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Why do honeybees love hexagons? - Zack Patterson and Andy Peterson

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Honeybees are some of nature’s finest mathematicians. Not only can they calculate angles and comprehend the roundness of the earth, these smart insects build and live in one of the most mathematically efficient architectural designs around: the beehive. Zack Patterson and Andy Peterson delve into the very smart geometry behind the honeybee’s home.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Zack Patterson, Andy Peterson
  • Director Biljana Labovic
  • Animation Artist Lisa LaBracio
  • Narrator Michelle Snow
Additional Resources for you to Explore
Really dig into some mathematical calculations that the honeybees do naturally using the lesson found at: www.hungryteacher.com. Lesson title: “Mind Your own Beeswax.”

Check out this awesome Krulwich Wonders article about bees and hexagons.

Find all the TED-Ed Lessons about math in this series titled Math in Real Life.

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Both honeybees and humans originated in East Africa, and the connection between us has survived the ages. Some of your favorite delicacies -- coffee, chocolate, mangoes -- have the honeybee to thank for their hard work of pollination. Dino Martins encourages us to remember how much we owe to these magnificent insects.
Avatar for Luke Holohan
I'm extremely curious why bee's are disappearing from other countries and how they will be in threat how will we transport bee's over to them? What about the climate change for them? The different environment?
06/15/2015 • 
 5 Responses
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Avatar for Elizabeth Hood
Not only is the "hive" depicted in the video entirely incorrect (that's a wasp hive, NOT a beehive. Bees build their hives in hollow spaces, like hollow trees, small caves, or even inside the siding of houses), honeycomb is in fact made of circles. Because the circles are arranged with 6 other circles surrounding a central circle, it gives the illusion of a hexagonal chamber. I'm surprised and disappointed to see something so incorrect on Ted. http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-hDo-vCgk4HY/UQtK3vi00zI/AAAAAAAAAHk/DPLLuCTkX6E/s320/bee+honeycomb+2.jpg
01/29/2015 • 
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Avatar for Cory Vigen
Since the "honey pots" are for storage, I imagine at some point the honey is removed for bee-type uses. I am no bee expert. But when cleaning it out, the obtuse angle in the hexagon corner would be much easier to clean out than the narrowing acute corner of a triangle or even the 90 Deg. corner of a square. Honey is sticky. An obtuse angle would be much easier to scrape out.
07/24/2014 • 
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Avatar for Rhett Griffiths
See this nature paper, it suggests that bees make circular wax vessels and the rest is down to the surface tension of wax near melting point automatically shifting the shape to hexagons http://www.nature.com/news/how-honeycombs-can-build-themselves-1.13398
07/22/2014 • 
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Avatar for Henrique Vieira
Less wax (survival purposes) + tessellation (complexity required) = efficiency. However, I don't think the same reasoning it's applicable for human architecture, so for that the square shape represents the most efficient form for space efficiency in terms of area / volume for standard and geometrical solid occupation in the urban space where project simplification is an achievement. Interesting the universe of the bees. Interesting the different complexities for different needs and purposes...
07/22/2014 • 
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Avatar for Nikola Malešević
Beekeepers nowadays keep the bees in artificially produced hives. Inside, you'll find rectangular frames, each with a plate made of wax, ready for bees to put their honey in. These wax plates have small hexagonal wax extrusions, so it is easier for the bees to construct the cells. My understanding is that this could severely impact bees' ability to form hex shapes by themselves given a couple of centuries of modern beekeeping. Am I right with this assumption?
07/22/2014 • 
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Avatar for Hungry Teacher
Try looking at the honeycomb as a collection of rings of hexagons. What kinds of patterns can you find? Can you represent those patterns mathematically? Just for fun, imagine that honeybees were more aesthetic and cared more about what their honeycomb looked like. What kinds of hives are possible? Are there similar patterns in these new hives, or are they different? Here is an example: http://goo.gl/ALYf7y Go ahead and share your own! Have some fun naming your new beehives!
06/27/2014 • 
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Avatar for Bilal Alshareef
06/15/2014 • 
 1 Response
