Bees Wax Cells Start as Circles?

While reading my December 2015 ABJ magazine, I found an interesting column by Keith Delaplane called "For the Love of Bees and Beekeeping". In this issue, he discusses information on Wax Deposition and Cell Construction of the honeybee.

Keith's article states:

"Comb initiation inside these festoons has been difficult to observe without disruption in spite of centuries worth of effort, owing naturally enough to the dark cavities and density of the festoons themselves. For this reason our best observations come from the open-nesting Asian honey bee Apis florea as described by Hepburn at al."
ABJ, December 2015. Page 77

The study by Hepburn describes watching Apis florea bees settle on the underside of a tree limb.

"Within hours a first row of cells appears. These cells are not hexagonal nor even polygonal, but plainly circular, strong evidence for an imprinted design inherited from their solitary tunneling ancestors."
ABJ, December 2015. Page 78

From the research, it appears bees start building cells in a perfectly circular pattern, not the hexagonal pattern we thought they started with.

Keith explains that the earliest ancestors of the honey bee nested in simple tunnels which over time were elaborated into individualized cells for holding food or rearing young, the cells then lined with water-resistant secretions, the precursors to what became wax glands in the honey bee lineages.

"Cells in the earliest rows tend to be simple cirles at first, but a curious thing happens with them and subsequent cells as the comb gets larger - the cells begin to assume the famous hexagonal configuration. Perhaps no other feature in the honey bee nest has been more misrepresented as a triumph of animal engineering than the hexagonal beeswax cell."
ABJ, December 2015. Page 78

How, then, does the cell turn from circular to hexagonal? Keith gives an explanation:

" outcome of a physics principle that wen equal pressure is applied to all sides of an elastic cylinder, a hexagon results."
ABJ, December 2015. Page 78

If this is true, honey bees aren't "intending" to build perfect hexagonal cells, they just end up that way when they build so many cells that the cells push against each other and form hexagons.

If that weren't enough to blow your mind, there's one more entertaining quote from the same article I'd like to share with you:

"...a honey bee experiment on a NASA space shuttle in the early 1980s conclusively showed that bees are capable of building normal comb in zero gravity..."
ABJ, December 2015. Page 79

I would have love to seen the bees floating around in zero gravity, and wondering what the bees thought about zero gravity...flying without really flying. I'd love to have seen bees floating, tumbling and trying to cling onto their hive to build wax and keep the bits of wax together without floating all over.

If anyone's interested, the citation for the NASA experiment is:

Vanderberg, J.D. et al. 1985. Survival, behavior, and comb construction by honey bees, Apis mellifera, in zero gravity aboard NASA shuttle missions STS-13.
Apidologie 16:369-348.

I'll give bonus points if anyone can find and share a video link to bees in zero gravity!

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