Project Title

Scaling properties of honeycomb across social bees and wasps

Academic department under which the project should be listed

Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology

Faculty Sponsor Name

Clint Penick

My work did not need to be reviewed by KSU's Institutional Review Board.

Project Type

Event

Abstract (300 words maximum)

The regular cells of honeycomb have fascinated scholars and mathematicians for millennia, yet research continues to produce new insights into the evolution and structural properties of hexagonal nests. Humans use hexagons in construction to provide strength while using minimal material, and bees and wasps have evolved hexagonal nests for the same reason. It is not just the hexagonal cell that provides structural properties to these nests, but also individual cell parameters including wall thickness and rounding in cell corners. Here we measured these cell parameters in the nest cells of 75 bee and wasp species that vary in diameter and materials (wax, paper, mud, and a combination of mud/paper). There are two ways to increase the strength of honeycomb as the cell diameter increases: (1) increasing wall thickness, which increases weight and materials used, and (2) rounding the corner angles (“corner radius”), which in honeybees increases comb strength while conserving material. We hypothesized that as nest cells increase in diameter, we would see increases in corner radius and wall thickness, though we predicted corner radius would more significantly conserve nest material. We predicted that corner radius and wall thickness would be more important in nests constructed from wax and mud than paper due to the materials’ strength and stiffness. After measuring nests using a Keyence imaging system, we found support for both hypotheses. Furthermore, we have now begun to map traits across the Hymenoptera phylogeny to understand how the hexagonal nest structure itself evolves. Bees and wasps show economy of nest material use by using cell geometry, rather than added material, to increase strength, which offers applications for bio-inspired design and engineering.

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Scaling properties of honeycomb across social bees and wasps

The regular cells of honeycomb have fascinated scholars and mathematicians for millennia, yet research continues to produce new insights into the evolution and structural properties of hexagonal nests. Humans use hexagons in construction to provide strength while using minimal material, and bees and wasps have evolved hexagonal nests for the same reason. It is not just the hexagonal cell that provides structural properties to these nests, but also individual cell parameters including wall thickness and rounding in cell corners. Here we measured these cell parameters in the nest cells of 75 bee and wasp species that vary in diameter and materials (wax, paper, mud, and a combination of mud/paper). There are two ways to increase the strength of honeycomb as the cell diameter increases: (1) increasing wall thickness, which increases weight and materials used, and (2) rounding the corner angles (“corner radius”), which in honeybees increases comb strength while conserving material. We hypothesized that as nest cells increase in diameter, we would see increases in corner radius and wall thickness, though we predicted corner radius would more significantly conserve nest material. We predicted that corner radius and wall thickness would be more important in nests constructed from wax and mud than paper due to the materials’ strength and stiffness. After measuring nests using a Keyence imaging system, we found support for both hypotheses. Furthermore, we have now begun to map traits across the Hymenoptera phylogeny to understand how the hexagonal nest structure itself evolves. Bees and wasps show economy of nest material use by using cell geometry, rather than added material, to increase strength, which offers applications for bio-inspired design and engineering.