View Full Version : How Do Bees Know About Hexagons?

07-22-2014, 08:27 PM
Purloined from here (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/seriouslyscience/2014/07/22/can-guess-bees-make-hexagons-honeycomb/#.U87pFf6Vu01).

Scientists explain the amazing process by which bees make hexagonal honeycombs. (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/seriouslyscience/2014/07/22/can-guess-bees-make-hexagons-honeycomb/)

By Seriously Science (http://discovermagazine.com/authors?name=Seriously+Science) | July 22, 2014 6:00 am

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!

Honeybee combs: how the circular cells transform into rounded hexagons. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23864500)
“We report that the cells in a natural honeybee comb have a circular shape at ‘birth’ but quickly transform into the familiar rounded hexagonal shape, while the comb is being built. The mechanism for this transformation is the flow of molten visco-elastic wax near the triple junction between the neighbouring circular cells. The flow may be unconstrained or constrained by the unmolten wax away from the junction. The heat for melting the wax is provided by the ‘hot’ worker bees.”

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/seriouslyscience/files/2014/07/F1.medium-300x113.gif (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/seriouslyscience/files/2014/07/F1.medium.gif)

Figure 1. Italian honeybee (Apis mellifera Ligustica) comb cell at (a) ‘birth’, and at (b) 2-days old, scale bar is 2 mm. (Online version in colour.)

Not as in-depth as I would have hoped, but it beats a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.


07-22-2014, 09:20 PM
And all this time I believed that Ancient Aliens taught them the geometry and building efficiency, as Ancient Alien Theorists profess. Damn, another theory down the drain!

Actually quite interesting Joe, thanks!


07-22-2014, 09:36 PM
And all this time I believed that Ancient Aliens taught them the geometry and building efficiency, as Ancient Alien Theorists profess. Damn, another theory down the drain!

Actually quite interesting Joe, thanks!


Any time. At least they didn't tie it all to the Golden Ratio. I've heard it used so many times for so many things, up to and including the ratio of this kind of bee to that kind of bee, when the reality is that there is no such ratio in a hive/colony.

I'm stickin' with your 'aliens' theory. ;)


Chevette Girl
07-22-2014, 10:24 PM
Take a bunch of drinking straws and mash them together evenly. They make hexes...

... more evidence of a misspent youth... as if trying out stilts while wearing plate mail wasn't enough evidence.

07-23-2014, 10:55 AM
So if I get a hive, I won't see half the bees in hi-vis, safety helmets and boots, carrying tiny theodolites and GPS levelling staffs ?

Shame really as the "real"reason seems rather mundane..... :rolleyes:

07-27-2014, 11:53 AM
Another Bee-related article I came across here (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/inkfish/2014/07/25/some-bees-are-busier-than-others/#.U9Res9aVu00):

Some Bees Are Busier Than Others (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/inkfish/2014/07/25/some-bees-are-busier-than-others/)

By Elizabeth Preston (http://discovermagazine.com/authors?name=Elizabeth+Preston) | July 25, 2014 8:45 am

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/inkfish/files/2014/07/bee-hive.jpg (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/inkfish/files/2014/07/bee-hive.jpg)

It may be time to leave “busy as a bee” with other dubious animal similes like “happy as a clam” and “drunk as a skunk.” That’s because some bees, it turns out, aren’t all that busy. A small group of hive members do the bulk of the foraging, while their sisters relax at home. But their lifestyles aren’t permanent. If the busy bees disappear suddenly, the lazier ones will step up to take their place.

Scientists figured this out—somewhat incredibly—by gluing tiny RFID tags to over a thousand honeybees. (An RFID tag is the same miniature transponder that a vet might inject into your dog, that’s replacing barcodes on some merchandise and library books, and that makes your public transit card work.) Each beehive in the experiment had a pair of laser scanners over a walkway at its entrance. As bees passed through, they were recorded like items in a checkout lane. Using two scanners let the scientists tell whether bees were coming or going.

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/inkfish/files/2014/07/rfid-bee.jpg (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/inkfish/files/2014/07/rfid-bee.jpg)

Two RFID tags (for good measure) on the back of a worker bee.

Paul Tenczar, a researcher in Gene Robinson’s lab at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and colleagues at the university set up five experimental bee colonies. Each colony started with about 2,000 day-old bees, a subset of which were tagged. For the next month, the bees busily (it seemed) came and went, flying to nearby flowers and bringing back nectar and pollen for the colony.
Data from the scanners at the hive entrances revealed that the bees weren’t all doing the same share of work. In fact, only about 20 percent of bees accounted for 50 percent of the foraging activity (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003347214002589). This was consistent across all five hives—the workers doing half the foraging ranged from 16 to 21 percent.

This consistency suggests the other bees aren’t just slackers, Robinson says. There may be an optimal ratio of busy to less-busy bees—though it’s not clear why. “The harder a bee forages, the shorter its lifespan is,” he says. Some bees may hold back, while others work hard, to ensure that there’s a wider range of lifespans among the worker bees.
To find out whether the slackers were capable of doing more, the researchers removed a group of busy bees from two of the colonies. These colonies were kept in enclosed spaces, where the bees foraged at feeders. For one hour, the researchers killed every bee that came to a feeder. Since they were out foraging, these bees were more likely to be the busy kind—so the researchers could assume that they’d disproportionately removed hard-working bees from the colonies.
For the rest of that day, each colony had barely any visits to the feeders. But the next morning, foraging returned to its usual levels. The slacker bees had stepped up.
“When we removed the highly active bees, others increased their activity, as if to replace the ones we removed,” Robinson says. “This was surprising.” Initially, the scientists had assumed busier bees were special in some way—the A-team foragers of the colony. But they found that the other bees are able to work just as hard. As long there are enough busy bees, though, the rest will relax a little.
So “as strategically lazy as a bee” might be a better simile. As long as entomologists are ruining things, maybe they’ll learn next that bugs in a rug aren’t really snug.

07-27-2014, 02:29 PM
I have worked in offices (mostly government) filled with "slacker" bees, however when a "worker" bee left, they never seemed to "step up" as the bees did in the experiment. I guess we cannot compare humans to bees after all!

07-28-2014, 05:32 AM
One wonders what would happen of you reintroduced the busy bees. Good article, Joe

07-28-2014, 07:48 PM
One wonders what would happen of you reintroduced the busy bees. Good article, Joe

Yeah, and if they attempt an experiment like this again, it would be my hope that they would employ some sort of baffle to corral the returning 'busy' bees instead of killing off the good workers. Who do they think they are, Walmart? <ducking>