Bees get their buzz on about beeswax and hexagons.
When we think about bees, we usually associate them with honey, but bees have many more incredible products than just that splendid golden treasure.
Beeswax, for instance. It is one of the main substances of a beehive, and it is incredible.
Where does beeswax come from? There are eight pairs of glands that produce wax in the shape of tiny ‘scales’ that are located on the abdomen of a worker bee. Then she uses her legs to scrape off these scales that were secreted by her glands and puts the substance in her mouth, where her saliva makes the wax softer to mold into shape. The wax collects bits of debris like propolis, pollen, honey and ‘bee bits’ and this darkens the color of the beeswax.
This TED-Ed video about why honeybees love hexagons is 3:58-minutes long:
The honeybee must be very well fed to create and produce beeswax. This incredible substance is energetically costly to produce, so there is usually an increase in wax production during the summer because of the abundance of flowers, and therefore the high flow of nectar from that readily available food.
Imagine that some beekeepers say a worker bee may need to consume as much as eight ounces of honey to produce just one ounce of wax.
Why do bees make beeswax? They use it in the structure of their hives, to create their interior walls and ‘rooms’ or cells in the beehive. The famous hexagons of the beehive create pockets lining the walls which the colony fills with honey, nectar, pollen and larva. These ‘pockets’ are vital to the growth and expansion of the colony.
Without beeswax, where would bees store their food? Or their incubating young? Bees are an incredibly efficient super organism. These pockets that line the interior walls are always shaped in hexagons, which unlike circles or other geometric shapes, line up in perfect order with one another. There are no gaps or wasted spaces.
The efficiency doesn’t just refer to the storing of food and larva. The walls of each hexagon are shared with the adjoining hexagons, so less material is required to complete an entire ‘storage’ area wall.
Wax production is labor-intensive and depletes resources. Not only is it the perfect shape, the hexagonal network is structurally strong, which guards against mishaps that could cause loss of food, larva and the tens of thousands of honeybees that live there.