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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:


bust or boom?

Ten days ago we'd seen a mystery "large lady" in our colony, and she definitely looked like a queen.

I tracked her movements for a while, but she seemed very interested in the outside, while at the same time exhibiting that "never been out before" behaviour of appearing a little nervous to leave, spending time on the front inner wall of the lodge (perhaps to warm up and sense the environment).

The next day I saw her leave the nest and after that I never saw her come back. So the mystery remains, was she definitely a queen, and if so, a daughter or the founding mother? We'll never know.

The colony had been set back so far by the inability to forage (due to weather) that it was still in decline and up until a few days ago I was estimating there were only a maxiumu of 5 bumblebees making themselves known in the nest. Though we did have this "hanger on" (literally) outside for quite a while - possibly a boy hunting a queen.

 

Today (20th June) was a much warmer day though - it was already about 24C at 9.30am. This encouraged more activity in the colony and after reviewing the CCTV I could see more trips being made, albeit by a small number of bees. However, the other unusual observation was one or two (seemingly) new larger bees. I'm pretty certain there are two in there at least. One made itself known last night, almost stumbling around the lodge, at one point looking like there was bedding all stuck to her tail.

No evidence of the debris today, but two larger bumbles were mooching around in the nest, and one of them flew at one point, even performed what looked like memorisation, but only partial. The size is about 20mm so they are right on the edge of large-worker vs. small queen, so I can't be sure if they are queens.

So, just as I was about to monitor the colony for its final "death" it's turned up a surprise, and who knows, maybe a resurgence in activity is on the cards?