Research

Why Honeycomb is Hexagonal

The regular hexagonal structure of honeycomb may owe more to fluid dynamics than the careful engineering of the bees that build it. Observations indicate that honeycomb cells start out circular and become hexagonal as the bees continue building. Both experiments and models show that an array of circular cells can transform into hexagons due to surface tension driving flow at the junctions where the three cell walls meet. But for the wax to flow, it has to be warm–about 45 degrees Celsius compared to the hive’s ambient temperature of 25 degrees. The researchers suggest that the worker bees constructing the comb knead and heat the wax with their bodies until it’s able to flow and form the hexagons. (Photo credit: G. Mackintosh; via Nature and B. L. Karihaloo et al.)

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