And your Lord revealed the female honeybee; build homes in mountains, and trees, and in the hives people built for you. (16:68)
In narrating the doings of the honeybee, the Quran uses the feminine gender. In Arabic, verbs are conjugated according to gender. The use in the Quran of the feminine gender in conjugation shows that the acts were performed by the female bee. To translate the honeybee in question with the addition of the adjective “female” before the honeybee would be natural. (It should be noted however that the orthography of both the feminine and the masculine is the same for honeybee.) The working of the female honeybee is described in the Quran as follows:
All the above three functions are performed by female bees. The unique function of the male, more robust with big eyes, is to fertilize the young queen female bee. The male bees that fulfill this function are expelled from the hive by their females at the end of the summer and, as they are used to being looked after by their females, they then die of starvation.
At the time of the descent of the Quran, men did not know the details of the distribution of work among the bees living in a hive; they did not know that those actively working in the hive were females. They did not know that the function of producing honey and collecting nectar from fruits belonged to female bees. Therefore, it is interesting, indeed, that in listing the duties of bees, the Quran used the mode of conjugation in the Arabic intended for the female gender.
The functions performed by the female honeybee leave us in wonder. The design of the cells in which she will live call for the erudition of a mathematician. Honeybees produce their honeycombs in the form of hexagons. (Bee fossils show that this was also the case millions of years ago.) Mathematicians inquiring into the reason why this hexagon remained constant and why there were no rectangles, heptagons, octagons, etc. found out that the optimum use of the entire space of unit could be no other than a hexagon, which also accounted for the production of cells using the available material in the most economical fashion. Had the cells been of a different shape, i.e., triangular or quadrilateral, there would be no vacuum, as well. But less material is required to build hexagonal cells than that required for triangular or quadrilateral cells. In many other shapes there would be unutilized space left. Thus the hexagonal cell is capable of storing the greater amount of honey with less wax.
This structure is the result of the combined work of thousands of bees, each contributing to the entire geometrical opus. Mathematicians have proven that no larger space could be arranged with a given amount of wax to fit the geometrical design. The worker bees show how they can realize it in the most economical fashion with what they have.
A French entomologist by the name of Antoine Ferchault posited a geometrical problem referred to as the “Bee Problem.” He stated that “a cell of regular hexagonal cross section is closed by three equal and equally inclined rhombuses. Calculate the smaller angle of the rhombus when the total surface area of the cell is least possible.” Three leading mathematicians, a German, a Swiss and a Brit, tried to solve this problem, and all of them found the following result: 70 degrees 32 minutes. This exactly fits the angle of cells constructed by the female bees. Even the wisest of men could not suggest an improvement on the female bees’ technique of building.
The worker bees’ points of departure in the production process of these cells differ. As the work proceeds, the cells converge toward a central point. The angles of cells at the point where they meet are perfect. It is clear that the construction of this design, the distances between the beginning and the end points and the precise calculation of the positions of their fellow workers display unbelievable exactitude.
The most renowned mathematicians demonstrated the bees’ unerring calculation measured as 70 degrees 32 minutes. However, were we to suggest that these men of science take a ruler in hand and make a hexagon with perfectly fitting angles, and then add to the instructions given to these three professors, asking that the calculation used to form the hexagons be regular and flawless, they would fail in the task. We see that the bees are not only great theoreticians but also skillful practitioners. In the theoretical field, this calculation is incredibly exact, while their dexterity in applying it is unbelievable accurate.
How do these bees, whose lifetime is very short, achieve all these calculations and construction work? To call this ingenuity mere “instinct” does not explain anything. The Quran states that the bee received revelations according to which God’s design and programming were put into execution. Within the span of the honeybee’s lifetime, the cleverest of men could not learn even to count, let alone be the author of such a perfect design. We cannot account for the erudition of bees, certainly not as pure luck. The Creator who created the bee made her with all her potentialities, having solved for her all these mathematical problems. The same Creator sees to it that the bee works for ends that also serve mankind in general. In the second part of this book MMLC 15 where the mathematical miracles will be dealt with, we will examine the mathematical code of the suras and verses where “honeybee” is mentioned. God, who endowed the bee with mathematical characteristics, presented further mathematical miracles in the suras and verses in which “honeybee” is mentioned.