything smaller than 1/4 inch can result in bees filling in the gaps with propolis that closes, ensuring that the hive is airtight.

However, there are still times when these unnecessary combs appear, which are also called bridge combs, and sometimes brace combs.

These burr combs are created by the bees using propolis and wax. They can also serve as storage spaces for pollen, honey, and even bee larvae.

The burr combs can also be troublesome for some beekeepers, especially during an inspection of the hives, when the frames are glued together, and the frames and the hive boxes become difficult to separate. However, some othertimes, these burr combs won’t pose a problem.

Does the burr comb pose a threat to the hive?

Whenever these burr combs are constructed between the frames, they can be difficult and dangerous to remove. It can be easy not to look at what is under the comb when removing them and crushing some worker bees to death. 

Though worker bees are easy to be replaced, especially with a queen around, however, the same fate can happen to the queen bee if you’re not careful. That is why the burr combs are also referred to as queen killers.

This unfortunate event happens during the removal of the burr combs. You may not notice that a queen peacefully lays eggs in these combs between the frames. You can accidentally injure or crush the queen, killing it.

So, proper care is necessary whenever you are removing a burr comb between the frames from your Langstroth hive frames.

Why do bees build a burr comb?

Generally, the bees will follow the path of the frames that are provided by the beekeepers. However, if they find more spaces available to make a comb, they will make sure that they also build combs around them.

That is why there are recommended bee spaces of 3/8 inch to 1/4 inch to remove the opportunities for the bees to build unnecessary infrastructure and simply follow the frame guides. Any distances greater than the bee spaces will only result in bees building burr combs. 

Any less than them will be glued together with propolis, which can be a nuisance for the beekeepers to remove since they can bind frames together and make it difficult to separate. Bees love to maximize their space, especially when it is time for brooding.

How would you remove a burr comb?

When bees build burr combs on the top or bottom of the frames, it is typically easier to remove them using a beveled edge of a hive tool available in bee supply shops. You can generally remove them by scraping off the surface and excessive wax.

However, when removing a bridge comb or cross comb (the burr combs that bind frames together), you must be careful not to accidentally damage the queen bee, which usually lays eggs even on the burr combs inside the hive.

When working with the removed wax from the bridge comb, make sure to look for possible signs that the queen may have been included in the detached burr comb. If that happens, immediately lay the comb back to the hive so the queen can walk her way back inside. Remember that there is only one queen bee in the hive, and they can’t afford to lose her.

What to do with the removed burr combs?

The removed burr combs around the bee hive should not be disposed of because that will only be wasteful. These burr combs are made of beeswax that can be made into various products like soaps, lip balms, lotions, and candles.

Instead of discarding the burr comb, find a container where you can temporarily store the wax for proper processing in the future when you harvest more wax from the hive.

It is also ideal to avoid throwing away the extra comb just anywhere because it can attract pests and predators like ants and skunks.

How to prevent bees from making burr comb in the hive

1. Prevention is better than cure. Ensure that the hives are correctly distanced.

It is important to ensure that the proper distance between frames and boxes is checked before using them to avoid any problems down the road. You can even check if the distancing is correct based on the 3/8 to 1/4 inch bee space range.

Also, ensure that the inner covers, frames, and boxes are properly installed and keep the proper distances in mind because if there are enough spaces between them, the bees will most likely bridge the gaps with burr combs.

2. Buy supplies from a single manufacturer.

Though bee supply manufacturers follow the same standard of bee spaces, there is also the possibility of errors in measurement between items that can be problematic in the future. So, to avoid any manufacturer problems, you can buy from a single manufacturer to ensure the quality of your products.


There are times when you will see excess honeycombs inside or outside the beehive frames, which are called burr combs, also known as brace combs or bridge combs. These combs can serve various applications for the hive, including storing honey, pollen, and brood, but are most troublesome for beekeepers. 

These burr combs can also be a problem for the beekeepers, especially during inspections, when separate frames are glued together by the burr combs, making them difficult to remove.

These burr combs can appear whenever the bee space is not respected, which are spaces that are greater than 3/8 of an inch. If the space is less than 1/4 inch, the bees can glue the frames together using their propolis.

Burr combs are also made up of beeswax that can be used in various consumable materials, like candles, lip balms, lotions, and soaps.


[1] – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Langstroth_hive 

[2] – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuc 

[3] – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hive_frame 

[4] – https://bee-health.extension.org/what-is-bee-space-and-why-is-this-important-to-beekeeping/ 

[5] – https://americanbeejournal.com/taking-measure-of-bee-space/