In one well-marked instance, I put the comb back into the hive, and allowed the bees to go on working for a short time, and again examined the cell, and I found that the rhombic plate had been completed, and had become perfectly flat: it was absolutely impossible, from the extreme thinness of the little rhombic plate, that they could have effected this by gnawing away the convex side; and I suspect that the bees in such cases stand in the opposed cells and push and bend the ductile and warm wax (which as I have tried is easily done) into its proper intermediate plane, and thus flatten it.
We see how important a part excavation plays in the construction of the cells; but it would be a great error to suppose that the bees cannot build up a rough wall of wax in the proper position--that is, along the plane of intersection between two adjoining spheres.
Again, from the same cause, it would be advantageous to the Melipona, if she were to make her cells closer together, and more regular in every way than at present; for then, as we have seen, the spherical surfaces would wholly disappear, and would all be replaced by plane surfaces; and the Melipona would make a comb as perfect as that of the hive-bee.
Grant whatever instincts you please, and it seems at first quite inconceivable how they can make all the necessary angles and planes, or even perceive when they are correctly made.
41421 (or at some lesser distance), from the centres of the six surrounding spheres in the same layer; and at the same distance from the centres of the adjoining spheres in the other and parallel layer; then, if planes of intersection between the several spheres in both layers be formed, there will result a double layer of hexagonal prisms united together by pyramidal bases formed of three rhombs; and the rhombs and the sides of the hexagonal prisms will have every angle identically the same with the best measurements which have been made of the cells of the hive-bee.
The bees, however, did not suffer this to happen, and they stopped their excavations in due time; so that the basins, as soon as they had been a little deepened, came to have flat bottoms; and these flat bottoms, formed by thin little plates of the vermilion wax having been left ungnawed, were situated, as far as the eye could judge, exactly along the planes of imaginary intersection between the basins on the opposite sides of the ridge of wax.
The work of construction seems to be a sort of balance struck between many bees, all instinctively standing at the same relative distance from each other, all trying to sweep equal spheres, and then building up, or leaving ungnawed, the planes of intersection between these spheres.
It is even conceivable that an insect might, by fixing on a point at which to commence a cell, and then moving outside, first to one point, and then to five other points, at the proper relative distances from the central point and from each other, strike the planes of intersection, and so make an isolated hexagon: but I am not aware that any such case has been observed; nor would any good be derived from a single hexagon being built, as in its construction more materials would be required than for a cylinder.
Thus, as I believe, the most wonderful of all known instincts, that of the hive-bee, can be explained by natural selection having taken advantage of numerous, successive, slight modifications of simpler instincts; natural selection having by slow degrees, more and more perfectly, led the bees to sweep equal spheres at a given distance from each other in a double layer, and to build up and excavate the wax along the planes of intersection.