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cell size and wrong ideas 

As a possible way to help control varroa mites, some beekeepers advocate the use of cells smaller than the regular size commonly used by beekeepers. This claim rests on two major arguments, namely :


  1. that honey bees built smaller cells under natural conditions in the past

  2. that a "fatal" error occurred at the turn of the 20th century when the "square" approach (a new and an alleged misleading method of estimating cell density) was introduced and replaced the so-called "rhombus" approach.



a) Historical data

A thorough review of historical data show  :

  1. that cell sizes were not smaller in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries

  2. that estimating cell densities was not an issue before the introduction of wax foundation andthat the alleged "rhombus" way of estimating cell density has not been used by early authors


b) geometry and maths

The analysis based on geometry and mathematics of the "rhombus" and "square" approches for measurig cell density show that the two methods are

  1. equivalent and

  2. yield the same results


c) Understanding the so-called "fatal error":

Improperly considering that a rhombus with a side length of 1dm encompasses the same area as a square (i.e 1dm2 instead of 0.866dm2), the proponents of small cells erroneously transformed the data reported by the authors of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries and claimed in support of their views that cells were smaller in the past.



In conclusion, the claim that cells were smaller in the past is not only in contradiction with the historical records, but rests on a distortion of these historical records resulting from an incorrect transformation of the original data.




Saucy F. (2013)    Dimension des cellules et lutte contre le Varroa:rectification de quelques idées erronées.

Poster présenté lors du colloque "Abeilles sous haute surveillance", Université de Neuchâtel, 20-22 juin 2013


Saucy F. (2014)    On the natural cell size of European honey bees: "fatal error" or distortion of historical data?

Journal of Apicultural Research 53(3): 327-336. 

Online supplementary material


Saucy F. (2014)   About cell size, Varroa control and a "fatal error" 

American Bee Journal, 154 (10): 1049-1050.


Heath D. (2015)  Cell sizes of honeybees The Beekeepers Quarterly 119: 6-7.

Try the Density calculator: a tool to convert cell sizes and densities in mm and inches

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