Why nature loves hexagons
The honeybee – an architectural genius?!
Alright bees! How’d the weekend go? We had a chilled one, a spot of DIY, a visit to the hive and a BBQ whilst dodging the showers. Whilst checking on our hive at Pa H’s, we got thinking. What exactly is a hive and why do bees choose to live in one? After chatting with Pa H and doing a bit of our own research, we were pretty buzzed by what we found. If like us you’re a little curious, then stay tuned, as we’re here to share our finds with you today! Bees are in fact ingenious little architects and nature’s finest engineers… They’ve so cleverly designed their home and workspace that we’re quite in awe of their talent!
So who makes up the beehive?
Honeybees live in colonies (groups) called hives. Each hive contains one queen bee, thousands of female worker bees, and hundreds of male drone bees. It’s a pretty BEEsy place to be in a beehive!
The queen bee stays inside the heart of the hive. Her primary role is to lay eggs and produce new bees. In fact, she has a team of worker bees who look after her day in day out.
The remaining worker bees fill a variety of purposes both inside and outside of the hive, such as feeding new broods, cleaning the hive, and gather food for the surrounding area. (*For more details on the lifecycle of a worker bee check out our blog post from a few months back! https://www.justbeedrinks.co.uk/life-worker-bee/).
And how is the hive built?
Inside the hive, worker bees build hexagonal (six-sided) tube cells out of wax. Together these wax cells are known as honeycomb. These hexagonal cells are used by the queen to lay her eggs (housing larvae and other brood), as well as by worker bees to store honey, nectar and pollen. This honey is used by the colony throughout winter when they can’t go outdoors to forage for food.
The structure of these cells is very important and requires a lot of hard work. They must be able to store as much honey as possible, whilst using as little wax as possible to be built. Each cell is exactly like the others. It is comprised of 6 walls, which meet precisely at 120 degrees, and they are just big enough for bees to fit into.
Do they have to be hexagonal?
Apparently yes! According to Sue Cobey, a bee researcher at Washington State University “The geometry of this shape uses the least amount of material to hold the most weight,” she said.
Hundreds of these hexagonal cells are packed together to make the nest and they fit together perfectly. Most other shapes, such as circles, wouldn’t work, as they would leave gaps in the honeycomb. The only other two plausible options are equilateral triangles or squares.
Unlike humans, bees don’t have arms to pick things up. However, they are capable of making wax. Unfortunately this is a very strenuous process – bees have to consume approximately 8 ounces of honey to produce 1 ounce of wax. As both equilateral triangles and squares require much more wax to be made (we’ll leave this calculation to the mathematicians), hexagons it is!
Honeycomb appears manmade and manufactured, but actually bees are just little engineering wanders. Every honeybee knows how to build these little storage units. They make perfect hexagons and instinctively know this is the optimal shape of their home. This is the result of trial and error over long periods of evolutionary history. The hexagonal array is, without doubt, the most efficient storage solution. If only we could all think as brightly as a bee!
Any architect would have been proud to design a hive I’m sure! It’s a shame our buzzing fury friends beat us to it. We’d love to see any pictures of your beehives or any local beehives you’ve visited. Drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or tag us on our social @justbeedrinks and we’ll send our favourite hexagonal masterpiece a Just Bee gift box.
Keep buzzing bright bees!
Blogger Bee x