9.2. Hive setup

Modern experimental observation hives usually consist of either two or four standard Langstroth "deep super" frames. To construct the hive:

1. Build a rectangular hive framing of parallel wooden bars with notches to hold the Langstroth comb-frame lips.

2. Space the comb frames ~0.95 cm apart; this leaves enough space to allow bees to pass between the edges of the frames, but not so much that the bees are encouraged to build additional comb between frames.

3. Leave the same space between the sides of the comb frames and the hive side bars.

4. Include a wooden hive top bar to connect the hive sidebars together.

5. Include wire-mesh covered ventilation holes in the top and/or side bars of the hive to allow free flow of fresh air in the nest.

6. When bees cover these holes with propolis from time to time, clean it away.

7. Attach removable glass or Plexiglas® front and back walls to the parallel wooden side-bars to allow for viewing of the frame surfaces; again, leave ~0.95 cm space between the comb surface and the viewing glass to allow bees to move freely on the comb surface, but minimize additional comb construction, which can obstruct comb viewing (Graham et al., 1992).

8. Complete the hive with a tube, port, or runway connecting the lower part of the hive to the outside in order to allow bees to forage naturally.

Hives can also be connected to enclosed flight rooms; however, flight rooms increase forager mortality.

9. Install a "background" colony in the observation hive approximately one week before beginning an experiment to give the bees time to adjust to their new environment.

The size of your observation hive depends on the available space; note however, that larger hives can be used for longer studies.

When using a two-frame observation hive design (Fig. 20A):

10. Include one comb frame containing brood (50 %-75 % capped) and pollen, and one empty frame (drawn or foundation) for honey storage.

11. Add a queen and 1,330-1,530 workers from a queen-right colony to the hive (Siegel et al., 2005; Starks et al., 2005).

When using a four-frame observation hive (Fig. 20B):

10. Include 3 frames consisting of ~75 % brood in all stages of development and ~25 % pollen, and one frame of honey and empty comb cells.

11. Add a queen and 4,500-5,000 workers from a queen-right colony (Calderone and Page, 1991).

Regardless of size, a hive should be installed in a highly regulated environment:

  •  Maintain the observation room at 21-30 °C.
  • Because natural hives are dark inside, the room should be kept dark or the hives should be kept covered when no observation is being performed.
  • Red light can simulate a dark environment, as honey bees do not perceive red light (Backhaus, 1993).

Focus bees must be tagged individually (see section 2.3.). Tagged bees are introduced to a colony by carefully removing the wire mesh from a ventilation hole in the observation hive and gently pouring the bees in, or by placing tagged bees on a platform in front of the hive entrance and gently blowing smoke on the bees to "herd" them into the hive.