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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:


The Mysterious Queen

It's been another few weeks since the last update, for a couple of reasons. Apart from anything else we've been away for a while, but more significantly, there has been very little activty in the colony. We haven't looked in at night yet - we will soon - but I'm convinced that we're actually down to under a dozen bumblebees alive in the nest. Even on the warmest of days, activity is confined to a few trips per hour, rather than a few per minute. 

It's a bit unusual, but the weather has been so atrocious that the early peak of our nest (20 queens produced in April) has been totally out of sync with the food supply. Lots of rain and wind and unusually cold temperatures for May/June have kept the bumblebees trapped in the nest for extended periods of time and ultimately it seems they have perished. 

However, we have not written everything off yet - we have learnt that bumbleworld is full of surprises and Friday (June 8) was no different. For a few days I'd seen what I thought is a bufftail male scouting the nest, looking for a mate. The behaviour is distinctive - flying around the outside of the nest and especially checking all the edges where he can smell the nest. Then he tries to get into the nest, but he has more trouble with the wax-moth flap than the nest inhabitants; although he does eventually manage it. 

But that's not the most intriguing thing, because it actually seems that on Friday there was also a queen in our nest. You can see from the picture she is at least 2 "squares" in length (nearer 2.3) which would make her 20 - 23 mm in size - definitely queen size and definitely the largest bee we've seen in a while. 

A lone queen appears in the nestIt's not clear if she has come from the nest or come from outside, although most likely she has come from the nest. Nor is it clear whether she is the "mother" queen of the nest, or a later "daughter" queen that has just been born.

All things being equal, the latter would be the norm, as we would expect queens to be hatching now to synchronise with the arrival of the males. However, things have not been normal! We don't know if the early brood of queens from the nest was all our "mother" queen would have laid, or whether she would go on to lay another brood, of which this would be one. 

Or indeed, could this be our "Mother" queen, leaving the nest, perhaps to die? We saw that happen last year too, with two queens. What I can say is she did leave the nest, and I've not yet seen her come back or back inside the nest. That still doesn't narrow things down, so we have to watch and wait and see whether she may have mated, whether she comes back, or indeed whether she has any sisters yet to be born.