Article image

A gentle tap on the hive reveals honeybee health

Keeping tabs on honeybee colonies can be tricky, especially during the winter months when they become inactive. Traditionally, beekeepers have relied on opening the hives to assess their health, which can be disruptive to the honeybees. 

But now, a study from Nottingham Trent University offers a bee-friendly alternative: a gentle tap that can reveal a hive’s health without needing to peek inside.

Monitoring honeybee health with vibrations

The method involves gently introducing a vibration to the hive using a special device called an electromagnetic shaker. 

The shaker basically gives the hive a small nudge to get the bees’ attention. To see how the bees react to this nudge, the researchers use an accelerometer – which can pick up even the tiniest movements inside the hive. 

By measuring these movements, the researchers can tell how active the bees are after feeling the vibration.

Honeybees’ reaction to the vibrations

At first, the bees tend to slow down their activity, likely because they are being cautious and want to figure out what’s going on. However, after a while, they become more active as they try to understand what caused the vibration. 

By looking at these patterns of how active the honeybees become, the scientists can actually figure out the overall health and well-being of the entire bee colony. 

Signs of a healthy honeybee colony

In the summer, honeybees do not react much when researchers introduce vibrations. This is because they are focused on essential tasks like collecting food and raising young bees, which are crucial for the survival of the colony.

However, things change in the winter. As the weather gets colder, the bees huddle together to stay warm and become less active. During this time, the bees become more sensitive to the same vibrations and react more strongly. 

This increased sensitivity and the resulting “whooping” sound, which the researchers observed earlier, are signs that a healthy colony is adapting to the cold temperatures by clustering together.

Evaluating the health of a honeybee colony

The new method not only measures bee activity but also provides clues about the overall health of the honeybee colony. The researchers monitored several beehives and noticed that one colony buzzed constantly throughout the summer, even during periods when bees are typically very active. 

This particular colony turned out to be the only unhealthy group in the study, suggesting that the continuous buzzing might be a sign of poor health.

Further investigation revealed that the struggling colony had lost its queen in the spring. The abnormal buzzing pattern stopped and returned to normal after the colony was successfully reintroduced to a healthy new queen.

Revolutionizing beekeeping

“Our measurements reveal, non-invasively, colony mobility, the clustering of the colony and its restfulness, and can detect the absence of the queen in the active season,” noted lead researcher Dr. Martin Bencsik, a scientist at Nottingham Trent University.

“We believe our work might also help to give beekeepers an indication of the size of their colonies, based upon the strength of the signal.” 

In the future, the technology might even be used to create tools that constantly monitor beehive health. This would give beekeepers immediate information about their bees, allowing them to address problems quickly. 

Even beyond beekeeping, the research could be helpful in understanding how the environment affects bee health. This information would be valuable for scientists who are studying ecology and conservation. 

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.


Like what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter for engaging articles, exclusive content, and the latest updates.

Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and


News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day