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  • Strategy

Heat creates precise shapes: bees


Honeycombs' precision / Justus Thane / LicenseCC-by-nc-sa - Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike

The body heat of bees helps create precise angles and size within honeycombs via use of thermoplastic wax.

"Geometrical investigations of honeycombs and speculations on how honeybees measure and construct the hexagons and rhombi of their cells are centuries old. Here we show that honeybees neither have to measure nor construct the highly regular structures of a honeycomb, and that the observed pattern of combs can be parsimoniously explained by wax flowing in liquid equilibrium. The structure of the combs of honeybees results from wax as a thermoplastic building medium, which softens and hardens as a result of increasing and decreasing temperatures. It flows among an array of transient, close-packed cylinders which are actually the self-heated honeybees themselves. The three apparent rhomboids forming the base of each cell do not exist but arise as optical artefacts from looking through semi-transparent combs." (Pirk et al. 2004:350)
About the inspiring organism
Med_1252907196_39261195f4_b honey bee
Apis mellifera Linnaeus
Common name: Honey bee

Learn more at
Some organism data provided by: ITIS: The Integrated Taxonomic Information System
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist

IUCN Red List Status: Unknown

Bioinspired products and application ideas

Application Ideas: Precise measuring instruments. Use of thermoplastic building medium to provide perfect shapes.

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Manufacturing

Jürgen Tautz
Biozentrum, Universität Würzburg
Department of Zoology and Entomology
Randall Hepburn (Emeritus)
Rhodes University
Department of Zoology & Entomology
Christian W. W. Pirk
University of Pretoria
Pirk, CWW; Hepburn, HR; Radloff, SE; Tautz. 2004. Honeybee combs: construction through a liquid equilibrium process?. Naturwissenschaften. 91: 350-353.
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