TODAY -

Hard on the hexagon of beehives, Meiteilon, Physics & Darwin

Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh *



The architectural instinct of honeybees in building hexagonal hives remained shenanigans for scientists for over 200 years. Even today it remains inexplicable.' And, haunted by the ghost of Grierson, Meiteilon (Manipuri), which became popular with jockey appeals to unread readers, and which, after meticulous research by the Grub Street hack writers and cloistered academics, still remains a classic puzzle.

Meiteilon should now simply be classified as a 'language isolate' as it has no known genetic relationship with any language. It's time to stop kitchen-debate-politics among linguists with unneeded research publications that are intended to be a Red flag ie something that attracts usually irritated attention to bullish colleagues, but not necessarily truthful on the subject, including the unsubstantiated grouping of Meiteilon in the Kuki-Chin languages. Even Grierson wrote: "It [Meiteilon] agrees more closely with Burmese, and even with Tibetan, than with Kuki-Chin languages (LSI, Part III, Vol. Ill, 1967 reprint, p8).

Back to beehives, as to how the hive bees build their perfectly symmetrical hexagonal ie six-sided hives, which has been as mysterious as the building of Pharaohs' pyramids. Modem physics has now only partly solved the mystery.

In my childhood, sometimes, I found a small hexagonal honeycomb glued under the roof of our cowshed where my father kept a few cows for milk. I ate the larvae after grilling. Those cows were let out in the morning. They went down Uripok Road and turn right on a slip road to Lamphel Pat where they grazed all day until dusk, when Uripok Road was full of cows returning home to many families living at Uripok.

The laws of nature consist of many natural phenomena based on factual scientific observation, such as physical laws like Newton's falling apple; chemical laws that matter can neither be created nor destroyed; and biological Mendel's law of segregation that describes how physical traits are passed on from one generation to the next.

The hexagonal architecture of beehives is based on physical laws, which are of two categories:

(1) Classical physics (macrophysics) that deals with observable world, such as Newton's laws of motion, Kepler's laws of planetary motions, and the laws of thermodynamics that define physical quantities ie temperature, energy and entropy. Entropy is the measure of a system's thermal energy that is unavailable for doing useful work.

(2) Atomic physics (microphysics) or Einstein's quantum mechanics, which deals with interactions 'between elements; and between subatomic particles, a famous example of which is the explosion of atom bombs that Robert Oppenheimer first detonated on July 16 1945 at 5.30 am at the Trinity test centre site in New Mexico, US. Americans dropped a uranium bomb over Hiroshima on August 6 1945, and a plutonium bomb over Nagasaki on August 9 1945.

Particle physics research now, is focussed on subatomic particles that have less structure than atoms. Higgs boson or dark matter, also called "God particle" is the latest one that was discovered in 2012 at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland (cf. author's book, Points to Ponder, p 319). For this, two physicists, Peter Higgs and Francois Englert were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 2013.

In my college days, scientists claimed that the most fundamental building blocks of matter, which are everyday objects we bump into, were the atoms, and each atomic matter is made of subatomic particles - a dense nucleus of protons and neutrons, and a cloud of electrons orbiting round the nucleus.

Modem research has discovered that the protons and neutrons are made up of much smaller elementary particles, such as quarks , stuck together by the strong nuclear force. There are 'up quarks' and 'down quarks'. All matter is composed of 9 elementary particles, 4 forces, and Higgs boson - the particle that gives all matter its mass and has never been seen with eyes. Researchers have now announced the possibility of the existence of particles smaller than the Higgs boson.

Revisiting undergraduate physics before quarks were known (first proposed by Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig in 1964), explosion of atom bombs were caused by fission when a neutron strikes the nucleus of an isotope (a radioactive form an element) into fragments, releasing a tremendous amount of energy. It then caused a chain-reaction producing more and more fission and energy. This is the assembly of elements (after the Big Bang) in reverse. This nuclear-binding energy is stored in the 'strong nuclear force' field that sticks protons and neutrons together inside the nucleus.

Physicists say, during the fission nothing happens to quarks that make up the mass (particles). The mass is the energy, binding the quarks together. The actual mass of the quarks is in the minority of the mass. When the mass disappears during fission and is replaced by energy according to Einstein's E=mc2, the energy that is released by quarks in fission is negligible.

Fast forward. Why do bees use hexagon? That's the point at issue. The Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro wrote about honeycomb in 36 BCE. He conjectured without proof ' that the most efficient way to divide a surface [plane] into regions of equal area (cells) with the least total perimeter (wax) is to use a regular hexagonal grid or honeycomb, though a square or a triangle are also regular geometrical figures that can fit together in a plane without leaving gaps.

