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> How Bees Make Hexagons To Make Beehives?

  1. Dec 10, 2012 #1
    Honey-bees construct wax combs inside their nests. The combs are made of hexagonal prisms – cells – built back to back, and are used to store honey, nectar, and pollen, and to provide a nursery for bee larvae. The combs are natural engineering marvels, using the least possible amount of wax to provide the greatest amount of storage space, with the greatest possible structural stability.

    Now the question is how they do it?Any solid idea?what tools they use?!
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 10, 2012 #2

    jim mcnamara

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    It is genetically programmed bee-havior (sorry).

    See this for why I make the energetics statement:

    Overall, this is more of a why, than a how. AFAIK there is no definitive discussion on exactly how this is programmed into these guys.

    In terms of energetics, making wax requires a lot of energy. Resusing it (bees do) and building cells in a shape that maximizes volume and minimizes the use of energetically expensive wall materials is important for colonial insect survival. If I can build my house
    as good or better than you do, for less cost, longterm my kind comes out ahead of your kind in the race to survive.

    Most of the hymenoptera (bees & wasps) that are colonial make the same hexagonal cell.
    So, playing hexagons probably goes back to a common ancestor. Hymenoptera evolved in the Cretaceous and evolved as flowering plants became dominant.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phylogeny_of_insects - see the citations on the fossil record.
  4. Dec 10, 2012 #3
    Study the page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honeycomb
    Tools include legs (for positioning), antennae (for selecting a location), and mandibles (for working the wax). The head pivots on the neck while the bee is stationary and centered in the cell to allow depositing wax in a circular arc.
    The 'instinct' (programmed algorithm) of the worker bee appears to be to build a hemispherical base upon what is already present. This places one circular cell adjacent to two others, building the hexagonal array one cell at a time. When the worker can no longer feel the bottom of the cell, another algorithm takes over to build the wall of a circular chamber based on the original hemispherical base. The algorithm is deactivated when the cell is large enough to completely contain the bee (i.e. when the head reaches the bottom of the cell, the back legs must extend to detect the top rim of the cell.
    I am not sure about the mechanics of the construction of the larger cells for drones and queens, but it *could* involve something as simple as a shift in the position of the legs while working.
  5. Dec 10, 2012 #4

    jim mcnamara

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    tadchem - It is a safe bet that nobody really knows. That doesn't mean we won't ever know. If someone had found out it would be big news, I think. I know some apiarists and they would be all-abuzz about it. (Sorry -- bee jokes are too easy).
  6. Dec 10, 2012 #5
    The process of making a hexagonal bee hive was determined by Charles Darwin. He wrote about the theory and experiments that he himself conducted using his own bee hives in "Origin of the Species". He also discusses other types of hives made by bees. He showed theoretically how a series of cigar shaped nests could evolve into a hexagonal bee hive.

    The description is in "Origin of the Species". I am not sure what exact page numbers it is on. It probably varies in the different editions. However, Darwin was quite thorough. I will summarize what I remember.

    There are many types of bees, bee hives, and bee social behavior. Bees drink nectar which is very high in carbohydrates, but low on other nutrients. To get other nutrients, they have to drink a lot of nectar. Eating pollen helps them get a few proteins, although pollen contains carbohydrates too. To get all their nutrients, they absorb far more carbohydrate calories then they can possibly use. Therefore, all bees exude wax as a waste product. Wax probably started out as a compact way of disposing of excess carbohydrates.

    The bees live in social groups. Each bee inherits a "comfort radius". They try to keep a certain distance away from other bees, with a fixed average distance. So each bee has a comfort zone within which she is the only bee. However, they try to dispose of the wax outside their comfort zone. Although they probably don't think of it this way, orthink at all, each bee would like their wax to pile up in someone elses zone. However, after defecating their wax, they always retreat to their own comfort zone.

