INSIGNIA at the world beekeeping congress

Norman Carrack presented the INSIGNIA project in front of the world’s beekeepers and scientist at the Apimondia congress running in Montreal in September. The aim of Apimondia is to connect science and beekeepers all over the world. More than 5.000 participants took part in the 5 days congress. Several parallel sessions on exciting beekeeping issues are discussed. More than 500 posters were presented. A huge exhibition on beekeeping material attracted lot of beekeepers. And the beekeeping world award, showed how competitive beekeepers are to produce the very best products on honey, mead, wax, inventions, books etc. Technical tours and visits are taking place as well. This is the right place to disseminate the INSIGNIA project, discuss and getting response.
* Flemming Vejsnæs

INSIGNIA: Applied science with impact

The INSIGNIA study aims to be applied science with impact. The prerequisite of impact is sharing knowledge with stakeholders. The INSIGNIA stakeholders are on one hand the European beekeepers and on the other hand the beekeepers’ organizations and the lobby/pressure groups on bees-bees welfare-pesticide-environmental-interaction-pollination-conservation. The latter stakeholders are informed by regular notes about the achievements and progress we are making in the INSIGNIA pilot study. The beekeepers will be informed via the European beekeepers’ magazines.

Today the first note to the beekeepers’ organizations and lobby/pressure groups have been sent. The notes to the beekeepers magazines will follow soon.

Sjef van der Steen

How much pollen does a colony need?

In Flemming V’s blog of last week, 35 kg pollen was mentioned as the amount a colony collects. Is this realistic, too much or too few? Rortais et al. (2005), reviewed the bee’s pollen consumption literature comprehensively and noted 10 up to 55 kg collected annually per colony. Crailsheim et al., calculated the annual pollen consumption in two colonies to be 13.4 and 17.8 kg respectively in colonies of about 25 000 bees in June-August. Wille et al., recorded 10 to 26 kg pollen per year. It obviously depends on the colony size, colony development, environment and pollen type. For example, pollen of maize is consumed in about the double amount compared to mixed pollen, due to its relative low percentage of nutrients of the whole pollen grain. The percentage protein of the dry weight is comparable to mixed pollen (Höcherl et al, 12012). Obviously, there is no fixed amount a colony could or should collect to grow, maintain and function. Nevertheless there good studies available to assess the annual pollen need for a colony. Based on the aforementioned Rortais et al. (2005) article, a nurse bee consumes on average 65 mg pollen and a worker-larvae 5.40 mg. Consequently, a bee consumes in her life minimally 70.4 mg. This is the average estimation, double amounts have been reported as well. In the aforementioned Crailsheim et al study the pollen consumption per day was 3.4 to 4.3 mg. In a 30-days life span of the summer honeybee this is approximately 115 mg in her lifespan. Another approach to assess pollen consumption is presented in the review article of Keller et al., (2005a). It is the assessment of pollen consumption based on nitrogen (N) in brood and bees. Pollen is the solely N source in the bee’s diet. To convert N to pollen, it is assumed that the pollen protein contains 16% nitrogen, that pollen contains 20% protein and that the digestive efficiency is 80%. So, for 10 mg N, it takes 62.5 mg protein; for 62.5 mg protein it takes 312.5 mg pollen and by the efficacy of the alimentary process it takes 390.6 mg pollen consumed by the bee. Taking all this into account it takes 125 mg pollen to raise a bee. The N in the bees after emergence, increases by 0.86 mg. The 0.86 mg N correspond to 39 mg pollen. So in total each bees required minimally 125 + 39 = 164 mg pollen as N loss by defecation is not taken into account. Counting the bee’s active and reproducing period on 200 days and the average life span of a bee of 35 days (Steen et al, 2012), it takes 200/35 = 6 generations. To maintain a colony of on average 15000 bees, 15000 x 6 = 90000 bees are raised. The number of bees raised annually and the calculated amount of pollen required are summarised in table 1.

The 35 kg mentioned in the beginning is the amount required for a big colony and is an optimal estimation. Amounts varying between 15 and 25 looks more realistic. Again, it all depends on pollen type, environment, colony development and yes/no pollen trap. Depriving colonies from pollen stimulated pollen collection. It is up to the beekeeper to maintain an adequate pollen flow. To check whether the pollen stores are sufficient it simply takes a rough estimation of the surface/ number of beebread cells in a colony. A healthy normally sized colony needs / consumes per day about 0.5 to 2 dm2 (200 – 800 half-full beebread cells). Another simple estimation is weighing the harvest of the pollen trap. It must be taken into account that the efficacy of the pollen trap varies between 10 and 50% (Keller et al., 2005b).

Crailsheim, K., Schneider, L. H. W., Hrassnigg, N., Bühlmann, G., Brosch, U., Gmeinbauer, R., & Schöffmann, B. (1992). Pollen consumption and utilization in worker honeybees (Apis mellifera carnica): dependence on individual age and function. Journal of insect Physiology, 38(6), 409-419.

Höcherl, N., Siede, R., Illies, I., Gätschenberger, H., & Tautz, J. (2012). Evaluation of the nutritive value of maize for honey bees. Journal of insect physiology, 58(2), 278-285.

Keller, I., Fluri, P., & Imdorf, A. (2005a). Pollen nutrition and colony development in honey bees: part 1. Bee world, 86(1), 3-10.

Keller, I., Fluri, P., & Imdorf, A. (2005b). Pollen nutrition and colony development in honey bees—Part II. Bee World, 86(2), 27-34.

Rortais, A., Arnold, G., Halm, M. P., & Touffet-Briens, F. (2005). Modes of honeybees exposure to systemic insecticides: estimated amounts of contaminated pollen and nectar consumed by different categories of bees. Apidologie, 36(1), 71-83.

Steen, van der, J. J.M., Cornelissen, B., Donders, J., Blacquière, T., & van Dooremalen, C. (2012). How honey bees of successive age classes are distributed over a one storey, ten frames hive. Journal of Apicultural Research, 51(2), 174-178.

Wille, H., Wille, M., Kilchenmann, V., Imdorf, A. & Bühlmann, G. (1982). Pollenernte und Massenwechsel von drei Apis mellifera-Völkern auf demselben Bienenstand in zwei aufeinanderfolgenden Jahren. Revue Suisse de Zoologie(4), 897-914



Sjef van der Steen

35 kg of pollen per year

Do bee colonies make pollen stores? Yes, they do!

One of our old very valued scientists in Denmark Orla Svendsen long time ago made the nice picture with a big pollen bag on the roof of a bee colony to illustrate the consumption/need of pollen as protein supply for a production honeybee colony. Literature claim different values, but he claimed a colony needs around 35 kg a year. Sjef van der Steen (personal comments) did some very nice calculations on this subject that does support this saying 30-35 kg. This is a lot. Continue reading “35 kg of pollen per year”

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