This is the text of an article I hashed together for our local beekeeping association newsletter
Could we soon be going Doolittle on our hives? Will we receive text messages telling us our hives are hungry or about to swarm? Perhaps some of us wouldn't like to hear the anguished starving screams of our hives, like a version of the unsatisfying Roald Dahl adult story The Sound Machine. (http://wikischool.forumetudiant.net/t313-the-sound-machine-by-roald-dahl
In the mid 1960's E.F Wood invented the Apidictor;
“Sound engineers are familiar with a phenomenon known as the ‘cocktail party effect’. This is the ability of the human brain, in a room full of chattering people, to pick out and concentrate on one conversation, not necessarily the loudest. Eddie was blessed with this ability and it served him well when listening to the medley of sounds that his microphone picked up in the hive.
One sound that caught his attention was a sort of warbling noise that varied between the notes A and C sharp; that’s 225 – 285 Hz in terms of frequency. He noticed that this sound got steadily louder, then it stopped and a day or so later a swarm took off.
Eventually, he decided that it was made by the 4-1/2 to 6 day old nurse bees, his reasoning being as follows:
In a normal colony there are about 4,000 nurse bees, half of which feed the brood and the other half, the queen, who eats 20 times her own weight in a day.
When a colony decides to swarm, its first action is to reduce the supply of food to the queen in order to slim her down into a condition for flying. This puts some of the nurse bees out of work and reduces her egg laying. Hence, a few days later, there are fewer larvae to feed so more nurse bees become unemployed and the whole process is progressive.
The nurses have to get rid of the energy that would go into food production so they probably stand there exercising by flapping their wings, fanning in fact, but how do we account for the peculiar frequency?
In flight, an adult bee flaps its wings 250 times a second but when fanning, it grips the comb and this brings the frequency down to 190 Hz. (Hz is just an abbreviation for Hertz which is the engineer’s word for ‘times a second’.) However, a young bee’s wings do not harden completely until it is 9 days old and until then the resonant frequency is higher. It may be that 4-1/2 day wings resonate at 285Hz and the 6 day old ones at 225Hz and the sound is a mixture of single frequencies rather than a collection of warbles from individual bees.
Eddie built a simple audio frequency amplifier with microphone and headphones and incorporated what is known as a bandpass filter. This allowed the frequency band 225-285Hz through to the ear and blocked off the rest, making it easier to hear.
Note that the flight frequency of 250 Hz falls in this band which is why the tests should be made in the evening after flying has stopped.
Eddie stressed that the warble does not necessarily indicate a swarm; it indicates that the queen has gone off laying and there could be other reasons. In any case, it means a brood nest inspection is needed.
If you give a hive a knock with the flat of the hand, the bees hiss at you and this is something that Eddie listened to very carefully. Under normal conditions it is a short sharp noise, lasting about 1/2 a second, starting and finishing quite suddenly; the bees are alert and defensive. If a swarm is in the offing, the bees are in a happy-go-lucky mood, the sound is not so loud, rising and falling less sharply. Eddie described this as a loyalty sound and he fitted another filter to help pick it out.
With this instrument he found he could get up to three weeks warning of swarm preparations and was alerted 10 days before queen cells were started.
He fitted the instrument with a 3-position switch for listening to the normal hive noise, the warble and the hiss. With added refinements he called it the Apdictor, patented it and marketed it in 1964, selling about 300 worldwide.
The reason it never caught on, I suspect, is because most beekeepers were non-technical and very conservative. How often have you heard them say, “It was good enough for my father and it is good enough for me”? Nevertheless, those beekeepers who mastered it swore by it and some are still in use today, 36 years later. Last year I was instrumental in getting faults cured for two users who were anxious to get faulty ones working again.
Today we live in a more technical world with advances in miniaturisation, chips and so on and I think such an instrument would be more acceptable.
Indeed, my vision is of a detector in every hive with a little transmitter that sends a signal back to base whenever the warble exceeds the critical level.
Having ‘inherited’ many of Eddie’s papers, I have been able to study his work over the years, have written a small book about it and can supply technical data if anybody happens to have an Apidictor that needs repair.”
- T.R. Boys
As Eddie said
Whilst on the subject of Apidictors, I would like to mention that we have approximately two hundred instruments in the field. With this number of owners, we are beginning to obtain reactions to the application of electronics to beekeeping.
I am most gratified to have reports of successful use of the instrument. One of the most impressive occurred when one purchaser complained that the instrument was "over-enthusiastic". Our representative visited him and checked and predicted that seventeen out of twenty colonies in one apiary contained queen cells, even specifying the stage of development of the cells, a test which required only a few minutes. The manual examination, requiring hours, showed that indeed, the situation was as predicted. The three colonies which the instrument showed no swarm preparations were found to be clear.