Charles Darwin was fascinated by bees and tried to understand why bees make hexagons. He followed his theory of natural selection in the struggle for life where an inherited trait or behaviour that confers an advantage is more likely to pass on to future generations. In his book 'On the origin of species', published in 1859, he described a series of experiments on the cell-making instincts of the hive bee.

Darwin compared the hive-making behaviours of the honeybee with a less architecturally endowed species of bee, the Mexican Melipona domestica. These bees construct regular combs of cylindrical cells. Darwin thought the instincts of these bees could be modified to build a complete structure like a hexagon.

Darwin conducted a series of experiments along with his friend and fellow naturalist William Bernhardt Tegetmeier. They added different coloured dyes to the beeswax, enabling them to see the gradual process of hive-building. They found honey bees first build cylindrical cells that are subsequently modified to form hexagons. Darwin explained this in terms of natural selection as the basic explanation for the hexagons.

The Roman scholar's assertion still remained a conjecture for the next 2,000 years until in 1999, a mathematician at the university Of Michigan named Thomas Hales found the proof that a hexagonal pattern is the most efficient engineering design. He explained that If bees used cylinders to build their honeycomb there would be gaps between each cell, likewise, pentagons and octagons also produce gaps and the whole structure would be less efficient.

If bees were to build cells of different shapes to fit with neighbouring cells there would be no gaps, but In this scenario, one bee has to finish before the next bee can create a cell to fit. That would be inefficient use of time as it would take much longer time to build a hive.

A beautiful answer indeed. But how would the bees know that? Bees don't go to engineering college. Bees have inborn intelligence more that what we call instincts. In 2013, four years ago, three engineers - Karihaloo, Shang and Wang, published an article, 'Honeybee combs: how the circular cells transform into rounded hexagons'. They say honeybees, just like Melipona bees that Darwin dismissed as inferior architects, make cells that are initially circular in cross section.

The hexagons appear because the bees' body heat softens the wax until it reaches 45 degrees Celsius, a temperature at which wax begins to flow like a viscous fluid. The circular cells of molten wax then act in a similar way to soap bubbles. If all the bubbles of the wax are identical in size and spacing, the circular cells reform into a sheet of hexagons. They went on to demonstrate their findings by using smoke to interrupt honeybees in the process of making a hive. They showed that the most recently built cells were circular and the older ones had developed into hexagons.

Physicists say the construction of beehives follows the natural laws of physics. Once the bees have done the hard work of collecting honey, secreting wax, and then kneading, heating and thinning the wax, physics takes over.

This hexagonal development also seems to explain Darwin's theory of natural selection. Darwin after his experiments, concluded that bees build hexagonal honeycombs as they are the most economical way of dividing up then- honey storage area. Hexagons use less wax, and bees that use less wax are more efficient and are more likely to survive, and pass on their inherited behaviour to the next generation .

Darwin has a good point. Building a beehive is extremely honey-intensive. A bee has to consume about eight grams of honey to produce one gram of wax. By building hexagons they maximise honey available for food, a behavioural trait that would be beneficial for future generations' survival.

Debates will go on. Forget the bees. It doesn't matter to them. They can't read. Have a thought about Meiteilon. It matters to us.


* Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The author is based in the UK. Email: irengbammsingh(AT)gmail(DOT)com ; Website: www.drimsingh.co.uk
This article was posted on November 23, 2017.


* Comments posted by users in this discussion thread and other parts of this site are opinions of the individuals posting them (whose user ID is displayed alongside) and not the views of e-pao.net. We strongly recommend that users exercise responsibility, sensitivity and caution over language while writing your opinions which will be seen and read by other users. Please read a complete Guideline on using comments on this website.




