Gateway to the Classics: Handbook of Nature Study: Insects by Anna Botsford Comstock
Handbook of Nature Study: Insects by  Anna Botsford Comstock

The Honey-Comb

Teacher's Story

dropcap image HE structure of honey-comb has been for ages admired by mathematicians, who have measured the angles of the cells and demonstrated the accurate manner in which the rhomb-shaped cell changes at its base to a three faced pyramid; and proven that, considering the material of construction, honey-comb exemplifies the strongest and most economic structure possible for the storing of liquid contents. While recent instruments of greater precision in measuring angles, show less perfection in honey-comb than the ancients believed, yet the fact still stands that the general plan of it is mathematically excellent.

Some have tried to detract from bee skill, by stating that the six-sided cell is simply the result of crowding cells together. Perhaps this was the remote origin of the hexagonal cell; but if we watch a bee build her comb, we find that she begins with a base laid out in triangular pyramids, on either side of which she builds out six-sided cells. A cell just begun, is as distinctly six-sided as when completed.


A section of honey.   Note the caps to the cells, each supported by six girders.

The shape of the cell of a honey-comb is six-sided in cross section. The bottom is a three-sided pyramid and its sides help form pyramids at the bottom of the cells opposite, thus economizing every particle of space. In the hive, the cells lie horizontal usually, although sometimes the combs are twisted. The honey is retained in the cell by a cap of wax which is made in a very cunning fashion; it consists of a circular disc at the middle supported from the six angles of the cell by six tiny girders. The comb is made fast to the section of the hive by being plastered upon it. The foundation comb sold to apiarists is quite thick, so that the edges of the cell may be drawn out and almost complete the sides of the cell. However, the foundation comb is expensive and is ordinarily used by the bee-keeper simply as a starter, which means a little strip a few inches or so in width fastened to the top of a section just to give the bees a hint that this is the direction in which the comb should be built, a hint which the bees invariably take. The cells of honey-comb are used also for the storing of bee-bread and also as cradles for the young bees.

References—The Bee People, Morley; How to Keep Bees, Comstock.

Lesson CIV

The Honey-Comb

Leading thought—The cells of honey-comb are six-sided and in double rows and are very perfectly arranged for the storing of honey, so as to save room.

Materials—A section filled with honey and also a bit of empty comb and a bit of commercial foundation comb which may be obtained in any apiary.


1. Look at a bit of empty honey-comb; what is the shape of the cell as you look down into it?

2. What is the shape of the bottom of the cell?

3. How does the bottom of the cell join the bottom of the cell opposite? Explain how honey-comb economizes space as storage for honey, and why an economy of space is of use to bees in the wild state.

4. In the hive is the honey-comb placed so that the length of the cells are horizontal or up and down?

5. Observe honey-comb containing honey; how is the honey retained in the cells?

6. Carefully take off a cap from the honey cell and see if you can find the six girders that extend inward from the angles of the cell to support the circular portion in the center.

7. By what means is the honey-comb made fast to the sides of the section or the hive?

8. Study a bit of foundation comb and note where the bees will pull out the wax to form the cell.

9. Why and how is foundation comb used by the bee-keeper?

10. For what purpose besides storing honey are the cells of honey-comb used by the bees?

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