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Avatar for G Kamath
Though it makes an entertaining story, it is VERY WRONG Specifically: * think like a bee / ignore the geometry teacher * Ascribing anthropomorphic traits and thinking patterns to bees * creationist / architect view What is correct: Amongst tessellations, hexagons have highest area to perimeter ratio The Bees behaviour to deposit wax in this way is encoded in the genetics learnt through evolution. Colonies with inefficient patterns perish. Bees don't think or collaborate nor know geometry
06/13/2014 • 
 6 Responses
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Avatar for Carefree Arizona
Carefree Arizona
The notion that bees build perfect hexagonal cells goes back at least to Pappus of Alexandria; it has been echoed by such eminent scientists as Kepler and Darwin. However, there is no truth to it. Anyone who actually looks at a honeycomb will recognize that, as Jeffries Wyman, a 19th century Harvard professor, found, that "the cell of the bee has not the strict conformity to geometrical accuracy so often claimed for it". Curious to speculate on the persistence of this obvious fallacy (and of its close cousin, the fallacy that snowflakes are ever symmetric hexagons). See https://www.academia.edu/7783483/Keplers_Snowflake_and_other_Morphological_Musings
04/16/2016 • 
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Avatar for raahim memon
09/12/2016 • 
 2 Responses
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Avatar for Cheyenne Feathers
08/28/2020 • 
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Avatar for Carlos Rangel-Olivares
09/10/2021 • 
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Avatar for Carlos Rangel-Olivares
09/10/2021 • 
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Avatar for Beverly De Leon Aguilar
I think they have they started using this becasue of the amount of space
09/13/2021 • 
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Avatar for Cruz Quiroa
It needs the least amount of wax and has more space
09/13/2021 • 
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Avatar for Miguel Velasco Alavez
Bees make hexagons because it is the shape that uses least amount of wax and has more space for the bees honey and young.
09/13/2021 • 
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Avatar for Omar Garcia
Bees did not start with hexagons, they most likely started with circles then went on with hexagon to fix all the wasted space.
09/14/2021 • 
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Avatar for Bryan Ibarra Lujano
Bees leave because they think we harm them in many ways which we do
09/14/2021 • 
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Avatar for Jeffrey Ramos Hernandez
Because we harm them in ways
09/14/2021 • 
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Avatar for Raul Lopez Banuelos
Like come on man! Do something more worthwhile like making a pretty good sandwich or learn about someone like James Carter?
09/14/2021 • 
 1 Response
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Avatar for Natalie Gonzalez Roman
Bees did not start with hexagonal shapes but eventually they developed a better way to store their honey.
09/14/2021 • 
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Avatar for Amy Aviles-Ake
They use hexagonal shapes because it wastes less space and needs less wax
09/14/2021 • 
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Avatar for Nathan Carranza
because they give us homey, and help the flowers grow and collect pollen and make flowers bloom .
09/14/2021 • 
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Avatar for Yareli Solis
09/14/2021 • 
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Avatar for Ariana Olmos
I think that bees did start building there hives with circles but then changed their design for their hives over time. It would makes sense just for the fact that it can be that the wax can melt and make that hexagonal shape for their hives. Also, they could have also seen that using a circle wouldn't be the most efficient way so of course they could of tried different shapes and found that the hexagon was the best one to use to fit their needs.
09/15/2021 • 
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Avatar for Ariana Olmos
I think that bees did start using circles and over time have changed. I think they used it just for the fact that the wax could have melted and it became that type of hexagonal shape. Also, the could have noticed that the circle isn't the most efficient and did some trial and error tests. They could have noticed that the hexagon was the most efficient to fit all of their needs.
09/15/2021 • 
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Avatar for Martin Lu
10/14/2021 • 
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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Zack Patterson, Andy Peterson
  • Director Biljana Labovic
  • Animation Artist Lisa LaBracio
  • Narrator Michelle Snow