Date of Award

Summer 6-21-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Integrative Biology (MSIB)



Major Professor

Dr. Clint Penick

First Committee Member

Dr. Sarah Guindre-Parker

Second Committee Member

Dr. Joel McNeal


The regular cells of honeycomb nests have fascinated scholars and mathematicians for millennia. In 36BC, the Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro first proposed the “honeycomb conjecture,” in which he postulated that bees build their comb using hexagons because it is the shape that requires the least amount of material to divide space into equal portions. Since this time, honeycomb has been used by engineers in applications that range from skyscraper supports to impact absorbers inside the feet of the lunar lander during the first moon missions, but mysteries remain about the biological origins of honeycomb and the mechanical properties of honeycomb nests of wasps and bees. Here my thesis focuses on the evolution of honeycomb in two chapters: (1) a test of mechanical properties of honeycomb across nests that vary in cell-size and material, and (2) an assessment of the origin of honeycomb nests in wasps and bees using recently published phylogenies. In the first chapter, I investigate the scaling properties of honeycomb nests by measuring parameters of single hexagonal cells in the nests of one bee and 67 wasp species that construct cells that vary in size and material (wax, paper, mud, and a combination of mud/paper). In the second chapter, I synthesize modern advances in phylogenetics that have led to a better understanding of the origins of nest-building wasps and bees. By focusing on the hexagon, I address the fitness and economy of nest material use across social Hymenoptera and how it continues to inspire new engineering applications.