Biology Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for biology researchers, academics, and students. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

How do the instinct to create a hive appeared in bees? Is there some evidence of
"intermediate" hives? With this questions i mean all the factors necessary to build a hive, including the social structure, the producing of beeswax and architecture.

share|improve this question
Welcome to BioSE. You will have better chance of getting good answers if you include more specifics in your questions, e.g. some background and your reason for asking. In this particular case; Are you asking about the evolution of sociality in bees in general, or something more specific only dealing with hives? – fileunderwater Mar 24 '14 at 23:28
Thanks, i tried to better my question. – Codorna Mar 27 '14 at 2:10

I'm assuming you mean the distinct architecture and regular hexagonal shapes in bee honeycombs?

In fact, Charles Darwin spent a good bit of time with honeycombs.

First of all bees and wasps have a common progenitor and wasps also build combs and nests, albeit of paper/celluose as opposed to wax. He was interested in how the perfect hexagonal lattice formed in the wax.

Darwin tried three different experiments with bees’ cells at Down that he reported in Origin. In one, he put a thick block of wax into the hive. ‘The bees instantly began to excavate minute circular pits in it: and as they deepened these little pits, they made them wider and wider until they were converted into shallow basins, appearing to the eye perfectly true or parts of a sphere, and of about the diameter of a cell. It was most interesting to me to observe that wherever several bees had begun to excavate these basins near together, they had begun their work at such a distance from each other, that by the time the basins had acquired the above stated width (i.e. about the width of an ordinary cell), and were in depth about one sixth of the diameter of the sphere of which they formed a part, the rims of the basins intersected or broke into each other. As soon as this occurred, the bees ceased to excavate, and began to build up flat walls of wax on the lines of intersection between the basins, so that each hexagonal prism was built upon the festooned edge of a smooth basin, instead of on the straight edges of a three-sided pyramid as in the case of ordinary cells.’ (Origin, p. 223.) The cells were built up in a hexagonal shape when their bases intersected with those of other cells; but the pyramidal bases were apparently not built, since there was no pressure to accommodate cells on the other side of the wax, which was a thick block.

This seems to have a built in burrowing behavior in how the lattice forms that eventually turns into hexagonal shapes.

BTW this topic is very similar to the evolution of spider webs, which is also fascinating.

share|improve this answer

I remember an episode of a German science show talking about this. If you do an experiment with bubbles. Eventually several bubbles will share boundaries and a hexagonal form will emerge.

Following this it is no instinct but the best way to create boundaries.

They had a more scientific explanation for this.

There you go: And I quote:

If you take two sheets of clear glass or plastic separated by about one-half inch, soak them in soapy solution and then blow bubbles between the sheets, you will get many bubble walls. If you look closely, you will notice that all of the vertices where three bubble walls meet (and there are always three,) form 120 degree angles. If your bubbles are of uniform size, you will notice that the cells form hexagons and start to look much like the cells of a beehive. Bees, like bubbles, try to be as efficient as possible when making the comb. They want to use the minimum possible amount of wax to get the job done. Hexagonal cells are the ticket.


I just noticed I was answering to an answer. My answer to the question would be that almost every animal on the planet builds nests. If you are a termite you can use mud. If you are a wasp or a bee you build nests in the air or at least not in the mud. That means you have to carry your material through the air. The less the better. Efficiency dictates that you build your "hive" or nest as compact as possible. That means spherical shape which has the most volume vs surface ratio and the hexagons inside follow the same rule. Use as little material as possible or you are outcompeted by bees that do.

Also it's a lot more efficient to "manage" a cluster vs nests cluttered all over the place. Again no instinct just necessity which eventually evolved into instinct. Because all other instincts became extinct.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.