Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


Honeycomb on a Langstroth frame

A honeycomb is a mass of hexagonal wax cells built by honeybees in their nests to contain their larvae and stores of honey and pollen. It is essentially the furniture in the bees' home. Beekeepers may remove the entire honeycomb to harvest honey. The honey is removed from the comb by uncapping and extracting in a centrifugal machine.

Fresh, new comb is sometimes sold and used intact as "comb honey", especially if the honey is being spread on bread rather than used in cooking or to sweeten tea. Some believe that this benefits one's physical and mental health.

Broodcombcomb becomes dark over time, because of the cocoons embedded in the cells, and the tracking of many feet. Honeycomb in the "superss" that is not allowed to be used for brood stays light colored.

Honeycomb geometry

The reason that the honeycomb is composed of hexagons, rather than any other shape, is that the hexagon tiles the plane with minimal perimeter per piece area. Thus a hexagonal structure uses the least material to create a lattice of cells with a given volume. It is likely that the honeybee constructs the honeycomb based on instinct, and the prevailing theory of biology is that the appearance of such efficient shapes in nature is a result of natural selection.

The closed ends of the honeycomb cells are also an example of geometric efficiency, albeit three-dimensional and little-noticed. The ends are trihedral (i.e., composed of three planes) pyramidal in shape, and the angle formed by the edges at the pyramidal apex is approximately the angle that minimizes surface area and maximizes volume, ~109° 28' 16" (= 180° - arccos(1/3)).

The three-dimensional geometry of a honeycomb cell.

The shape of the cells permits two opposing honeycomb layers to nest into each other, with each facet of the closed ends being shared by opposing cells.

Opposing layers of honeycomb cells fit together.

It was discovered in 1965 by L. Fejes Tóth that the trihedral pyramidal shape (which is composed of three rhombuses) used by the honeybee is not the theoretically optimal three-dimensional geometry. A cell end composed of two hexagons and two smaller rhombuses would actually be .035% (or approximately 1 part per 2850) more efficient, but there may have been no viable evolutionary path leading to this geometry, or the minuscule difference in efficiency may not have been enough to justify the greater complexity.


Honeycomb is also the name of a kind of
confectionary, which somewhat resembles a honeycomb. In New Zealand this is known instead as Hokey Pokey.