I spy with my little eye

For the last few days I have been looking at the overnight DVR footage each morning to see if there are any interesting. Here's a few things we have noticed:

1. Starting the day

The first bumblebees start to emerge from the nest around the time the sun starts to shine directly on it. We can tell this because when the sun shines directly into the nest (it faces East) it triggers the internal camera to switch off the infra-red and we can see this happen on our video recordings. It's around this time we then start seeing the first bees heading off to fields. It's also easy to see them exit the nest as when they enter the entrance tube, they block the sunlight momentarily and the camera switches back to infra-red. This appears as a kind of "flashing" effect on the video and gives us a second or two notice that a bee is about to emerge! 

This actually ties in with behaviour we saw with our queens when they used to emerge from the front nestbox at around 10am. Although this box faced North, it was around this time that the sun would shine off our window and bounce directly onto the nestbox entrance. This currently suggests to us that the bees' outdoor exploratory behaviour is triggered by the levels of sunlight entering the nest. It probably stands to reason, but the beauty of observing in the 'wild' rather than in a lab is we can see this correlation more directly. 

2. The first trip of the day is the "paper run"

At the time of writing (mid May) our bees are first emerging from the colony at around 7am in the morning. As it happens, over an hour before that, we saw a Common Carder bee on the lavender right next to our nest. We don't know if being an ealier riser is symptomatic of their type, or just down to the location of their nest, light levels and so on. 

Assuming, however, that we don't have any bees staying out overnight from the nest (a possiblity if they get caught out in bad weather), then we can pretty much time how long these early bees spend out when they first leave. This morning we were able to count about 4 out and 4 back in between about 7.30 and 8am.

On average they were spending about 15 minutes away from the nest. They are not coming back laden with pollen at this time, perhaps just partaking of a light organic breakfast!

3. Young are hatching in increasing numbers

We cannot see the hatching area inside the nestbox. The main reason is the camera is not pointing at it! - but that's because we were unable to find it. The true layout of the box will not be revealed till the end of the season when we can deconstruct it - but it seems that most of the action is happening below a rather sturdy (possibly supported) layer of nesting material which we cannot get access to.

However, we know that young are hatching because we are seeing them leave the nest. And we know it's the young leaving the nest because they perform a special "memorisation" and "landmarking" routine when they leave the nest for the first time. 

This is quite a fascinating and recognisable routine, so I've put some videos together below - the first one shows their behaviour close the entrance as they memorise it. The second one (about 30 seconds in) shows the wider circling behaviour as they map out the landmarks in the nearby area:

Between 7am and Midday we counted about half-a-dozen new bees today - a record so far.

We also observed one or two bees actually performing this type of behaviour on the way IN to the nest (you can see one at the end of this video). This has us slightly baffled - at the moment our best hypothesis is that perhaps these are bees on the first time back to the nest and they are re-affirming their memory of the nest, double-checking they are not heading into the wrong territory. Pure speculation on our part. 

There's not much time to sleep

 We can use the motion detection feature on the DVR to monitor how much activity occurs in the nestbox during the night. We were very interested to see if the bees ever really went to sleep or carried on being busy throughout the night. What we've observed is that there is less activity during the wee small hours of the night but they never really stop completely. The quietest time is between 2am and 3am - during that time, for example, there might be one or two bees during the whole hour that come into view of the camera. Outside of those hours the rate is higher. 

At some point I'm hoping to count these up and produce some firmer stats (unfortunately this is a bit of a manual task). The intention is also to correlate the daytime activity with weather data also. 

It should be borne in mind that our camera is not in the heart of the nest, but pointed over (we think) the sugar-water wick used for drinking/feeding. So, the night-time activity we see is likely to represent feeding behaviour rather than whatever-it-is might be happening deep inside the nest. One of the behaviours we also see at this position appears to be night-time perimeter patrol. These are bees that traverse the edge of the box, sometimes nudging others out of the way, but don't stop to feed or tug on the nest material. 

The idea of a security patrol is not entirely ludicrous. We have already observed on several occasions, after disrupting the nest, a lone bee coming to inspect the damage and survey the scene. Mpst revcently, when we inserted the camera into the nestbox and re-opened the hive entrance, a bee came into that entrance and sat there as if on "lookout". It didn't come out onto the box to inspect it, but just sat in the entrance, blocking it and watching us. It was a bit uncanny really!


Of course, we don't have full scientific explanations for all the activities we see, so it's easy to anthropomorphise the bee behaviours with Human explanations. On the other hand, bees are social animals, so it makes some sense that there could be roles that aid the stability of the colony.