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Why is the shape of cells in a honeycomb always hexagonal?

September 27, 2015 05:00 pm | Updated 05:00 pm IST

C.R. Sinivasa, Bengaluru

In fact the bees simply make cells made of wax that are circular in cross-section. These circular cells are packed together like a layer of bubbles. The wax is softened by the heat of the bees’ bodies and then gets pulled into hexagonal cells by surface tension at the junctions where three walls meet. A regular geometric array of identical cells with simple polygonal cross-sections can take only one of three forms: triangular, square or hexagonal. Of these only hexagons can divide up the space using the smallest wall area. If we interrupt honeybees by smoking them out of the hive we can find that the most recently built cells have a circular shape, whereas those just a little older have developed into hexagons. The worker bees heat the wax with their bodies until it reaches about 45 degree celsius and flows like a viscous liquid. Therefore hexagons would result automatically from the pressure of each bee trying to make its cell as large as possible.

When first made, the comb cells of the honeybee ( Apis mellifera ) are circular, but after two days they look more hexagonal.

Therefore the hexagonal architecture is not only because of simple physical phenomenon but also due to active participation of worker bees which act as expert builders.

Prof. S. Palaniappan (Retd), Editor, Research Journal of Biological Sciences, J.J. College of Arts and Science (Autonomous), Pudukkottai

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