What makes honeycomb dark?

We often imagine honeycombs as bright golden-yellow hexagon-shaped honeybee cells that commonly store bee broods (egg, larva, pupa). These honeycombs are also the storage of the delicious and sweet honey that we all love to consume. 

However, what would you do if the previously yellowish honeycomb suddenly turned dark? Is it a cause of alarm and panic, or just a natural wear-and-tear of these combs? 

Honeycombs that turn dark from their previous yellowish color should not cause any alarm. It simply means that the honeycomb is old and has been repeatedly used by several honeybees. Honeycombs can also store debris because of the continuous usage of brood combs, like discarded cocoons and travel stains. 

The newly constructed honeycombs will initially appear white. Then it will get a yellowish color after the first generation of honeybee broods. Then as more generations of bees are placed in it, it will get darker until it appears almost black. The discoloration is mainly due to the cocoons stuck to the hexagonal cell wall over time.

Now, let us learn more about why honeycombs turn dark and whether it should be a cause for alarm.

What is a honeycomb?

beekeeper taking out bees in a beehive

Honeycombs are the hexagonal-shaped structures honeybees build inside the hive made of beeswax. They are primarily used as brood cells or nests for the honeybee brood (from the eggs, larvae, and pupae). Honeycombs, if you’ll notice based on their name, are also the storage of honey (and pollen) [1]

When harvesting honey, beekeepers would collect the honeycombs from the hive and crush them using a honey extractor [2].

Honeycombs are naturally whiter in color when they are first constructed. Depending on where it will be used, its color will vary. Honeycombs that are exclusively used to store honey are naturally lighter in color. On the other hand, honeycombs used as brood cells (brood combs) are darker in color – from dark yellow to black [3].  

To learn more about bees, you should also read How long do bees live? and How long do bees live without food?

What makes honeycomb dark?

Honeycombs used as brood combs to nest bee larvae are often darker in color. This happens because of the generations of bee larvae that use the comb for their development.

As we’ve mentioned earlier, freshly constructed honeycombs will appear white at first. Depending on its usage, its color will differ. The honeycombs primarily used for honey storage will have a light yellow color. In contrast, the honeycombs used for the broods will have a darker color.

The darker color is the effect of the deposited cocoon and old larval skin of old honeybees that previously used the honeycombs. During the creation of the honeycomb, it will appear white. When the first generation bees are hatched, the honeycomb will start to have a yellowish color.

After a few more generations, the honeycomb’s color will continuously get darker and darker, to the point when it will appear almost black. Aside from the accumulated cocoon and debris in the hive, another cause of honeycomb darkening is an event commonly referred to by beekeepers as travel stains.

What is travel stain?

Aside from the discoloration caused by the debris left by the older honeybee generations that used the honeycombs for rearing brood, there is also the instance of travel stains. Travel stains are simply the accumulated propolis from the feet of the worker honeybees over time [4][5].

Also read: Are bees afraid of water?

What should you do if your honeycomb becomes dark?

bees flying around a beehive with a beekeeper opening it

Since the discoloration of the honeycomb is a natural occurrence, there is nothing to worry about. In fact, some beekeepers have kept the dark honeycombs for more than decades with no problem. 

However, there is a growing concern for dark honeycombs since it has been used repeatedly by many honeybee generations, including the accumulation of pesticides through the years and various pathogens for bees.

Due to the concern for future bees, many beekeepers usually remove the old honeycombs every four to five years to encourage the bees to create new honeycombs.

Is a dark honeycomb safe to eat?

The dark honeycombs may appear unsanitary at first, but it is perfectly safe to eat. Many people in various countries, especially tropical countries, find honeycombs, including brood combs, as a typical delicacy.

They usually eat the brood from the honeycombs or suck the honey from the combs. Either way, eating honeycomb is not only delicious but is also healthy.

However, pregnant women and children under 12 months old must be cautious of eating honeycomb because of the potential risk of contamination from C. botulinum spores in honey [6][7]

To expand your knowledge of bees even more, you can take a look at Do bees eat apples? and Do bumble bees die after they sting?


The hexagonal-shaped honeycombs are a vital part of the beehive because of their various uses, like rearing brood (brood combs) and storing honey. Though they are whiter in color when initially constructed, it becomes darker depending on their usage and time.

Honeycombs turning from a whiter color into a darker one is not a severe issue in the beehive because it is a natural occurrence. The darker color is commonly caused by its repeated usage as brood cells. The old bee cocoon, propolis, and travel stains deposits caused the comb to get darker.

During the first usage to rear bees, the honeycomb will get a little yellowish in color because of the cocoon left inside. Then as the succeeding bee generations come and go, it gets darker each time to a point when it can reach a blacker color. On the other hand, honeycombs that are exclusively used for honey storage are always lighter in color.


[1] – Honeycomb. (2022, October 21). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honeycomb

[2] – Honey. (2022, October 20). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honey

[3] – Brood comb. (2022, April 6). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brood_comb

[4] – Glossary of Bee Terms. Montgomery County Beekeepers Assoc., Maryland, USA. (n.d.). Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://montgomerycountybeekeepers.com/glossary-bee-terms/#t

[5] – Propolis. (2022, October 5). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propolis

[6] – Abdulla, C. O., Ayubi, A., Zulfiquer, F., Santhanam, G., S Ahmed, M. A., & Deeb, J. (2012). Myth exploded: Infant botulism following honey ingestion. BMJ Case Reports, 2012. https://doi.org/10.1136/bcr.11.2011.5153

[7] – Tanzi, M. G., & Gabay, M. P. (2002). Association between honey consumption and infant botulism. Pharmacotherapy, 22(11), 1479–1483. https://doi.org/10.1592/phco.22.16.1479.33696