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A New Method for Observing Honey Bee Behavior

- September 1, 2016 - - (excerpt)

Observation hives have been used to study the behavior of honey bees since the pioneering studies of François Huber in the 18th century. Observation hives generally consist of glass walled hives containing a small number of combs and bees. A frequent objection to their use is that they are usually housed and observed in daylight or artificial light, in contrast to the darkness of a natural bee nest. It has therefore been a criticism that results obtained using observation hives may not always represent normal behavior. In a new study published in the Journal of Apicultural Research, Kaspar Bienefeld and colleagues from the Institute for Bee Research, Hohen Neuendorf, Germany, outline a new method for the long-term undisturbed observation of bee behavior under infra-red light, which minimizes these problems.
Their novel setup comprises a glass walled observation unit consisting of a single comb containing a queen bee, workers and brood, together with an infra-red camera unit, and a supporting unit consisting of many combs of bees which is contiguous with the observation unit via a wire gauze. The supporting unit provides the normal temperature and humidity conditions of a complete colony, ensuring that conditions remain as normal as possible.
As an example of the use of this technique, the authors studied so called “hygienic behavior”, whereby bees genetically disposed to being hygienic, remove diseased pupae from the hive, in this instance due to infestation by the parasitic mite varroa. Although it has previously been clearly demonstrated that hygienic bees will remove pupae infested with varroa, the mechanisms whereby the bees identify that the cells are infested have remained unclear.
As described in the paper, the results of this study provide support for the hypothesis that bees are using foreign odors to detect the varroa mites and remove them from the hive.
IBRA Science Director Norman Carreck says: “This new technique will allow researchers to study undisturbed honey bee behavior, and will have many uses in bee research.” (IBRA News Release)