The holes in honeycombs don’t actually start out as hexagons. Bees create circular tubes staggered with one another. The heat formed by the activity of the bees softens the wax, which connects the gaps between the holes. Then the wax hardens into the the most energy efficient shape, the hexagon.

Scientists explain the amazing process by which bees make hexagonal honeycombs.

Ever wonder how bees make all those hexagons in their honeycombs? It’s not one wall at a time, which might be your first guess. Need a hint? The holes in the honeycomb don’t actually start out as hexagons! In fact, according to this study, the bees make each hole as a circular tube in a precise staggered organization (Figure 1, below). The heat formed by the activity of the bees softens the wax, which creeps along the network between the holes. The wax hardens in the most energetically favorable configuration, which happens to be the rounded hexagonal pattern that honeycomb is famous for. Sweet!

“We report that the cells in a natural honeybee comb have a circular shape at ‘birth’ but quickly transform into the familiar rounded hexagonal… Continue Reading (1 minute read)

8 thoughts on “The holes in honeycombs don’t actually start out as hexagons. Bees create circular tubes staggered with one another. The heat formed by the activity of the bees softens the wax, which connects the gaps between the holes. Then the wax hardens into the the most energy efficient shape, the hexagon.”

  1. HuoLongHeavy

    Hexagons are the shape with the most sides and as close to a circle that can still tessellate, so it appears a lot in nature.

  2. Grow_Beyond

    I learned this from [Blindsight](https://www.rifters.com/real/Blindsight.htm).

    >”Turing morphogens.”

    >Blank looks, subtitling looks. Cunningham explained anyway: “A lot of biology doesn’t use genes. Sunflowers look the way they do because of purely physical buckling stress. You get Fibonacci sequences and Golden ratios everywhere in nature, and there’s no gene that codes for them; it’s all just mechanical interactions. Take a developing embryo—the genes say start growing or stop growing, but the number of digits and vertebrae result from the mechanics of cells bumping against other cells. Those mitotic spindles I mentioned? Absolutely essential for replication in every eukaryotic cell, and they accrete like crystals without any genetic involvement. You’d be surprised how much of life is like that.”

    >”But you still need genes,” Bates protested, walking around to join us.

    >”Genes just establish the starting conditions to enable the process. The structure that proliferates afterwards doesn’t need specific instructions. It’s classic emergent complexity. We’ve known about it for over a century.” Another drag on the stick. “Or even longer. Darwin cited honeycomb way back in the eighteen hundreds.”

    >”Honeycomb,” Bates repeated.

    >”Perfect hexagonal tubes in a packed array. Bees are hardwired to lay them down, but how does an insect know enough geometry to lay down a precise hexagon? It doesn’t. It’s programmed to chew up wax and spit it out while turning on its axis, and that generates a circle. Put a bunch of bees on the same surface, chewing side-by-side, and the circles abut against each other—deform each other into hexagons, which just happen to be more efficient for close packing anyway.”

  3. Hyperf0cused

    That’s actually pretty fascinating

  4. gunslinger_006

    The math behind this is also why Saturn has a hexagonal shaped storm at one of its poles.

  5. flonchchider

    We live next to a farm, and hay bales are stacked in a field adjacent to our property. They start off round, but after a while they deform and form hexagons. It is really quite interesting to find out that this is what happens in hives.

  6. may931010

    Life finds a way. But it’s a way rooted in mathematics and science.
    This is so fascinating

  7. poopellar

    And here I thought bees had to take algebra before going to work.

  8. 2-buck

    Why are wasp nests arranged in honeycomb pattern? There’s no honey there.

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