Have you ever wondered why honey bees build hexagon honeycomb? Why not rectangles or squares or triangles?
Let’s dive into this to know the reason and logic behind this.
For more than 2000 years ago, a Roman soldier, scholar, and writer named Marcus Terentius Varro proposed an answer which is called “The Honeybee Conjecture.”
“The Honeybee Conjecture” is an example of mathematics unlocking a mystery of nature.
According to this, he believes that there might be deep reasons for this honey bees behaviour building honeycomb hexagon.
1) Firstly, the reason may be to store more honey in honeycomb hexagon.
2) Secondly, hexagons require less building wax or there could be a hidden logic here.
Varro’s guess about this mystery comes from the Orion magazine written by a physicist and writer Alan Lightman.
The Essential Honeycomb
Honeycombs are very precious and valuable to honeybees because it stores honey.
Honey bees make the wax that holds the honeycomb together. They feed their young bees and sustains the hive.
It takes thousands and thousands of bee hours to collect the nectar from the flowers, therefore, honey bees want a tight, secure storage structure to their honey storing. So, they want cells to be customized accordingly.
Honey bees don’t want to leave big gaps between cells, so they design the cells to fit other cells without leaving a gap to build a structure like a hexagon.
We won’t see honey bees struggling and waiting for their turn to build a cell. However, they build it collectively. You can also look at YouTube version of bees building a honeycomb.
It’s simpler, they make every cell to be exactly the same in hexagon way. every cell fits tight with every other cell, so “perfectly” hexagonal. That way, a honeycomb is basically an easy jigsaw puzzle.
So, this explains to us why honeycomb cells are the same sized.
Let’s address a very important question: Why the preference for hexagon?
Honey bees don’t want to leave any gaps between the cell. So, Spheres, Pentagons, octagons also produce gaps. hence, wouldn’t be ideal.
Alan Lightman writes that there are only three geometrical figures with equal sides that can fit together on a flat surface without leaving gaps and they are equilateral triangles, squares and hexagons.
So, which one is the best for honey bees and why?
Let’s address this answer with the help of Marcus Terentius Varro’s reasoning through the “Honeybee Conjecture.”
He guesses that Hexagonal honeycomb has a very small boundary of an area. That means the structure is more compact (closely and neatly packed together).
Less wax is needed to make the honeycomb if the structure is more compact. A Mathematician, Thomas hales, produced a study where he confirms this too. Because honey bees must consume about eight once of honey in order to produce a single ounce of wax.
So, this wise creature always acts wisely choosing to make hexagonal honeycomb. All in all, Honeycomb is a masterpiece of engineering!
Honeybees use their logic to make their homes as perfect as possible. They always choose and make the structure which is strong, secure and economical.