The phrase "busy as a bee" may be synonymous with overachievers and those always on the go; however, it is rooted in bees' nearly nonstop work.
Honeybees work day and night in their hives, making a fascinating and intricately crafted geometric phenomenon that we call honeycomb.
Why Do Bees Make Honeycomb?
While humans enjoy honey, bees do not create our benefit or enjoyment. Though humans can enjoy the many health benefits offered by honey, it is an essential part of the bees' strategy to survive the winter months.
During these cold months, they are unable to gather nectar and pollen outside of the hive. During the winter, the bees must rely on the honey resources they have built up as the "winter cluster". Because this is so essential for bees to survive, they have perfected the art of the honeycombs' hexagonal architectural design.
If you wonder how a group of bees choose the perfect location to build the honeycomb, it's primarily achieved by finding a surface they feel suitable for their hive. Typically they are built in wooden structures, rock crevices, undersides of roofs, or any place they think provides them with protection from the elements. After the bees find a safe and protected area, the group begins construction at the top and work their way down.
Why is Honeycomb Hexagonal?
Why the hexagon, of all shapes? Bees are brilliant. (Scientists even claim that bees are excellent mathematicians.) Honeybees have figured out that packing a hexagonal pattern together over and over again creates the most efficient use of space. This shape allows the bee to fit into the structure and contains the nectar and stores it. Let's call this their very own honey jar. The honeycomb cells hold the bees' honey stores and nectar; they also store pollen, water, and larvae.
How is Honeycomb Created
Bees can produce a wax - also called beeswax - with their eight pairs of wax glands positioned under their abdomen. This substance oozes through the bee's pores to make tiny flakes of wax on their abdomens. Bees will chew the wax or do it for a neighbor/friend worker bee until the wax becomes soft. After the beeswax becomes a more clay-like material, bees will then bond large quantities of wax into a honeycomb's cells. The colony of bees crowding together creates the temperature necessary to control the wax's texture inside the beehive.
Workers bees will forage for food and gather nectar from different plants. The pollen they carry mixes with a specialized enzyme, which is then transferred from their tongues to other bees' tongues. This process enables the nectar to be evaporated to become honey later. The glands of the worker bees convert the sugar contents of honey into the wax.
When a bee attempts to build a comb, that individual worker bee may return to the hive upon visiting a sugar-water feeder and execute what has been termed as the "waggle dance" to the surrounding hive of bees. This little dance is a unique form of communication that has allowed scientists to map the distance and location where bees foraged from mouth to mouth. The waggle dance allows the worker bee to signal the specific direction and length of the sugar water feeder so that other bees can also locate the food source.
The process takes a lot of work, however, to produce the honeycomb wax. They have to consume eight ounces of honey to produce one ounce of wax. There is no wasted space with the hexagonal shapes put together over and over again! The hexagonal pattern and structure save the bees time and energy. They can use this saved energy to complete other essential jobs, such as carry pollen from flower to flower, allowing new plants to grow.
A finished honeycomb can support up to 30 times a bees' weight, storing honey in its upper sections, pollen in the rows below that, followed by worker brood cells, drone brood cells, and Queen cells at the bottom of the structure. Can you believe how hardworking these tiny creatures are? These insects may be small, but between pollination and honey production, they make a huge impact.