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Tessellation: Sea turtles

Sea turtle swimming in ocean

Fun Fact

Hexagons – it’s not only the bees…


Can I confess to you that I had not noticed the hexagonal patterns on the backs of turtles until recently?

What’s wrong with that, you ask? Why would you worry about your lack of observation skills?

Well, firstly, I have worked in a few natural history institutions. Secondly, I was, at one point, a volunteer at a zoo where I had to scrub the backs of giant sea turtles to help them stay clean, and thirdly, and this I cannot believe, I tuck my son in every night while he clutches a very realistic stuffed toy turtle. Yep, great observation skills. Anyway, check out the hexagons on turtles’ backs next time you get the chance…


Green sea turtle showing hexagon shapes on shell

Water, washing-up bowl or plastic tub, washing-up liquid or bubble mix, saucer, kitchen roll or cloth like a Chux, elastic band, funnel

Note: You may need a few funnels, especially as you don’t want the children to share. You can make a good funnel by cutting the top off a plastic bottle.


Fill a saucer with bubble mix and cover the end of the funnel with a cloth, securing it in place with an elastic band. Blow gently into the end of the funnel and see how long a bubble snake you can make. You can watch our video to see how it workss.

What’s the STEM?

The bubbles squeeze together to form shapes. These are mostly 3D truncated octahedrons, which are made up of hexagons. Hexagons are six-sided shapes, and they can tessellate, which means that they can fit together without spaces. Other shapes that tessellate are squares, rectangles and some triangles. In the bubble snake, hexagons form because they tessellate and because they hold the biggest volume of air with the smallest amount of bubble mix required.

Both triangles and hexagons tessellate but triangles are stronger. So why do turtle shells form hexagons? My hypothesis is that hexagons have a larger surface area to smaller perimeter ratio. What is your hypothesis? And what are the children’s?

Have a look at our videos if you’d like to find out more about tessellations.

Observations, conclusions and extensions

Bubble snakes are great ways to test how good your bubble mix is. Why not test two different bubble mixes and see which one produces the longest snake or the best bubble snake based on your criteria? What about the time it takes for all the bubbles in the bubble snake to pop?

STEM language

Use your explorations to introduce this STEM vocabulary to the children: hexagons, sides, shape, tessellations, tessellate, tile

Teacher's lounge

Hayley Bates
Article author: Hayley Bates
National Certifications Coordinator

Hayley has an insatiable thirst for learning – about everything! Her sheer joy of discovery and passion for professional development makes her the perfect person to run the Little Scientist’s House Certification program.

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