On June 18, another member of the firm, a non bee-keeper, tested in about fifteen minutes a sixty-colony apiary, during a gale of wind, most unfavourable conditions, and diagnosed sealed queen cells (but swarm delayed by weather), several swarmed colonies, some queenless, and one drone-breeder, all of which the owner either confirmed, or which were checked as correct immediately. This test took place in the apiary of a purchaser, to whom the particular Apidictor was delivered just before, and who had asked to be instructed in its use.
I am also reminded of an experience at Aldershot some years before with an obsolete instrument. I was asked to demonstrate on two colonies, which the owner stated to be "clear". The weather at the time was fairly typical of summer, a violent thunderstorm. The diagnosis was: one colony a few days from swarming, the other superseding. All present professed disbelief, but a summer parasol was erected, and, in opening up the hives, both colonies were found to be exactly as Apidicted.
Nothing further seems to have happened for another 40 years and then two different but similar ideas emerged. The first is noted in the Proceedings of American Bee Research Conference, Hershey Pa 2013
11. Seccomb, R.A., C.B. Henderson,& J.J. Bromenshenk. AUDIBLE CUES TO STRESS IN HONEY BEE COLONIES. Bee Alert Technology, Inc., 1620 Rogers Street Suite 1, Missoula, MT 59802
Investigation into honey bee response to sublethal exposure to airborne toxicants showed that honey bee colonies produce unique and characteristic sound profiles when exposed to different toxicants. Furthermore sonograms from different classes of toxicant were distinct and could be statistically differentiated at near 100% correct classification. Using these findings we explored whether other stressors of honey bee colonies induce similar identifiable sonographic profiles. We collected recordings of samples from free-flying colonies having verified conditions that included queenless and Africanized colonies as well as CCD, foul brood, small hive beetle, Nosema, and Varroa infections. Each of these conditions produced similar, unique sonographic profiles. We have developed an artificial neural network algorithm that uses these sonographic profiles to quickly assess the presence of these conditions. Using a microphone probe to make a 30 second recording, our instrument correctly identifies the presence of these conditions and the intensity of the infection with better than 85% reliability. Prototypes of our device are being tested in the field to further refine and improve the instrument’s reliability in advance of its release for general use.
The second was noted in the online newsletter Catch the Buzz
Measuring the Buzz in the Hive
Honey bees may soon be able to communicate their poor health to beekeepers as a result of major new UK research project that aims to transform beekeeping and halt the decline of the sector in Europe.
A consortium – led by Nottingham Trent University and the Bee Farmers Association of the UK (BFA) – has launched a €1.4-million (US$1.8-million) European Union-funded study to monitor and decode the buzzing of bees in the hive and pass crucial information to beekeepers via wireless technology.
The research also involves the European Professional Beekeepers Association in Germany and the National Institute for Agricultural Research in France.
The researchers have developed a hi-tech method of using accelerometers – devices sensitive to minute vibrations – to detect and translate the vibrations caused by bees during their activities and as they communicate with one another.
This means the researchers now can monitor when a hive is about to swarm and as a next step they are investigating changes and patterns in buzzing which may indicate specific health disorders, or deterioration in the hive.
They are developing methods to transfer wirelessly instant alerts to the beekeeper, either via email or SMS, so that they can intervene and manage their colonies.
The research is expected to significantly improve the efficiency of beekeeping, making it far less time-consuming and costly, as well as improving the health monitoring of the honeybee.
Beekeeping requires physical visits and regular inspections of every single hive by Europe’s 600,000 beekeepers who have to nurture their bees, regardless of conditions.
Beekeeping generates more than €400 million (US$520.8 million) a year in Europe, but only 54% of the total demand for honey and other bee products is produced on the continent.
Bee populations and beekeeper numbers in Europe have been falling at an alarming rate and honey imports to the EU, from countries such as Argentina and China, have risen by 20% since 2001.
“Despite its importance and the obvious potential for growth, serious problems face the beekeeping sector,” Nottingham Trent University physicist and researcher Martin Bencsik says.
“Action to bring modern management tools to beekeeping and action to halt the decline of the European beekeeping sector is urgently needed, particularly as bees play such a vital role in agricultural productivity. We now have the potential to achieve this.
“Our tool will allow us to remotely diagnose colony status without the need for systematic invasive opening of individual hives for inspection. Commercial beekeepers will be able to keep more hives over greater geographical distances, which will both increase their efficiency and profitability.”
BFA research and administration officer David Bancalari says this could be the golden hour for bee farmers.
“For years we have been struggling to improve the health of our bees,” he says. “We know early intervention is crucial. This research could give us those vital, lifesaving early signs of problems allowing us to tend to our bees much sooner – giving us the equivalent of the golden hour in human first aid.”
After reading this article I sent of an email to Martin Bencsik, just in case he wasn't aware of the other teams work, and also in the hopes of encouraging collaboration. It would be a crying shame if in the near future we had to choose between two good devices or apps, rather than one fantastic app that allowed our bees to help us help them.