Counting bees…thanks to Beecounters!

written by Marco Pietropaoli, Giovanni Formato, INSIGNIA Consortium

For the INSIGNIA project (“Environmental monitoring of pesticide use through honey bees” PP-1-1-2018) ( our laboratory in parallel with other project partners from Denmark (Danish Beekeepers Association), Netherlands (Stichting Wageningen Research) and Latvia (Latvian Beekeepers Association) is carrying out a small field trial to check the relation between colony size and forage activity in order to calculate the exposome.

How to count honey bees flying out of the hive? Thanks to Beecounters!

They are light plastic boxes with a micro-processor powered with a 12V current (Figure 1). Just put them at the hive entrance, power on and that’s it!

Figure 1. Beecounter positioned at the hive entrance

Continue reading “Counting bees…thanks to Beecounters!”

The colours of pollen

The colours of pollen do much the RAINBOW! Different plants, different pollen grains, different colour of pollen and aromas, this is the paradise of  bees’ life! But it is not only the beauty in the colours of pollen as you see in this combination picture.

The more colourful your pollen is, the more nutritious  it is! and this has been proven many years ago. Of cource there are exceptions and there are some plants that can be very very nutritious alone, as the Rubus sp. for example, but usually mixed pollen is better for the bees health as well as for humans. I suspect that you eat pollen, right?  Think that 2 teaspoons of pollen and 1 teaspoon of honey every morning can give you the energy you need for the whole day!

Fani Hatjina

INSIGNIA Sample collection Greek tour No 2!!!

On our way to meet the Citizen Scientist we pass from Volos (see previous post), where we saw this beautiful ancinet ship ‘ARGO’. Maybe, the treasure for ancient Jason and his Argonauts was the Golden Fleece (kept in Colchis by the father of Medea) but for us it was the pollen and bee bread samples colelcted for 5 weeks by the Citizen Scientists.  And for sure we did not travel to collect them by ‘ARGO’ as Jason did during the mythical times!  Ouaou, isn’t  the right moment to say that Science meets History? 

Back to the laboratory though the next day, it took us several hours to separate and register the samples, as well as to prepare them to be sent to the analytical laboratory.  Laborious task indeed but pleasant, as you can see 1, what samples the CS collected at every time point; 2, the way the samples were stored and prepared; and 3, how much effort is required to have these samples ready for analysis! Colours of pollen so different!  We just hope the results will be great and informative!

Fani Hatjina

Sample checking and processing

All samples collected by our citizen scientists have to go through the hands of each country’s national coordinator prior to shipping them to the corresponding labs in Greece, Spain and Portugal. The national coordinator checks the information on the sample bags (sample ID, the sample date and the bee colony from which the sample stems from) and compares it to our backup system (LimeSurvey answers). Afterwards, the sample processing takes place as it was described in a previous post:

Part of the pollen samples from Austria ready to be analysed for botanical origin by the Portuguese lab.
Part of the pollen samples from Austria ready to be analysed for pesticide residues by the Greek lab.

Kristina Gratzer

Honey and wax samples to compare results

Our citizen scientists were asked to sample some honey of their last honey harvest to compare the results to those of the pollen analyses. An alternative option was to cut out about 5 x 5 cm pieces of the honey combs. Latter has the advantage of not only honey, but also beeswax samples. Analyzing beeswax and honey are also common matrices to learn more about pesticide residues or pollen sources. Let’s see, what we will find out.

Three honey samples from an Austrian INSIGNIA beekeeping site (photo used with permission by Gruber J.).

Kristina Gratzer

Choosing the right pen is everything

The samples on the picture came from a very reliable and motivated citizen scientist (CS) but during the checking process of samples through the national coordinator, we recognized that the used pen got blurred during sample transportation. Miss-matching samples are a catastrophe for the labs and the future results! This is the reason, why it is so important to have a backup system and to stay in close contact with the citizen scientists. Within the INSIGNIA project, every CS  answers an online LimeSurvey questionnaire after each sampling date dealing with sample IDs, the date of the sample collection, phenology, possible problems, colony strength etc… With the help of this system, it was possible to assign each sample the right sample ID, bee colony and the right sample date.

Nevertheless: CHOOSE THE RIGHT PEN!! 🙂

Illegible sample bags

Kristina Gratzer

INSIGNIA and Murphy’s law

According to Murphy’s law “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong” or in this case, “whatever can break down, will break down”. Last week we had some thunderstorms in Graz (Austria). The stormy weather was the reason, why we were surprised by an adapter, that was ripped in several pieces, the next morning.  As the “outside tubes” were also gone, we had to insert new ones.  Luckily and thanks to Duck tape, the broken adapter could be fixed and mounted very quickly.

Broken adapter: a storm was the reason why the “outside tubes” disappeared and why the adapter broke down.
Broken Adapter

Kristina Gratzer

INSIGNIA Sample collection Greek tour No 1!!!

Pollen and bee bread are very sensitive to high temperatures and light , meaning that it is important that they are kept in cold storage immediately after the moment they are collected till the moment they will be analyzed for pesticide residues as well as for their plant origin using molecular methods. Therefore the most promising method of transferring the pollen and bee bread samples from the CSs’ places to the National Coordinators’ Lab, in our case at the Division of Apiculture in Nea Moudania Greece, is to transfer them inside a big box filled with dry ice!
And this is what we did. We travel to the place of 3 out of 4 Greek Citizen Scientists in order to collect the samples they have been collected from their 3 colonies since almost the beginning of May. July is the month for thymus honey ccollection (from Thymus vulgaris mainly, but also from Thymus capitatus, Thymus atticus or Τhymus striatus) in areas near the see but also Castanea honey (from Castanea sativa) collection in the mountains.

Great opportunity to meet the Citizen Scientist, discuss with them and travel around in beautiful places as well as historical places. Because you cannot miss stopping in Thermopiles, where the Leonidas with his 300 Spartans and other 700 Thespieis, faced the Persian huge army at 480 BC!

So here we were, almost early evening, when the 2nd sample set arrived to meet the samples already in the box with the dry ice, secure.

Then we enjoyed a relaxing walk in the port of Volos a beautiful city in Magnesia region, from where the ancient Jason started his trip with ‘Argo’, but more on this in the next post.

Colony strength assessment

The amounts of substances, detectable in a colony, depends on how much is bio-sampled outside. This is directly linked tot he number of foragers. Therefore part of recordings done in the Insignia project is colony strength assessment with Image J. To do so the number of hive entering bees is counted with beecounters during about one week and in this week all frames with bees are photographed. The number of bees per photograph = one frame side is calculated by recording the surface covered with bees. One cm2 is covered by 1.25 bees (Delaplane, Guzman-Novoa, Steen, 2013).

These recordings are done in Rome by Marco and will be done next year in Denmark by Flemming, by Valters in Latvia and by Ivo and myself in the Netherlands. However want to join, please join.

With the colony strength data and number of hive entering bees, we study the linkage between these two parameters in order to have a simple citizen science tool that the colony strength can be assessed by counting the beelanes between frames of specific sizes. That is why the question of frame sizes and occupied bee lanes is added to the lime survey.

Keith S Delaplane, Jozef van der Steen & Ernesto Guzman-Novoa (2013) Standard methods for estimating strength parameters of Apismellifera colonies, Journal of Apicultural Research, 52:1, 1-12

Sjef van der Steen