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

In few minutes, foragers recognize the new entrance and move in and out of the colony (Figure 2).

Figure 2. The arrow shows the new entrance

The Beecounter used at IZSLT count the number of bees entering and exiting the hive thanks to photocells (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Detail of the photocells able to count bees movements

Beecounters, once in position, can be left on hives for all the year and it is possible to download data through WIFI or a USB cable.

Let’s give a look at the outputs: in figure 4 are shown the inputs (green bars) and outputs (red bars) of a very strong colony during summer time. A total of 122’667 movements in the hive and 136’920 outside.

What happens? During the night? They are not bees flights, of course, just bees moving through the Beecounter for different purposes like temperature control, guard, etc…

Figure 4. Colony activity during summer time

In figure 5, another colony during winter time (Rome, 25 December). Very few foragers moving, only during the hottest hours.

Figure 5. Colony activity during winter time

Did you know that the entrance of a strong colony is more crowded than the biggest airport in the world?  More than 100’000 flights every day!

Stay tuned on INSIGNIA website for the updates!