Thursday, January 20, 2011

Soap Bubbles and Honeycomb

Honey bees make their honeycombs like a soap bubble.

If you drew honeycomb cells you would draw them with six sides - in a hexagon.

When bees draw comb, they actually start off by making the cells round.

They're somewhat like what a single soap bubble looks like. Round.

A soap bubble will stay round until it touches another soap bubble. The bubbles latch onto each other, sliding together. The round sides turn into flat sides--six sides--a hexagon.


Next time you wash your hands you can watch this happen. Show your kids this trick by creating a single bubble and then sliding other bubbles next to it.
Kids love this one and it's a great way to get them to spend a little more time with the soap and water.
But how do the combs change shape?
The bees take care of that. They warm up the combs, until they melt a bit.

They warm them to between 37 and 40 degrees Celsius.

Once warmed the tension of the adjacent cell walls, cause the cell walls to shift into a six sided hexagon shape.
Viola!

New combs are white and clean.
Golden or dark brown coloured combs are older combs that have had had lots of foot traffic. Tiny foot traffic.
Like a rug in the front hall, they get a little dirty with thousands of feet treading on them.
After thousands of bees walk over the combs month after month, all their sticky little feet leave stains on the comb which turns them brown.

Why is this structure so amazing that people copy it in design and architecture?
If the cells were square they'd hold the most liquid but not be as strong and they'd take more wax to create. The hexagon creates the best storage size with a minimal use of wax. Isn't nature conservative?

This information was discovered in the amazing book: The Buzz About Bees written by Jurgen Tautz that's available on Amazon.
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