Honeybee Engineering

Honeybee Engineering
Bees are master engineers of the storing of dense fluids. Their fluid is honey, and they store it in a way that shows excellent honeybee engineering.

Worker bees gorge on honey and excrete slivers of wax. Other workers take that wax and position and mold it into a column of six-sided cells. The bees cluster to keep the temperature of the wax at 35 degrees C (95 degrees F) so that it’s firm but malleable. Each wax partition is less than .1 mm thick with a tolerance of .002 mm. The cell walls must be at a 120-degree angle in relation to each other to make a lattice of regular hexagons.

There are only three regular polygons which pack together snugly without leaving gaps–equilateral triangles, squares, and regular hexagons. The perimeter of a hexagonal cell that encloses an area is less than that of a square or a triangular cell making it the most economical shape. Using the same quantity of wax, hexagonal cells can hold more honey than square or triangular cells. Mathematicians have tried other options, such as using curved sides or a mixture of polygons. They have confirmed that curved polygons could not do as well as straight-line hexagons. Mathematicians can’t beat honeybee engineering.

How do the bees keep the honey in the cells? They tip the cells upward at an angle of 13 degrees from the horizontal. That is precisely the angle needed to stop the honey from dripping out. There is one more problem. How can the bees seal off the bottom of the columns? A flat bottom would not do. Bees construct the base with three, four-sided diamond shapes that meet in a point. Two rows of cells are placed back-to-back and offset so that they interlock. With the cells backing up each other, only one layer of wax acts as the bottom for both cells. Mathematicians have proven that the angles of the diamond-shaped cell bottoms (109.5 and 70.5 degrees) give the maximum volume for storage.

It’s difficult to believe that the honeycomb structure is an accident or the final product of trial and error. Mistakes are usually lethal or at least result in a loss of vital energy resources. Honeybee engineering has fascinated and amazed philosophers and mathematicians since the time of ancient Greece. We think the honeybee engineers learned the principles of structural math from the Master Engineer.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

Bee Facts

Bee Working
Bee Working

In addition to yesterday’s article on the use of quantum mechanics by bees, here are some more incredible bee facts about these amazing creatures:

– Bees have five eyes–two large compound eyes and three simple eyes (ocelli) used to detect light intensity. A worker bee’s eyes have 7,000 lenses.

– Bee wings have an electrostatic charge which attracts pollen.

-A bee has two sets of wings. Rapid slapping generates warmth and evaporates water from nectar to make honey.

– Bees have wing hooks which enable the bee to use one of each set of wings or use the wings together for maximum efficiency.

– The proboscis, which is an airtight straw-like tube, sucks up nectar and also works in reverse to feed offspring from a honey stomach.

-The bee has a mandible with jaws that help bite and pack pollen as well as shape wax for building the honeycomb.

– Leg brushes scrape pollen from front to back where it collects in the pollen sac attached to the rear leg.

– Bees have a honey stomach which is a second reservoir where they temporarily store nectar before it is regurgitated.

– A worker bee can carry more than half its weight in pollen and can visit up to 100 flowers in one trip.

– A queen bee lays 1500 eggs a day and lives for three to seven years.

Bees are truly an amazing part of God’s creation.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Bees and Quantum Mechanics

Bees on Honeycomb
Bees on Honeycomb

One of the most detailed discussions of living things is Karl von Frisch’s book Dance Language and Orientation of Bees. Von Frisch spent 40 years studying how bees communicate to other bees information about pollen sources. He referred to the honeycomb as a dance floor and described the bee making a “waggle dance” which gave other bees information where to find nectar. The bee dance indicates the direction to this food source and an alteration of the shape of the dance indicates the distance to the source. If the food source was close, the bee uses a round dance instead of the waggle dance. Von Frisch’s study catalogs what the bee does, but it doesn’t tell you how the bee does it.

Barbara Shipman is a mathematician with an interest in bees. There is a mathematical concept known as “manifolds.” Manifolds can have two dimensions, but they can have an infinite number of dimensions. One type of manifold called the “flag manifold” has six dimensions. As Shipman worked with flag manifolds, she saw patterns that were similar to the patterns of the waggle dance of the bees. Physicists use flag manifolds in dealing with subatomic particles called quarks which are the building blocks of protons and neutrons. Shipman believes that bees are sensitive to quarks and the sensitivity appears to be a reaction to a quantum field acting on the membranes of selected cells in the bees. It has been demonstrated that bees are sensitive to Earth’s magnetic field and the polarization of sunlight. Shipman is seeking to add the dimension of quantum fields to the bee’s repertoire of tools for location and communication.

If you are interested in digging into this in depth, there is an excellent article titled “Quantum Honeybees” in Discover magazine, November 1997. We have not found later discussions in the current literature, but the mystery of how bees communicate is far greater than the articles we have found on wolves, whales, and elephants. Attributing such things to chance products of natural selection is creative, but suggesting that the wisdom of a Creator is involved is far more satisfying to many of us who have studied these abilities.
— John N. Clayton © 2017