There's an image of honeycomb that keeps on going viral. Weird, I know. Beehives are cool, but not something you'd expect to get those big online numbers on a regular basis. What makes this particular beehive such good Internet Content is the weird shape it's been contorted into.
Many well-meaning people have shared, always with the same claim that the bees had created the honeycomb's weird design all by themselves. Clever bees.
It really does go viral surprisingly often, dating back to 2013 at least. People like a good bee story.
But, you'd be right to be a tad skeptical, as you should be with all claims that rely on information forwarded "from a friend" to apparently multiple people who never share the actual source. It all sounds a bit folklore-y, to be honest.
Enter, folklorist Steve Byrne.
Byrne spotted the image on Twitter recently, and says his "folkorist Spidey senses were activated", so he decided to do some digging. He did a reverse Google image search and found plenty of places the image was posted. I did the same and found it used in a thesis on the natural shape of beehives – yikes (they're not going to want to read this story).
His sleuthing led to a post from the UK's National Trust back in 2015 claiming to be the original source of the photo.
The replies are full of people saying things like "Mother nature will always be the best artist" and the Natural Trust replying "That is so true, Clare :)". There were also some skeptical replies, but the National Trust insisted this was the real deal.
Not so, said one Brian Fanner who replied he was the original creator of the honeycomb image, and yes, it was a "manipulation". Hold your horses, that doesn't mean "photoshop". Some more digging confirmed that he had shared the photo long before even the 2015 viral round.
After contacting Fanner, Byrne was told the real story of the beehive. Surprise, surprise, bees aren't spending their time making fancy heart-shape designs that will appeal aesthetically to humans.
"The things that come up [to explain the shape] are really funny, from how bees have 'artistic sensibilities' to bees creating that shape 'to increase airflow'," Fanner told Byrne. "I've seen companies using it in their websites and so many claiming it came out of their hive somewhere in the world."
Aside from the theft of a photograph and quite a few IP laws being broken, that's a lot of people not telling the truth.
Fanner told Byrne how he fashioned the beehive to encourage the shape.
"The lines are slots into which a foundation wax with the comb pattern on it can be placed...secured with melted beeswax. Normally...a sheet...to guide the bees as to where to build. So they just come across this weird pattern of foundation strip and start building onto it," he said.
"After that, they just fill it out best they can. It's a simple manipulation."
It's still a sweet story. The artwork was made for his wife. They ate it together.
If you're walking away disheartened by this revelation (pun very much not intended, how dare you), be assured that natural beehives are still freaking cool. Check out this footage of giant honey bees in the wild, and their awesome "shimmering" defense mechanism.