    The geometrical pattern of the wax that piles up is mathematically determined by both the radius of their comfort zone and the amount they of wax they have to defecate. If the radius is very large and the amount of wax small, then each bee has his own "cubical" of wax. Some bumble bees have evolved that way. However, the geometric pattern changes as the radius changes. A smaller radius places each bee in its own wax cigar. A very small radius results in a hexagonal honeycomb.

    Basically, the bees are defecating in each others territory. They are throwing wax cooties around "randomly". The direction of the tossed wax is completely arbitrary. The distance is arbitrary, other than the restriction that the distance is greater than the comfort radius. The shape of the hive is mathematically determined by the comfort radius.

    The motion of defecation is not optimal for building a hive. It is literally a pissing contest. Most of the motion in moving the wax around is waster. Most of the wax just keeps moving back and forth without any form taking shape. The shape slowly develops over time after a lot of aimless tossing back and forth.

    The motion is not the most efficient necessary to make a stable hive. In fact, most species of bees do not make a stable hexagonal honeycomb. The shape and stability vary a lot among species, each living under different conditions. Honey bees are special not because they are the most common types of bee. Human beings raise them because the shape of the hive is most conducive to taking their honey. The motion of the wax is NOT energetically efficient even in the case of the honey bee.

    The radius of comfort, and the rate that wax is produced, is inherited. The ratio is of course influenced by other behavior patterns of the bee. Natural selection causes a behavior pattern to form, which determines both radius and rate of defecation. However

    Darwin did an interesting experiment to show that most of the motion in moving the wax was arbitrary. Darwin kept honey bees on his estate. He took a small dollop of bees wax and dyed it dark red. He went to one of his beehives. He placed the red dollop of bees wax in the middle of the hive. The bees broke it to pieces and "tossed" it at each other. Eventually, the red wax became part of the honeycomb. However, the wax did not stay in one place.

    The red wax slowly spread over time. It first concentrated in one part of the hive which was dark red. Then it spread out so it was dark pink. It spread out farther until is was light pink. In never was planted firmly in the wax.The red wax went back and forth in random directions. Pieces of red wax diffused in a random walk until it was all over the hive.

    Most of the motion of the wax did not contribute to stability of the hive. From the standpoint of making a stable hive, the motion was wasted. However, the wax still served to shelter the bees. The defecating in each others space was what some would call a "preadaption."

    There are still a lot of bees that don't make hexagonal honey combs. Some Mexican bees make separate cigar shaped nests, as Darwin pointed out. There are a whole lot of different hives. Some don't make nests at all, just exuding wax. The main difference between the bees is the size of the "comfort zone".

    Changing only one parameter gradually by natural selection is sufficient to change the entire geometry of the hive. There is no complicated series of saltations necessary to make different bee hives. The individual changes in radius can be random. It doesn't make a difference to the shape of the hive. At each step of the phylogeny, some geometrical shape has to form for each radius. In honey bees, the size of the comfort zone is small enough to form the hexagon chambers of the hive.
  7. Dec 10, 2012 #6
    No. It wouldn't be a safe bet. Darwin had thoroughly studied the problem before 1859. I am post a link to an edition of "Origin of the Species" published on 1 October 1859.

    “Origin of the Species” is available in a free on-line copy! Here is a link with quotations related to bees. Although I present some relevant quotations, there is more on bee nests in this book.

    http://embryology.med.unsw.edu.au/pdf/Origin_of_Species.pdf [Broken]
    “I was led to investigate this subject by Mr. Waterhouse, who has shown that the form of the cell stands in close relation to the presence of adjoining cells; and the following view may, perhaps, be considered only as a modification of this theory. Let us look to the great principle of gradation, and see whether Nature does not reveal to us her method of work. At one end of a short series we have humble-bees, which use their old cocoons to hold honey, sometimes adding to them short tubes of wax, and likewise making separate and very irregular rounded cells of wax. At the other end of the series we have the cells of the hive-bee, placed in a double layer: each cell, as is well known, is an hexagonal prism, with the basal edges of its six sides bevelled so as to join on to a pyramid, formed
    of three rhombs.

