Even in the rude circumferential rim or wall of wax round a growing comb, flexures may sometimes be observed, corresponding in position to the planes of the rhombic basal plates of future cells.
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.
As in the cells of the hive-bee, so here, the three plane surfaces in any one cell necessarily enter into the construction of three adjoining cells.
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.
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.