Bee-Building Blocks

Bob the Builder – meet Bee the Builder!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Picture a beautiful honeycomb made of hexagonal cells. Honeybees build cells in two sizes. Small for worker bees and large for male reproductive bees. How do they make the most of their space–particularly in settings without structural support? 

Michael Smith at Auburn University and colleagues at Cornell University buzzed in. The team provided twelve bee colonies with square wooden frames. The frames had no internal support for the bees to build their honeycombs on. 

The researchers documented the hive-building in photos. Then, using image processing software, they measured the shape, size, and angle of each little cell. 

Bee-lieve it or not — those tiny buzzing architects adjusted their structures in impressive ways! They built medium-sized cells in between small and large hexes to seamlessly link them together. They also adjusted the angle and shape of cells to smoothly merge disconnected sections. 

The researchers think this suggests that honeybees plan ahead. No bumbling around with random add-ons!

Clever little buzzy-builders! Could they BEE any smarter?! Hive five!

Reference: Smith, M. L., Napp, N., & Petersen, K. H. (2021). Imperfect comb construction reveals the architectural abilities of honeybees. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(31), e2103605118.