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We created the World's first tweeting bumblebees, and now we've won the Internet of Things Award (Environmental) 2012! Thank you to our readers for your votes!

Introduction

Our Bumblebee nesting project started in 2011 as a bit of conservation to help the declining bumblebee population by encouraging one (or more) to nest in boxes in our garden. We discovered it's not easy, and our project quickly evolved into an ongoing and intimate study of these amazing creatures, which we are sharing here for the benefit of all. 

Amongst our unexpected successes are: 

  • A short clip in the film "Britain in a Day" by Ridley Scott (Broadcast by the BBC in 2012)
  • Featured in Wired Magazine for creating the World's first tweeting bumblebees
  • Winner of the Internet of Things award 2012 - Environmental Category
  • Oldest recorded age we can find of a worker Bufftailed Bumblebee - at 103 days

We've discovered, observed and collected a sizeable amount of real-world data, still being analysed and written up (Overview here). Additionally,

  • We've sourced several live colonies from commercial providers and have been looking after numerous disabled bees indoors.
  • We've learnt to recognise individual bees, spot specific/individual behaviour patterns
  • We measured efficiency and can predict some of their behaviour triggers. 
  • We have some CCTV cameras pointing at the nestboxes and inside
  • You can also follow BeeBoxALula on twitter where our bumblebees tweet live for themselves!

Insights

We're also using tech to monitor the lives of our bumblebees - visual, audio, temperature, sunlight, weather. We can see how the environment impacts their behaviour and understand, capture and share the marvels of their secret lives.

As a species under great threat, we've brought the critical study of Bumblebees into the Multimedia age and revealed intriguing and new insights based on direct observation.

You might want to start with our project summary or project motivation.

Blog:


2 up, 2 down

Another hive of activity today - and that was just us! 

The main activities were:

  • catch some new bees to introduce to the nest, since BB7 and BB8
  • buy a "Blue Tit Rhododenron" which we identified as being very popular with Bumbles
  • check we had the ants under control (which seems the be the case
  • try out sugar/apple sauce for its attractiveness to Bumbles (nothing conclusive to report yet)
  • upgrade our automated irrigation system to cope with all the new plants
  • produce a youtube video of Bee8 in her box

 First job was a trip to the garden centre to get the irrigation gear and the Rhododendron. BCW (Bee Catching Wizard) had assured me it was a perfect plant for attracting Bumblebees (even though it is not on the suggested BBCT list). Well, even as we carried it through the garden centre, we had a Bufftail land on it and take a ride.

 A Bufftail taking a ride on our RhododenronOnce home we went out bee-catching again; we are getting a feel for a good time, usually between about 2.30pm and 4pm. I'm starting to take lots of temperature readings to see whether there is a correlation between temperature levels and bee nest-searching activity. At about 3pm we were able to find two redtails quite easily (not to mention seeing one in our own garden, searching in the longer grass). 

For once I accompanied BCW and I also caught a Redtail of my own, so we came home with two together. My Redtail (BB9) looked a little more agitated so we introduced her to the front nestbox straight away, she was well behaved and went straight in without fuss. She was off camera for a while and then became visible and was scratching around and cleaning as all they all seem to do. At one point it looked like she was burying down into the bedding, but she did a circle and came back where she started!

While I kept watch BCW introduced BB10 to the back nestbox and kept watch for a while. We have no camera in that box yet, so sadly we can't really be sure what happened once we stopped looking. 

Meanwhile BB9 at the front had decided to leave quite quickly (after 20 - 30 mins). She gave the impression of another little spiral as she left - we can't really work out if this is a navigational thing or not. I'm not 100% convinced - it doesn't seem as though the bee is really taking it all in! Just a hunch :)

So BCW went off there and then to catch another bee. By now it was about 4.30. After an hour and a half she had had no luck. By this time the bees seem to be quite frantic to bed down, so even if you do see them, they are more frenzied and much harder to catch. 

Meanwhile I was working on upgrading our automated irrigation system. Phase 1 and 1.5 of this was completed some time ago, but all the new plants and the addition of the nestbox at the back has created more plants to water over a wider area than before and the old system was not capable of supporting this. The plan is to provide a main irrigation supply round all four edges of the garden, which we can then tap off at any point to water any pots, wherever they are. The water is controlled automatically and we will be adding a water butt in due course. 

Irrigation Pipe being buriedLegacy Pot-watering system around nestbox 2

We also learnt what "bee flys" were today (bombylius major) as we have been seeing lots and wanted to identify them. It's a never ending journey of education!