    I then put into the hive, instead of a thick, square piece of wax, a thin and narrow, knife-edged ridge, coloured with vermilion. The bees instantly began on both sides to excavate little basins near to each other, in the same way as before; but the ridge of wax was so thin, that the bottoms of the basins, if they had been excavated to the same depth as in the former experiment, would have broken into each other from the opposite sides. The bees, however, did not suffer this to happen, and they stopped their excavations in due time; so that the basins, as soon as they had been a little deepened, came to have flat bottoms; and these flat bottoms, formed by thin little plates of the vermilion wax having been left ungnawed, were situated, as far as the eye could judge, exactly along the planes of imaginary intersection between the basins on the opposite sides of the ridge of wax. In parts, only little bits, in other parts, large portions of a rhombic plate had been left between the opposed basins, but the work, from the unnatural state of things, had not been neatly performed. The bees must have worked at very nearly the same rate on the opposite sides of the ridge of vermilion wax, as they circularly gnawed away and deepened the basins on both sides, in order to have succeeded in thus leaving flat plates between the basins, by stopping work along the intermediate planes or planes of intersection.”
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  8. Dec 10, 2012 #7

    jim mcnamara

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    I disagree: that is a descriptive investigation (Alpha Science), not programmatic or explanatory. (Omega Science).

    A good description of how it gets done would include the DNA encoding of the "project plan" and its execution as a series of neural pathways in bees.... And yes, Darwin was very thorough. I just disagree with your definition of "how", is all. You are free to disagree with mine.
  9. Dec 11, 2012 #8
    Thanks, I also think about genetics in bees, but also (as a geologist) I am discerning around something else which could be the cause behind such a sensitive living being. Bees are only example and there are hundreds type of species which are behaving so far greater than them, in Australia you could see some ant nest up to 5-6 meters (the size of a tree) hey are even more complicated.
    I personally believe this could be a diverse floor if we look for the motived from outside, what I mean is existing a “self-arithmetic” system (math vortex system) in universe which able these guys to interface and use it for their propose, in a manner that these animals could use universe as a reference point .something like UTM system we use .This system could well be entrenched in the universe symmetry.
    What do you think?!
  10. Dec 11, 2012 #9
    Some points:
    The beeswax is chemically a wax, i.e. an ester of two long-chain fatty acids. Only 2 of about 100 atoms in the molecule are oxygen. In a carbohydrate about one quarter of the atoms are oxygen.
    Removal of oxygen from carbohydrates requires a chemical process called Reduction, which is difficult in an environment where oxygen is already present, and consumes energy. On the other hand, Oxidation of carbohydrates is a source of abundant energy used by nearly all land animals.
    The bees produce the wax in their abdomens (special glands produce wax 'scales') as a way of disposing of the oils from their diets which they cannot use for energy. They then masticate (chew with their mandibles) the wax to soften and reshape it for building the honeycomb. Wax is not 'defecated' nor does it seem to bear any onus to the bees. Bees show no signs of any awareness of what humans might call 'personal space.'
    Bees use the honeycomb for brooding their larvae and for storage of honey and pollen (separate cells) to provide food for 'lean times.'
    Bees poop outside their hives, leaving crusty drops wherever:
    In science we often find fascinating and elaborate structures that naturally grow out of the simplest mechanistic implementations. The development of the honeycomb from the biomechanics of bee behaviour (lots of luck finding THAT in the DNA) is just as deterministic as the development of patterns from the rules of John Horton Conway's 'Game of Life',
    or the development of the Mandelbrot set from a simple mathematical recursion
  11. Dec 11, 2012 #10
    I think that the ability to manipulate complex and abstract concepts requires a firm semantic basis with clearly defined terminology common to all participants.

    I also think that inferring "the cause behind such a sensitive living being" (especially since 'sensitivity' itself is in the eye of the beholder) requires the implementation of an argumentum ad ignorantiam - an argument from ignorance - which is a classical fallacy of informal logic. The basic argument appears to be "I don't understand how or why that works, therefore some higher power than my own intellect must be involved."

