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Runway lights for honey bees

Yesterday, Tricia over at Apiarylandlord (UK) told me about another method for moving bees a short distance. She wrote in part, “If you are moving them significantly less than 3 miles and more than 3 feet, you might like to use a trick I read about . . . [The author] said that he could break the rules [by placing] a long painted white board (e.g. a wooden plank about 2-3 metres long and 8-10 inches wide) leading to the hive entrance for a few days beforehand. I pictured this like runway landing lights. Then moving the hive by steps of about 15 feet became possible if this ‘landing strip’ was also moved.”

Interesting idea. Many of us have wanted to move a hive only ten or twenty feet. Any of the standard methods such as moving them three miles away and then back again—or even locking them up for three days—seem like overkill. Tricia’s method takes advantage of visual clues that are close to the hive.

Jurgen Tautz in his book, The Buzz about Bees says, “Bees use earthbound and celestial cues as aids to orient themselves outside the nest, and will make their way from one landmark to the next along each part of the journey to their goal. For this they use trees, bushes, and other conspicuous features in the landscape . . .­ During [orientation flights] bees leave the hive each time in different directions, and so map the location of the nest relative to its surroundings” (p. 89).

Tautz also explains that, “Hive markings in the form of patterns, such as horizontal or vertical bars, better aid the bees to find the correct nest” (p. 79).

Also relevant is the fact that “Shape and color are not learned as quickly as odors, taking three to five training sessions to achieve proficiency” (p. 84).

Putting all this together, you can see how a long board painted a bright color might help the bees locate the correct hive if its new position is relatively close to its previous position, and if the bees have had sufficient time to accept the board as a landmark. It might be even more helpful to paint it with high-contrast stripes—such as black on white—much like a zebra crossing.

I haven’t tried this method, but next time I want to move a hive a short distance I will definitely give it a try and let you know the results.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Zebra crossing: will it work for bees? Flickr photo by Dan Crowther.

Comments

Neil
Reply

A trick I heard was to move them, then give the hive a powerful kick. The theory being that it’s like a lightning strike or a tree falling down which resets the bees’ navigational coordinates. The next morning they emerge and reorient themselves.

Rusty
Reply

Neil,

Have you tried this yet?

Sergey
Reply

I read somewhere that it is good idea to create a “landing strip” for the bees especially if they need to be moved to new home (my case). It was suggested to use blue color, since bees recognized it more easily (their vision is in UV spectrum). Since I did parallel blue-white stripes at the entrance to my Kenyan hive, I decided to change pattern in another hive – I guess, my creativity was at low that time because I choose center blue triangle (tip facing outside) and made stripes parallel to the sides of triangle … Well, yes, they follow stripes when take off … and collide in air since triangle… even now, most crowded place at the “landing deck” is a blue triangle… They love it! In both hives they follow the stripes especially when landing, thus, stripes need to direct into the hive – perpendicular to what is on the picture above and don’t do triangles… With these stripes, we moved hives 100 feet or so without any problem.

Rusty
Reply

Sergey,

I was wondering about the orientation of the stripes. That is good to know. So I’m thinking of blue stripes along the length of a white board.

Sergey
Reply

Exactly – they follow the lines!

Jessica
Reply

What a great post and thanks Sergey for posting your experience. For many urban beekeepers moving the hives just a little bit can be important – “ooh, that spot two feet over gets a bit better morning sun now that the neighbor’s tree has grown up a bit more”, or “really need to put that shed there, hrm” so we’ll be sure to share this with our fans and followers too. Thanks again for the info!

Sergey
Reply

Jessica,

You are very welcome! Bees – are non-stop entertainment to me… always something new… yesterday we had a rain (not usual for SoCal) and I made entrance in Kenyan hive small to prevent water from entering the hive. Well, today, I discovered a few thousand bees was flying around the hive… I was thinking swarming or … whatever…, no, just traffic jam because reduced entrance… like our famous 405 freeway…

Bill
Reply

I used this method and it works. Move the hive in the evening after foragers are back. Place some brush in front of hive in its new location. Just enough brush to cause a reorientation flight prior to leaving the hive area. After a few days, remove the brush.

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