We look around the world we live in and marvel in all its complexity and grandeur. But Mother Nature focusses on one thing when it comes to design: efficiency. That is to say, that nature strives to design things that will do the job best. For example, stars and planets are always round because a sphere is the most effective way to get all the mass as close to the planet’s centre of gravity as possible (a process known as isostatic adjustment). The wings of a bird have evolved to maximise the thrust generated at the least energy cost, while the sleek, teardrop body shape of fish allow for them to slip through water with minimal resistance. One of the best examples of nature coming up with the best design solution is beehives.
If you look closely at a beehive, you will find that it is made up of tiny hexagons. Each hexagon is a room that a bee can fit in and the walls are made from wax. The interesting thing about hexagons is that it has many properties that make it the ideal shape in construction.
Firstly, hexagons can fit together perfectly to tile a plane, meaning that bees can tile thousands of columns without wasting any space. The little columns even end in a unique pyramidal shape that allows them to tile up nicely with each other at the centre.
Secondly, a hexagon has 6 rotational symmetries and 6 reflection symmetries, making it very easy to tile as every bee will know what orientation to build their cell in using the side of any cell as a reference.
Lastly, in a hexagonal grid each line is as short as it can possibly be when tiling an area with the smallest number of hexagons. Therefore, bees can use much less wax when constructing hives, while achieving remarkable strength as hexagons gain lots of strength under compression. This design also allows for the maximum amount of honey stored in each cell.
Bees have mastered this architectural feat not through physics and mathematics, but through evolution – the driving force of nature. Over millions and millions of years, various types of bees will have experimented with square-celled hives or triangular-celled hives, but they could not survive as long as the hexagonal-celled bees because their hives were less efficient. This is exactly why nature is so good at coming up with the best solution to a problem. Because in nature, the best solution to the problem an environment offers is rewarded with survival.