    I think the the phrase "math vortex system" is gobbledygook.
  12. Dec 11, 2012 #11
    Thanks, gobbledygook translated as Crackpot when I post that system on the forum!But I trust that such a system could exist,beside the fact of research carried on on"Arithmetic universe" since 70"s.
    I may give it a go when I translated in human language!!:)
  13. Dec 11, 2012 #12
    FWIW, a 'vortex' describes what mathematicians call a tensor field - a mathematical quantity that associates a vector with each point in the domain. It is encountered routinely in electromagnetic theory and is the fundamental quantity studied in advanced fluid dynamics. It can also describe a gravitational field or space-time curvature.
    Math itself does not 'have' vortices. Math includes the tools to *describe* the structure and behaviour of vortices.
    Math is a tool box. A vortex is a piece of work where certain math tools can be applied.
  14. Dec 11, 2012 #13
    Darwin's experiment showed that honey bees were not following "a project plan." Their DNA does not contain a blueprint of the hexagonal honeycomb.

    The DNA program and the neural pathways would be relevant to other questions. If the OP had asked, "How do bees maintain a comfort zone?", then one would want to know about neural pathways. If the OP had asked, "How did the first bee develop a taste for simple carbohydrates" then one would want to know more about DNA. However, the question was, "How do bees make a hexagonal honeycomb which is the most stable form possible?", then the answer is that they don't intentionally make a honeycomb structure.

    Darwin was addressing the "programatics". He showed what the program was "really" for. The bee program is really "for" taking out the trash. The OP thinks that the program is "for" making perfect hexagons. Maybe the question should of been, "How do bees develop such a sweet tooth." Wax is a side product caused by eating so much nectar. Even bees that don't make honeycombs make wax. So there was a false hypothesis embedded in the question that the OP was asking. I am just correcting the OP so he could ask a better question.

    There are several observations that seem inconsistent with Omega science. First, a project plan would not explain why the wax had to keep moving. Most of the energy in moving the wax does not make the honeycomb any stronger. A project plan could not explain why some honeycombs have irregular shapes. The existence of a spectrum of nests, from isolated smears of wax to honeybee hives, is inconsistent with a "project plan".

    However, maybe you have an Omega explanation. In terms of programs, explain why the plan has bees tossing wax back and forth. Explain why they don't simply put down the wax in one place according to that "master plan" in their DNA. Explain why the master plan varies among species, so that there are bees that don't even make nests. Explain the irregular shaped honeycombs and the cigar shaped honeycombs.

    Show how the hexagonal shaped honeycomb is "the most stable" configuration. Then explain why the other species of bees have a master plan that make less stable configurations.
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2012
  15. Dec 11, 2012 #14
    Thanks Tadchem,
    My apology!
    Let me rephrase my last post to clear the case!
    What I mean is mathematical vortex system based on the energy field(which follows space symmetry of SR theory in aggregation to an unique system of measurement).
    I have just read the Forum Rules and a bit afraid of more details!
    I have also sent this to A.S.Magazine a while ago to make them confuse!!

    system which most animals make their nests is following a symmetry and I guess this could be behind the genetics concept(which brings the question ,why/may be mammals including human still have these gens;or why we don't have them? )
    The way I look at it is just like gravity which newton could translated it into human language(physics) and the way I see it ,is like a grove for water to flow!still following the Darwin rule of thumbs.

  16. Dec 11, 2012 #15


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    Let's avoid WOOWOO before someone gets hurt.

    Here is a simple explanation about why the hexagonal shape is the best design in honeycombs.



    Also a good video on building honeycombs.

    Part I

    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  17. Dec 11, 2012 #16
    I think what is fun is that beeswax is species specific. In addition to the long-chain waxes, the long-chain hydrocarbons dissolved in this wax are species-specific. Africanized honeybee hydrocarbons are statistically different from European honeybee hydrocarbons, as well as all the other Apis honeybees including giant Apis! All published (see D.A. Carlson papers in the 80s.)
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