LATEST IN E-PAO.NET
  • Laichombam Sapana @ JNMDA : Gallery
  • Chingkhei Nganba, Amom :: eMing
  • Rise & Fall of Cachari Kingdom #1
  • Modi once again- Reading Election result
  • Function of Nampou of Zeliangrongs #1
  • Job Openings at Raj Medicity
  • Tatmadaw initiate forced labour on Chin
  • State BJP : Set to look beyond 2022
  • Return of Modi-Shah combo
  • Zhaoshomai, indigenous religion of Liiyai
  • Fashion by Kumarjit Laishram #2 : Gallery
  • Dams as a death trap in Manipur
  • Raju Bista (Kangpoki) is MP of Darjeeling
  • Sufferings from trust deficit
  • Bamboo charcoal.. for bamboo flowering
  • The NAMO, Amit Shah magic
  • A take on India's Act East Policy
  • Pakhangba Cheng-hongba #1 : Gallery
  • Better Selfie with Smarter Technology
  • Repeal AFSPA enacted on 22 May 1958
  • Cry of a Dying River - 77 :: Poem
  • Biodiversity : Why humanity should care ?
  • Research Officer at Amethyst Research
  • The Terrace Open Mic - II : Report
  • NPF exposed in public domain : NDPP
  • End of the largest democratic exercise
  • Stop faking and face the facts
  • Future Hindu Culture of Meitei is magificient
  • International Day of Biodiversity 2019
  • The Trunk that life of a Soldier moves on
  • MCS/MPS through lottery ? :: WJ
  • Job Vacancies at Leima Traders
  • Naga Peace Process :: News Timeline
  • 'Double standard' politics of NPF :: NDPP
  • Exit polls : Not the final verdict
  • Poll result prediction
  • Mary storms into semis
  • Glory Days of Manipur in the 18th Century
  • Alternate Rationality: Its Possibility : Book
  • Does burning of school reflect larger malady
  • RIST Talk 39 : Year of Periodic Table
  • Manipur : A woman's world
  • Paramedical courses as career options
  • Revoke suspension for NPF Office Bearers
  • Class X results : Best in 10 years
  • The wrath of Mother Nature
  • Poumai Purul Paoki Fest : Gallery
  • AEgi KoHcY :: Seireng
  • The Tamna Tamna Video: Critical Analysis
  • 'NDPP's child like attitude for meddling'
  • Rejoinder to NDPP by NPF President
  • Amazing beauty benefits of coconut oil
  • Urge Nagaland govt to review security
  • Pull out threat from the NPF
  • Myanmar launches ops on NE militants
  • Myanmar jails 24 from Assam, Manipur
  • 2019 HSLC Exam Toppers :: Gallery
  • HSLC Toppers share thoughts, aspirations
  • CFP on 'Photoacoustics' at IEEE TENCON
  • Arrival of Fall Armyworm in Manipur
  • Youth and Contemporary Issues #4
  • No Escape from Real World :: Poem
  • Civil & Structural Engineer at R-Square
  • Architectural Designer at R-Square DCS
  • 'NPF Manipur is directionless leadership'
  • HSLC :: Top 25 Rank Holders
  • HSLC :: Subject Topper
  • HSLC :: Statistical Abstract
  • HSLC :: Full Roll No Listing
  • HSLC :: Compartmental
  • Dairies of 2 Tours in Naga Hills : Book
  • Kohima Press Club (KPC) elects new team
  • Manipur : The unsung fashion capital
  • Brain Stimulation for Parkinson disease
  • 2nd Foundation Day of NDPP
  • Changing face of the North East
  • 129th Birth Anniversary of Ho Chi Minh
  • Understanding performance of Govt school
  • Amazing Folk-tales of Koireng Tribe
  • Fashion by Kumarjit Laishram #1 : Gallery
  • Cry of a Dying River - 76 :: Poem
  • Plastic Pollution & its effect
  • Significance of Nurses Week celebration
  • Legal Assistance to Prisoners' Family
  • Talk on 'Alliance - Biblical Perspective'
  • Shorthand/Stenography Typing Course
  • Fissures with a coalition partner
  • 4 plus 4 is always equal to 8
  • Mukna Kangjei Tournament : Gallery
  • Socio-cultural significance of Gudui-Ngai
  • Diesel auto vs Traffic control :: Artwork
  • Future of Moreh: Development partnership..
  • An alarming stay in a hotel
  • Naga Students Delhi Admission help Desk
  • Need to focus on the average students too
  • The politics of rumours
  • Phayeng Koubru Haraoba #4 : Gallery
  • ELVEEGO : Top 10 Promising Companies
  • Myanmar Refugee Problem : Report
  • Mother :: Poem
  • Minerva Punjab FC to conduct trials
  • Represent the people, not only party
  • When vegetables slowly poison us?
  • Hr Sec Exam 2019 Toppers #2: Gallery
  • Featured Front Page Photo 2019 #2: Gallery
  • Dear Mother :: Poem
  • Youth and Contemporary Issues #3
  • Why are Govt schools lagging behind ?
  • Career option in Veterinary Science
  • Saluting Mothers of the world
  • Will Sharmila have a Third Life ?
  • NE for efforts to address illegal influx
