The natural world has lots of hexagons for a reason in short: to save on space and energy.
We count on Nature to be a messy business, eschewing straight strains and easy geometries and consisting only of organic lumps and bumps, random arrangements or simple chaos, yet the resolutely Euclidean hexagon seems with incredible frequency in the herbal world. From the gargantuan to the sub-microscopic, hexagons are everywhere. One wonders why.
It’s all down to efficiency, utility and an occasional capability to form nearly inadvertently. The hexagon is symmetrical, simple and enjoys the rare skill of allowing itself to tessellate (tile). Furthermore, as tessellating shapes go, it’s supreme as it can circumscribe the biggest place for a given perimeter.
Honeycomb after honeycomb in perfect symmetry. How do bees do it? As a matter of fact, they don’t. Busy bees actually build circular cells, but the warmth of the hive causes the wax they use to resoften and mould itself into the perfect shape of the hexagon. This allows the largest possible volume while using the least material.
1. The Salar de Uyuni is located in southwestern Bolivia. Covering more than 10,000 square kilometres, it’s the largest saltpan in the world. In the dry season, an elaborate pattern of cracks develop across the salty surface. While normal soil tends to break up into irregular shapes, the dominant shape on the saltpans is the hexagon.
2. They look man-made, but these stone formations on the coast of Antrim (Northern Ireland) developed naturally nearly 60 million years ago. When basalt lava cools slowly enough, it fractures to form such columns, most of which take on a hexagonal shape. Known as the Giant’s Causeway, it is made up of around 40,000 such columns, which slope down and disappear into the Atlantic.
3. The green sea turtle isn’t actually green. It’s mostly brownish in colour and gets its name from a layer of fat safely concealed under its hexagonal armour plating. The exclusively vegetarian diet of the adult turtles gives this layer its greenish hue.
4. Compound eyes are little miracles of nature. Thousands of tiny individual eyes provide insects with 360-degree vision as well as the ability to see even the fastest movements. These oculi are aligned perfectly as miniature hexagons to get the maximum number possible on the tiny surface area of an insect’s head.
5. Everyone has heard that no two snowflakes are exactly alike, but what many people don’t realise is that these delicate ice crystals do have one principle maxim in common: you guessed it. They are hexagonal.
6. The polyps of the great star coral generally extend to their full size at night. These thumbnail-large protuberances are also arranged in hexagons for efficiency. There’s a clue to their shape in their name as well, because many stars also appear hexagonal to the human eye.
7. Soap bubbles are round, at least when they are floating singularly through the air. When several bubbles cling together however, they take on a hexagonal shape as the surface tension forces them to minimise their surface area. Even if bubbles with five or seven sides temporarily form, they will always eventually turn into hexagons.
It’s certainly captivating how hexagons are phase of our day-to-day lives, but we fail to comprehend its power most of the time. The 6-sided polygon has greater to it than we have ever thought, and some of the elements of this structure are still mysterious.
Check out my related post: Is bluetooth dangerous?