Fact check: Heart-shaped honeycomb wasn't designed by bees

·3 min read

The claim: Pictured heart-shaped honeycomb was created independently by bees

Bees are an important part of the agriculture sector, as they pollinate many of the foods humans eat. But are they also artists?

Some social media users think so.

"This photo was taken by the owner of the hive. The beekeeper forgot to put the frames in which the bees collect honey, and the bees built their own architecture from the honeycomb, which takes into account natural ventilation so that the air can flow freely and maintain a stable temperature. This is the heart!" the caption of a Sept. 24 Facebook post says.

The accompanying image, which accrued almost 300 shares in four days, depicts a heart-shaped honeycomb.

The image has spread widely on various social media platforms, including Reddit, Twitter and Facebook, where some versions were shared thousands of times collectively.

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While the honeycomb in the picture is real, the bees didn't build it freely, the beekeeper who originally took the picture in 2013 told USA TODAY.

USA TODAY reached out to the poster for comment.

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The image appears to have first gone viral in 2015 when National Trust, a nature conservation organization in the U.K., posted the image on its Facebook page.

The edit history of the post, which has been shared more than 2,800 times, shows the original caption from August 2015 said the organization's bees at Bodiam Castle, a historic landmark, had created the honeycomb.

The photo's caption was changed in June 2020 to credit Brian Fanner for the photo and "honeycomb art."

Fanner, the owner of a photo frame designing business, posted the image in 2013 on his Facebook profile, where it has accrued 39 shares.

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Fanner does beekeeping as a hobby in Cape Town, South Africa, which is where he took the photo being shared, he told USA TODAY via Facebook Messenger.

On a piece of board attached to the beehive frame's lid, Fanner routed the main heart design in the center and two curved lines on the sides, he said. He then placed foundation wax strips in the grooves, which the bees built atop of to create the peculiar honeycomb.

"It was really just a quick doodle idea, I didn't think much of it at the time," Fanner said. "One day, perhaps this season, I'll do some other (designs)."

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The original image's metadata, the text information embedded in an image, showed the photo was taken at 2:33 p.m. on Nov. 19, 2013, which coincides with when Fanner posted it on social media.

Fanner said about four weeks passed from when he inserted the design to when he saw the completed honeycomb.

"It's annoying to have one's work basically stolen repeatedly without permission, but ... at least lots of people got to see this little piece of art," Fanner said.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that a pictured heart-shaped honeycomb was created independently by bees. The image was taken in 2013 by a beekeeper who engraved a heart design on a piece of board and later attached foundation wax strips to aid in the creation of a honeycomb.

Our fact-check sources:

  • u/TomahawkKevin on Reddit, Jan. 9, Reddit thread

  • Sarah Jane Humphrey, June 13, 2020, Tweet (archived)

  • Matthew Manning, March 25, Facebook post

  • Awakening the Mystic, June 14, Facebook post

  • The Acidmath Spiral, March 23, Facebook post

  • National Trust, accessed Sept. 28, About us

  • National Trust, Aug. 18, 2015, Facebook post

  • National Trust, accessed Sept. 18, Bodiam Castle

  • Luna Design Company, accessed Sept. 18, The story

  • Brian Fanner, Nov. 19, 2013, Facebook post

  • Brian Fanner, Sept. 28, Facebook Messengerexchange with USA TODAY

  • Jeffrey's Image Metadata Viewer, Sept. 28, Analysis of Fanner's original photo

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Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Heart-shaped honeycomb wasn't designed by bees

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