The most wonderful of all known instincts, that of the hive bee, can be explained by natural selection. —— Charles Darwin
Have you ever got the chance to look at honeybees’ hives? These hives are sometimes looked after by the beekeepers. In nature, you may accidentally spot them in caves, rock cavities and hollow trees. Such nests are usually composed of vertically oriented, parallel combs made of wax secreted by the worker bees. Each comb can magically contain THOUSANDS of individual cells!
After taking a closer look, you will surprisingly find out that these hexagonal cells can perfectly fit each other. You know what? One simple bee hive can actually be counted as a piece of marvelous architecture. The seemingly regular cells turn out to be the ideal choice for storing the LARGEST amounts of honey using the LEAST amount of precious wax. What an economical and exquisite design!
It is truly hard to believe that in the honey bees’ world where there is no central control, bee hives can be constructed and maintained so well.As mentioned in the book Honeybee Neurobiology and Behavior, such cooperative behaviors are called “spirit of the hive”. What is noteworthy here is that the QUEEN of the bees is not the ruler of all bees. To be more specific, she issues no orders and obeys all the rules. Rather than the restrictions of some dominant and mandatory rules, worker bees coordinate relying on the stimuli like various chemicals that they encounter in the environment. That is to say, such a complicated social organization runs in good order without any laws and regulations.
However, believe it or not, the ancestors of honeybees didn’t build their hives in this way. Such changes are totally the results of natural selection.
According to Darwin, honey bee hives used to be simpler spherical cells rather than the current hexagonal cells. If you happened to be familiar with bumblebees, you may draw the conclusion that in the past, honeybees built their hives in a way similar to that of modern bumblebees.
PS: Bumblebees and honeybees can be counted homologies and they both belong to the Apidae family. To distinguish between them, bumblebees are fat and furry, while honeybees are smaller and slimmer. What’s more, bumblebees usually live in nests with a few hundred bees. On the other hand, honeybees live in larger groups with between 20,000 to 60.000 bees.
To tell the truth, bumblebees’ spherical cells can be built more easily as the bees can directly sweep their compass-like abdomens to carve out the spheres.
However, due to the strong desire to produce honey, house the brood and store food, honeybees began placing their cells closer and closer. After great efforts, they made these cells more regularly spaced and managed to patch up the intersections.
Considering building hives as a species-typical behavior, there is no doubt that it transforms from one simple version to an updated version via the evolutionary steps. Although bumblebees and honeybees are closely related species, honeybees turn out to be the ones having the ability to build more complex and stable hives.
Through evolution, these diligent honeybees are able to provide themselves with the largest amount of storage space, having the greatest possible structural stability and using the least possible amount of wax. Congratulations on the honeybees’ efforts!