The Most Anal Architects on Earth

The Most Anal Architects on Earth

What’s the deal with bees and hexagons? Sure, the honeycomb is aesthetically pleasing, but why is every single cell in the entire hive exactly the same? Surely one lazy bee would have messed up a side or accidentally constructed a rhombus. We know building blunders happen all the time, so why is it that the bees seem to be batting at 1000% whenever they build a new home? This is an age-old question, so old in fact, that a Romanian scholar by the name of Marcus Terentius Varro, pondered this circa 36 BC in “The Honeybee Conjecture”. He theorized that there was a deeper reason behind the bee’s behaviour, like the possibility that the hexagon can hold more honey or some other logical explanation for the bee’s shape of choice. Marcus wasn’t wrong - the bees are methodical creatures and of course the honeycomb is practically the best shape to go with when it comes to holding the most honey and using the least amount of wax. The bees need a secure place for the entire colony to live as well as a space for their food to be stored. They obviously don’t have the beaks or claws necessary to build just anything, they need to work with wax. Here’s the hard part - beeswax does not just grow on trees (or bees). The bees have to consume eight ounces of honey to produce just one pound of wax! This means the bees don’t have room for inefficiency; they need to store and build their home in a shape that holds the maximum amount of honey, while using the least amount of wax, so they’re not wasting any precious space.  And voila! The honeycomb was born, the shape that geometrically maximizes input and output of these little creatures and is the foundation of their home. Now we all get why the hexagon is the perfect shape for a honeycomb but you’re probably wondering what the deal is with the same size, perfectly fit, precise length thing. Well, think of each honeycomb as a piece of a puzzle. If each shape had a slight variant in length, then each new cell would have to be constructed specifically to fit the one that came before it. This would mean only a few bees would be building cells at a time while the others were chilling out sipping on some nectar (which is definitely not the bee way given the whole maximum efficiency thing). Bees want to get the job done and get it done as a team. Rather than constructing each comb to fit the last one puzzle style, the bees are more the jigsaw or Lego type, creating uniform pieces that they know will fit perfectly with one another. If all sides are exactly equivalent, every cell will fit perfectly with every other cell. Everyone can build at the same time based on her perfect size hexagon blueprint and the construction job will be completed in half the time. In the words of the great Charles Darwin, the honeycomb is a masterpiece of engineering, "absolutely perfect in economizing labor and wax”.

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