  • Rs 10 coins not acceptable in Manipur!
  • Agri Fair @ CAU #2 : Gallery
  • Khomlen Manglanda - A Play #2 : Gallery
  • AMWJU new terms 2019-2021
  • Run for Raisina Hill
  • Happy Mother's Day
  • Mother's Day
  • Aspiration in Medical Career
  • MPSC : Wallowing in dirt
  • Why the 1st Bird Sanctuary in Thinungei
  • Purnima Moirangthem : 5th in Commerce
  • Respect for a mother
  • Academic excellence is not everything
  • Indo-Naga & other peace talks #6
  • A Dwarfish Whole :: Poem
  • Takayasu Arteritis treated at SKY Hospital
  • Mercury rise: Is it common men fault
  • Ajit Ningthouja :: eRang Photos
  • Had not there been ILPS agitation ? : Story
  • Dance & folk songs of natives of NE #2
  • BJP for NE Community Campaign in Delhi
  • Serou dam-Atypical structure in Chakpi river
  • Benefits of automation in medical laboratory
  • Civil Servant from Matupi hospitalized...
  • Madness on the roads of Imphal
  • Root of peoples' anger to doctors
  • Jiribam Bazaar :: 360 Panorama View
  • Eyek Tamba :: Learn Manipuri script
  • Cry of a Dying River - 75 :: Poem
  • What Yoga is & is not ?
  • Rio at General Conference of NSF
  • Make right choice in selecting your campus
  • Suspension Order for 19 NPF Members
  • Festival of marks and more marks
  • ..no worry on condition of Govt Schools
  • Thailand Princess @Kangla #2 :: Gallery
  • Kadigampou, Akeng :: eMing
  • Ningombam Tampha :: 3rd in ISC Exam
  • Our Grammy goes to Thangmeiso Shinglai
  • Call for application from youths
  • Life is not about how far you hang on
  • NERIST admission notice : PG & PhD
  • Seminar at MU : Material Engineering
  • Class XII : Looking beyond Imphal
  • Understanding Consumers' rights
  • HSE : Candidates securing Highest Marks
  • HSE 2019 : Science Stream Result
  • HSE 2019 : Arts Stream Result
  • HSE 2019 : Commerce Stream Result
  • HSE 2019 Toppers : Science
  • HSE 2019 Toppers : Arts
  • HSE 2019 Toppers : Commerce
  • HSE 2019 : Result Abstract
  • HSE 2019 : District Wise
  • Solid waste management in Imphal
  • Naga Ancestral Freedom Movement
  • My franchise for Mom's Primary
  • Bamboo based industries in Manipur
  • Is sugar ageing you
  • Competition among schools
  • Will modification help in solving traffic chaos
  • Cheiraoba Chak Katpa #2 :: Gallery
  • MANFETE 2019 at MU :: Gallery
  • What is Change ?
  • The integrity of Manipur
  • Dance & folk songs of natives of NE #1
  • Indo-Naga & other peace talks #5
  • Understand kids with developmental delay
  • Meet with Fortis Hospital, Delhi
  • Understanding idea of NE
  • Mr. Edn Min, please act like Manish of Delhi
  • Ibudhou Oknarel & Khudithibi
  • May Calendar for Year 2019 :: Tools
  • Facts & fakes of poll prediction
  • Sketches & Notes of Summertime :: Poem
  • The other Face of 'May -Day'
  • Check-up for new born- Split Spine Defect
  • Retaining Walls & Flooding in Moirang
  • Gearing up for counting day
  • Religion profile of Manipur: Impact study #2
  • Andro Girls won Doon Cup :: Gallery
  • Rajbans Huidrom : Topper CBSE XII
  • Nongdol Leima- Dance Drama #1:: Gallery
  • Human Trafficking to SE Asia via NE
  • Tributes on Khongjom Day #2 :: Gallery
  • M Diana: National Women Social Award
  • Handloom show : Robert Naorem & Soma
  • Urmila Shagolsem: Miss India 2019 Finalist
  • Thang Ta @Sangai Fest #5 :: Gallery
  • Indo-Naga & other peace talks #4
  • Yaoshang Halankar #2 :: Gallery
  • Demand for ILP :: Articles/Photos...
  • Anglo-Manipur war from military point of view
  • Yubi Lakpi :: Gallery
  • Peeshumlei : Book Release :: Gallery
  • Significance of festival: Nanu-Ngai
  • Onetwo Okram - Singer #1 :: eRang
  • Inner Line Permit (ILP) Demand :: Timeline
  • Tributes on Khongjom Day #1 :: Gallery
  • Shajibu Cheiraoba @ Pune : Gallery
  • Romita Yumnam : Mrs India Queen
  • Meekap Thokpa Numit #2 : Gallery
  • Shivaratri Shopping List #2 : Gallery
  • Tributes to PLA killed #2 : Gallery
  • A talk with Ajit Ningthouja :: eRang
  • LS : Voting for Inner : Gallery
  • Ibendhou Kounu Haraoba #2: Gallery
  • The Killing Fields 2013-18 : News Timeline
  • Sajibu Cheiraoba at Mysore #2: Gallery
  • Voting (PC) @ Kangpokpi #3: Gallery
  • Mittong Khunou: The Battle Honour of INA
  • Thabal Chongba @Khurai : Gallery
  • Manipuri Calendar for 2019 : Download
  • List of Restricted Holidays for 2019
  • List of Public Holidays for 2019
  • List of General Holidays for 2019
  • SPONSORED ADS