Locating honey bee colonies is obviously essential for any researcher wishing to collect data from naturally occurring or feral populations. This is important for a variety of research interests whether they are determining nest site selection, population densities (see section 4.3 on bee density), collecting samples of bees and other nest constituents, determining parasite loads, studying colony strength, etc. Locating colonies is also important for people who utilise the various nest constituents of honey, pollen, brood, wax, and propolis for food, medicine, or craft. Different cultures throughout history have developed and utilised methods of tracking and ‘hunting’ honey bee colonies that vary from random searching for colonies to following honeyguide birds (Crane, 1999). Most methods, however, including those used in current academic research, follow the flight paths of honey bees to their colony of origin, known as beelines.
A beeline is defined in this section as the direct flight path taken by foraging honey bees to and from their colony’s nest, to and from any particular foraging resource (e.g. flowers, water, propolis, etc.). Beelines are established first by worker honey bees called scouts that locate the resource. Using the waggle dance in the nest, these scouts will communicate the location of the resource to other foragers in the colony (von Frisch, 1967; Seeley, 1983). Once foragers have located and travelled to and from the resource enough times, remembering its location, they fly the most optimal path; and this same path is taken by many foragers. Thus, the beeline is established and can be present for as long as the foraging source is available. Beelines are often quite direct and are essentially a straight line to and from the colony’s nest.
There are essentially only three steps associated with locating wild honey bee colonies by beelining. They are 1) establishing a beeline, 2) following the beeline, and 3) locating the honey bee nest. This section details these steps from practiced methods used in Vaudo et al. (2012 a, b) and references listed below. This method has been optimised to potentially locate multiple colonies from a single foraging source.