Now here comes the science bit

A quiet day on the bee front today. BB6 didn't come back as I suspected. Although it was a beautiful day to start off with, by the afternoon it had clouded over, so I'm not sure there was going to be much activity anyway.

However, the was some activity from the postman - he delivered the new tech from Maplin! Always good to get new tech. Today's delivery consisted of the gear to make an infra-red spotlight (hello mr. soldering iron!) and a laser-guided infra-red thermometer. More on that in a moment. 

Infra-red floodlight kitThe idea with the floodlight kit is to light the area around the nest and allow some light to leak inside the box to help with the vision on the camera in the box, which is sensitive to infra-red. I guess if I'd been better prepared I'd have infra-red emitters mounted inside the box itself, but this is a starting point; besides we need to see if the bees object. 

If you search on the internet you can find information about what wavelengths of light bees can see; some of it is a bit mathematical. The bottom line is, basically, they don't see infra-red. Their vision is very much skewed to the Ultraviolet end of the colour spectrum and they possibly see up to 600nm (nanometres) wavelength of light. This is an orangey-red colour. 

The light I will be using is 850nm - well above the limit of their range (and indeed, humans).

There is the question of whether they will sense heat from the infra-red. I need to do more detailed research on different wavelengths, but what I discovered was that infra-red from the sun accounts for about 500w of heating per square metre of the earth. (This is about half of the 1kw of total heating that other wavelengths account for).  This floodlight will be filling an area much larger than that (perhaps 5 times) with perhaps 1W or 2W of light. Overall this is about half a percent of the Sun's energy so I feel this is safe and unlikely to affect any bees. Of course, I shall monitor it closely to confirm whether this is the case. 

It could well be that the additional heat is beneficial to them, at least on colder days; makes me wonder whether an infra-red floor in the box would be nice and toasty for them! 

Measuring the temperature

The second piece of tasty kit is the temperature sensor. Oh how I love it!

Infra-red temperature sensorThis clever device basically lets you point at an object in the distance and measure its temperature when you pull the trigger. It's amazing! It has a very rapid response time and also remembers the max temperature at the time; so you can actually sweep the room with it and easily find the max temperature. It's laser guided too, so you can accurately point it at your target. The closer you are, the smaller the area it measures of course. 

I've been testing it out and it's amazing how different surfaces and materials store and radiate heat. This afternoon, anything metal was cool, whereas the paving stones on the path were actually warmer than the ambient temperature (having stored heat while the sun was out). It seems possible to measure ambient temperature from the air although really it is designed to measure surfaces. 

I tested it against the thermometer in my room, pointing it at the surface of the thermometer and it tallied within 0.1 degrees, so I am happy and confident it is fit for purpose. 

So, what is that purpose? Well, basically I want to be able to measure and track the temperature of the nest boxes. Obvsiouly on the outside, but by pointing through the entrance hole, also potentially on the inside. This will serve a few purposes. 


  • If we ever get a bee colony it will confirm the temperature they operate at (30 degrees) which will satsify my curiousity!
  • Before we obvisouly get bees, we may be able to tell whether we have a queen in residence if we can detect any temperature shift. 
  • I can start to correlate outdoor temperatures with the activity of the bees in general. 


All of this will add to my own body of research, even if it's all well understood by the scientific community already. As a starter I took some readings today. At the time it was 22 degrees ambient temperature, but the box was at about 17 in the shade. The path was 24 degrees and where the sun was shining on the window, it was over 30!

In fact, I was quite amazed by how variable the temperature was all around me - it just goes to show you can find heat (or cool) if you need to by moving around and finding a new place to rest (if you are a bee). I suppose this is obvious when you think about it, but it really brings it home when you actually measure. Sadly I couldn't afford a thermal imaging camera which would show this, as they start at about £3000!

Notwithstanding, this is a brilliant bit of kit!