Why honey doesn’t run out of the comb

One of the most amazing things about honeycomb is the angle of the cells. At first the cell walls appear to be perpendicular to the foundation, but they are not. From the base of the cell, each cell lifts between 9 and 14 degrees toward the open end. That is, there is a 9-14 degree rise from the point of attachment at the base to the open end of the cell. This angle is why the nectar or honey doesn’t run out of the cells.

If you were to cut a comb in half so you could see both sides at once, you would see the cells come together in a V shape. The angle is very subtle, so if you just glance at a comb quickly, you might miss this important structural feature.

When nectar is first placed in the comb it is about the consistency of water. Without sloping cells, the nectar would run out before the bees had a chance to dry it down.

Several years ago I put comb in a hive upside down to see what the bees would do. For many days, they did nothing. But eventually they took it apart and used the beeswax to build new comb elsewhere in the hive. Then they built a properly oriented comb where the upside down one had been. You just can’t trick a honey bee.

Honey Bee Suite

1 Comment

  • My better half made an interesting observation about the comb structure in this video. The walls of each honey comb cell intersect with the middle of the cells on the opposite side of the comb. Cool, ah?

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