Secret of Bees' Honeycomb Revealed

The Nation   7/23/13

PARIS, France: For thousands of years, thinkers have marvelled at the feat of engineering that is the honeycomb.Each waxy cell is a perfect hexagon, its six wafer-thin sides providing not only strength to the honeycomb structure but also the smartest way to store honey.

“By virtue of a certain geometrical forethought... (bees) know that the hexagon is greater than the square and the triangle and will hold more honey for the same expenditure of material in constructing each,” wrote a 4th-century Greek geometer, Pappus of Alexandria.

For Charles Darwin, the honeycomb was “absolutely perfect in economising labour and wax.”
But how do bees do it?

The answer, according to a new study, is that the cells do not start out as hexagons but as circles.
They gradually form into hexagons by a subtle flow of the wax, which is turned semi-molten by the heat from a special class of worker bee.

The solution is proposed by a trio of scientists in Britain and China, led by Bhushan Karihaloo of Cardiff University.–AFP