A Study of Natural Honey-Comb

A Study of Natural Honey-Comb

A Study of Natural Honey-Comb

Bee Culture – 1910


Comb foundation is in such general use nowadays that it would be nothing strange to find bee-keepers who have never seen a frame of entirely natural comb. I have been making a study of some specimens – a dozen in number – that were built entirely at the sweet will of the bees, not even the least starter being in the case. They range in size from a piece of a few square inches to nearly a frameful.


Looking at brood foundation that I have, I find the cells placed with the angle at top and bottom.

In super foundation the angle is at each side, one of the cell-walls lying horizontally at the top and another at the bottom. I don’t know why the two kinds differ.

The bees seem to copy after the first plan. Not very strictly, however. In only one case can the row of cells be said to be really in a horizontal row. In another specimen the row descends half an inch in about a foot. In the other cases the variation from the strict horizontal is still greater.

The cells run in a fairly straight row except in one frame where the line is somewhat wavy, apparently because there were four initial points of beginning, and the four parts were afterward joined together.


It is a common thing to say, “Worker-cells measure 5 to the inch, and there are, consequently, 25 cells on one side to the square inch.” Neither of these statements is always true if we speak with any degree of accuracy. There are not always exactiy 5 cells to the inch; and if there were, there would be, not 25, but 28-13/15 cells to the square inch. See Cheshire, Vol. I., page 176 – that is, if the cells were exact hexagons. The trouble is that they vary from this quite a little. On one piece of comb, measured horizontally, the average diameter of a cell was .201087 of an inch; in one of the diagonal directions it was .19853, and in the other .20357, the total average diameter being .201062 of an inch.

Upon reading those figures some one may think that I must have had some very nice instruments with which to take measurements. I had nothing but a common pocket-rule, and after I tell you how l did it you will see that a schoolboy could easily do the same.

Suppose I want to measure the diameter of a cell. Laying the rule upon it, and measuring merely that one cell, I could only say it was somewhere between 3/16 and 1/4 of an inch – not very exact. But if I measure 10 cells, and then divide by 10, I can come about ten times as near the exact measurement. The larger the number of cells I take in my measurement, the nearer I can come to exactness. Well, here’s the way I do. I lay the rule upon the comb, with one end of the rule exactly corresponding with one of the cell-walls. Then I look along the rule till I see some notch which corresponds with some cell-wall. Then I count the number of cells in the given distance, divide the number of inches by the number of cells, and that gives the diameter of a cell. For instance, I find a notch of the rule at a cell-wall 9-1/4 inches from the end of the rule. I count the cells, and find there are 46. I divide 9-1/4 by 46, and I have .201087 of an inch as the diameter of one cell. Easy, isn’t it?

But after I have the diameter of a cell it’s just a little bit of bother to figure the area of the hexagon, especially as its three diameters are not all alike. A beautifully simple way of measuring the surface of a comb is given by A. Berchon, L’Apiculteur, p. 228.

Take the parallelogram ABCD. The line AC passes through the middle of 5 cells. Next to this vertical row of cells is another row of 4 cells, with a half-cell at top and a half-cell at bottom, making 5 cells in the row. So there are 5 cells in each vertical row in the parallelogram. The line AB passes alternately through the middle of a cell, coincides with a cell-wall, then through the middle of another cell, and so on. Each end of the line stops in the middle of a cell-wall; and if you put together the two half-cells at each end, the line measures 14 cells. There being thus 5 cells in each vertical row, and 14 in each horizontal row, there must be 5 X 14 = 70 cells in the parallelogram.lusby-studycells-1

Instead of measuring from the center of one cell-wall to the center of another cell-wall I find it more exact to let the line AB begin at an angle of a cell and end at the corresponding angle in another cell.

It may be worth while to notice that the figure, copied from L’Apiculteur, has the cells running the wrong way, a side of a cell being at top and bottom of each cell, whereas it should be an angle.

In one piece of comb, measured horizontally, there were 42 cells in 8-1/2 inches, and measured vertically there were 38 cells in 6-11/16 inches. Multiply 42 by 38, and 8-1/2 by 6-11/16, then divide the former product by the latter, and you have 28.076 cells to the square inch in that piece of comb. In another comb there were 26.54 cells to the square inch — quite a difference in the two combs. T. W. Cowan (The Honey-bee, 181), took 36 measurements and found the diameter of a cell to range from .186 of an inch to .211. That’s a much greater variation than in the two combs I have mentioned; but then, he made more measurements.

In a sheet of brood foundation I find 26.62 cells to the square inch. That’s about the same as my sample with the larger cells; but it has smaller cells than some that Mr. Cowan found in natural comb. That shows it would be feasible to have foundation with larger cells, thus working toward a larger bee, if a larger bee would get more honey.
Of that I have some doubt.

Marengo, Ill.


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