Why Beehive Honeycombs Have a Hexagonal Shape

Why Beehive Honeycombs Have a Hexagonal Shape

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Fatma Al-Qatani
Administrative Assistant   
Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Center for Science and Technology (Scitech)
Khobar, Saudi Arabia 

*This video was sponsored by Saudi Aramco and produced by Sultan Bin Abdel Aziz Science & Technology Center

Lesson Feedback


Beavers are generally known as the engineers of the animal world. In fact the beaver is MIT's mascot! But honeybees might be better engineers than beavers! And in this lesson involving geometry in interesting ways, you'll see why! Honeybees, over time, have optimized the design of their beehives. Mathematicians can do no better. In this lesson, students will learn how to find the areas of shapes (triangles, squares, hexagons) in terms of the radius of a circle drawn inside of these shapes. They will also learn to compare those shapes to see which one is the most efficient for beehives. This lesson also discusses the three-dimensional shape of the honeycomb and shows how bees have optimized that in multiple dimensions. During classroom breaks, students will do active learning around the mathematics involved in this engineering expertise of honeybees. Students should be conversant in geometry, and a little calculus and differential equations would help, but not mandatory.

Instructor Biography

Fatma Al-Qatani has a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from King Faisal University. She currently work as an Administrative Assistant in the Resources Department for the National Learning Grid at Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Center of Science and Technology.

Additional Online Resources

The two-part videos series below, sponsored by the Moody Institute of Science, presents a comprehensive discussion of the Mathematics of Honeybees.

The three-part series below, sponsored by the RiteaKent blog site of Ang Wee Lee, provides another comprehensive overview of the Mathematics of the Honeycomb.

This article discusses the ways in which two world-famous architects were influenced by the expertise of honeybees.

This site, sponsored by Maths in the City, present a discussion of the Beehive building at St Johns College in Oxford, England. Interesting learning activities are provided.

This article from National Geographic Magazine discusses new research on bumblebees that hints at how knowledge can quickly spread through a population.