Architectural Abilities of Honeybees

Architectural Abilities of Honeybees

One of the evidences of design in the natural world is honeycomb construction by bees. For many years, engineers have noted that the hexagon is the strongest geometric shape. In geology, we see six-sided columns of basalt produced under ideal conditions inside the Earth. Visible examples of that appear in areas worldwide, such as Devils Tower in Wyoming, where erosion has exposed those columns. Scientists using automated measurements of thousands of honeycomb cells discovered the extraordinary architectural abilities of honeybees.

Many years ago, biologists questioned how bees learned to construct their honeycombs with a six-sided geometry. That shape gives the most storage space with efficient use of building materials. Any other geometric shape would collapse under the weight of the honey. Since a mistake would be lethal, trial and error seems to be an unsatisfactory explanation. Therefore, the genetic makeup of bees must include instructions to build their honeycombs with hexagons.

New studies show the architectural abilities of honeybees to be even more impressive. That is because the structure of the honeycomb is even more complicated than fitting hexagons together. The problem is that not all of the hexagons in a honeycomb can be the same size. Worker bees require a small six-sided structure, but drones require larger cells. However, all of these have to be fitted together into a single sheet in the hive. Researchers have found that bees create intermediate size hexagons to transition from one size to the other.

Also, the bees have to merge combs that are constructed from different starting points. Then, to align them, the bees build special cells with 4, 5, or even 7 sides. The writers of the research report said, “Unlike automatons building perfectly replicated hexagons, these building irregularities showcase the active role that workers take in shaping their nest and the true architectural abilities of honeybees.”

Queen Mary University entomologist Lars Chittka commented, “The hexagonal grid structure of a honeycomb–constructed by a leaderless collective of hundreds of bees–lends itself to speculation that robotic, innate behavior must be at work. But a simple robot does not have such a level of adaptability and rate of error recovery.”

Building even a simple robot is a real challenge to modern-day scientists and engineers. Building the bee’s genetic structure to include the ability to adapt the honeycomb to different needs is incredibly complex. The design of the genetic code for the architectural abilities of honeybees is an excellent testimony to God’s handiwork. God is a creator-engineer giving bees the ability to build honeycombs to accommodate their needs.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

References: Scientific American November 2021 (page 19), and the original scientific report published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.