International Online Monitoring of Honeybee Colonies
In this day of Siri and Alexa is it any surprize technology is being directed to the investigation of Honey Bees? What could be more important when industrialized and pollinator dependent nations are experiencing colony mortality in excess of any in written history? Today’s technologies enable the detection and analysis of phenomenon previously hidden from beekeepers. Given the rate of development, use of these new tools is limited only by our dedication and imagination!
What’s being monitored now and what will be possible in the near future? How will this priceless information to be collected and analyzed? What questions will arise from answers we find? Below are what the Center and Hivetool.org make available in a “Hive Monitoring Kit” and what we envision for the near future:
Digitally measured colony weights to tenths of a pound, delivered online every 5 minutes! Displayed graphically in real time, it becomes a visual map of colony change. Beekeepers will recognize weight drop each morning as foragers leave and the afternoon orientaton flights. A steady loss of weight throughout the night is evidence of evaporation while bees fan and dry fresh nectar. Comparison over time identifies the net gain or loss in the colony’s cycle. Flows and Dearths are easily pin-pointed. A sudden drop of 3-8 lbs likely indicates a daytime swarming Event! Year to year comparisons of nectar flows among many hives provide indirect information on bloom times – and in fact these have been used by NASA in the examination of climate change. The scale remains under the hive year round and requires no onsite manipulation.
Temperature and Humidity
Beekeepers know honey bees keep their brood at 92 – 95 deg. F., and the interior cluster never drops below 82 degrees – even in a broodless cycle. In Winter, a sensor can indicate the day a queen resumes egg-laying! Humidity varies greatly depending on barometric conditions, but bees like 45-55% within the brood nest. Both humidity and temperature show abrupt short-term changes during a swarm – and together with abrupt weight changes, the graphical representation of these inter-active measurements produces a “signature” which is unmistakeable!
With a light sensor the relative intensity of daylight can be seen. Viewers easily know when Dawn begins and Dusk gives way to darkness. One knows whether the day is bright or cloudy, and how the length of day shortens or grows longer with the seasons.
Every piece of ground is unique, and the distance between micro-climates is small. A sudden shower in summer may not be evident as little as a quarter mile distant. What caused this sudden 1 lb. gain in the middle of the day? “Oh, I see… it got cloudy, the temperature outside went down, and it rained very heavily. That’s a pound of water pooling temporarily on the top of the hive!”
Streaming video to a desktop or phone gives a visual confirmation of conditions whether by day or night. Yes, infra-red cameras can be set up to monitor night-time activity. Did you know there IS some nighttime flight, especially on warm moonlit nights? Cameras can be set up to monitor the yard, the outside of an individual colony or even within.
There are various solutions to the use of these current monitoring tools – but what else is on the immediate horizon?
There are various “vector tracking” programs which can be adapted to track bees as they enter and leave colonies. A restricted access can be made such that all bees must pass under a glass plate. Bees walking are slow enough to be tracked at 30 frames per second and if the plate height limits passage to a single layer it is possible to count the total number of bees and establish a net gain or loss within any selected period of time. With refinement the program should be able to distinguish between worker and drone. We have seen a Queen leave a colony. Visual ‘keys’ could be embedded to automatically begin video recording in conditions such as a swarm. Imagine having live video of a swarm with time and date stamp! Picture getting a text notification on your phone in real time!
Imagine you can bring up the sound within a colony on your device, day or night. Those sounds you can barely discern out with your ear to the hivebody, which get drowned by the outside when opened, are suddenly amplified by the resonant chamber in which the bees live. In Winter the sound is a reassuring confirmation the colony survives. Aural analysis and masking techniques may reveal unimaginable truths of how honey bees communicate. Is there really a definite aural pattern prdeicting a swarm? Do certain sounds reveal important developments which would otherwise go unheard? Queen Piping is but one of the fascinating phenomennae such information will provide.
What? Here we are describing minute motion detectors. Sensors which can detect and display vibration. We know that wax comb conducts sound in the form of wave motion or frequency – but in addition there are kinetically generated communication of various bee dances. An alpha worker bee vibrates her wing muscles in addition to physical gyrations we can barely see. Imagine being able to collect data on these behaviors 24/7!
The Near Future
As the IOT [Internet of Things] progresses we expect to move into the Age of Wireless Sensors. Low Energy Bluetooth solutions will soon revolutionize how we stream data to the Cloud. At Hivetool.net we are already customizing our next generation software to run a revolutionary integration board capable of doing everything without the necessity for a companion processor such as a Raspberry Pi.
We encourage you join us in this pioneering effort. We welcome ANY contribution or skill you may offer. It is our hope to develop a dynamic searchable database open to the general public. In fact, it is our lack of expertise in this area which explains why our data isn’t more available now.