Hexagons: nature’s most efficient shape

Bees on a frame
Bees on a frame. Note the hexagonal shape of the comb.

Beekeepers are familiar with the hexagonal shape of honeycomb.

It’s beautiful stuff, and anytime we look at it even for a few moments, its precision is astonishing.

But why hexagons?

Bees spend a lot of time and effort making wax, which takes a huge amount of energy. (Try to wrap your head around this: Bees fly around the world the equivalent of 12 times to create one ounce of wax.) Since the wax takes so much effort to create, they want to use it as efficiently as possible. Hexagons give them the most storage room using the least amount of wax.

The video below is a portion of a 2011 British Broadcasting Corporation series called The Code in which mathematician Marcus du Sautoy explores some of the mathematical secrets of the natural world. In this segment, he focuses on the honeycomb that bees build.

You can find the entire series on YouTube.

Thanks to Emily Heath, adverturesinbeeland.com, and her beekeeping partner Emma Tennant, missapismellifera.com, They keep bees in an area of London known as Ealing. Emma’s site included the video, which led me to YouTube and the BBC series.

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