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.