Two much excitement for one day

Turned into an interesting day today with two bits of news.

Getting Sensitive

First of all I was contacted back by Zettlex - a small company in Cambridge who make "non contact" distance sensors. Their systems are very small and light, based on magnetic resonance, and can very accurately measure the distance between the sensor and an 'antenna' device attached to a moving object.

Now, before you go thinking I'm sticking sensors to bumblebees, I'm not! (That's next year's idea!) ☺ 

The plan, actually is to mount a sensor on the wax moth trap door, so that when it is in use (see below), the movement can be detected. 

bumblebee using the wax moth flapI wasn't sure if Zettlex would have been able to supply such a small, single unit, but they have very kindly offered to help me out - so the least I can do is sing their praises! 

Of course, there will be a lot of work still to get the sensor working, hopefully integrated with the iobridge platform so I can get realtime data and alerts out to the internet and beyond. I'm actually really excited about the possibilities, because over and above tracking simple activity data, such as start and end times of the day, I may be able to get data about how the flap is actually used: for example, how long it takes a bumblebee to master its usage. 

Hitting the screen

Even more exciting news came this afternoon with confirmation that some of our footage has made it into the final "Britain in a Day" film. I'm mentioning it here, because although we submitted several hours worth of material we know that the piece that has been selected concerns our bumblebees. It's actually a lovely segment, filled with emotion and despite its short length, a strong storyline and message; which is probably why it succeeded in being picked.

I don't want to give away too much, so that's all I say; but if you are in the UK, the film should be showing on BBC2 on June 2nd 2012. 

Here's some information about the whole "Britain in a day" project:


Britain In A Day is a major new project designed to capture a unique snapshot of Britain on one day, and people from all corners of the United Kingdom are invited to take part.
On Saturday November 12th we asked people in Britain to film something that captures the intimacy and singularity of their life and to upload it to a dedicated channel on YouTube. With the support of executive producers Ridley Scott and Academy Award winning Kevin Macdonald, director Morgan Matthews will use the rich trove of material submitted to craft a feature-length documentary film that captures the variety and vibrancy of life in Britain today. 
The result will be broadcast on BBC2 next year in the run up to the Olympics.
The idea is based on Life In A Day, the global, user-generated feature film produced by Ridley Scott’s company Scott Free London and directed by Kevin Macdonald. 80,000 videos were submitted to YouTube by people all over the world, wherever they were and whatever they were doing. The result was a powerful and inspiring portrait of the world on a single day. 

We feel privileged to have been selected and are really looking forward to seeing the whole film. If it turns out anything like "Life in a Day" (the original global version) it will be brilliant!



The Internet of Bumblethings - Tech Update

We've always had a strong technology angle on our project - if nothing else, it has made the whole thing far more enjoyable by allowing us such intimate observation in the lives of these amazing creatures. But actually, more than that, it has allowed us some fascinating observations and data collection that sheds (some possibly new) light on their normally private and underground existence. 

A lot is known about bumblebees, but that doesn't mean everything is - and particularly as the climate and macro and micro environments change, so too bumblebees are surely affected. So, we feel that observing, collecting data and reporting our findings is also an important part of our project - and the technology is a big part in that.

There's a fun side to it too - From the outset I've wanted an internet connected bumblebee nest (see Internet of Things), so that we can remotely monitor data, but also do fun things, like have the bumblebees send tweets. This kind of technology, while seemingly frivolous, is actually an important part of our future, in terms of environmental understanding and monitoring. It's the kind of technology that is monitoring habitats, storms, oceans, tidal waves, severe weather and so on. Someone has to explore the "art of the possible" so that we can understand and predict our planet better. 

For our first year I dabbled a bit with some "interconnectedness" - got a few tweets coming out of the CCTV system when it detected movements, but it really was dabbling round the edges. I was also comtemplating a new system called "Twine" which provides temperature and movement detection in a small plastic "soap bar" that can connect to the internet. But it's expensive.

For this year, however, I'm excited to discover iobridge. This clever little modular system connects to your network and internet and a whole range of different types of sensors. You can easily configure its operation and rules through the iobridge website and cloud service, as well as get the system integrated with other webservices, and of course twitter :-) 

iobridge - creating the "internet of things"I plan to document what I'm doing with this on my technology page rather than within the blog, so it's all in one place. 

Suffice to say, there are a lot of possibilities with a connected bumblebee nest, for example:


  • warnings of temperature too high / too low
  • measuring activity levels and correlating with weather and light
  • measuring light levels and entrance / exit behaviour
  • counting bumblebees in and out


The beauty is, all this data can be published on an online dashboard, viewed on the iPhone/iPad and also integrated with other services, as well as sending alerts and messages via email and twitter etc. There really is huge scope to monitor and collect some great data, and completely automate the process. I can even embed some of the realtime data in other websites, such as this blog. 

I've been making good progress so far getting it configured. For example, I have an LED which is green before sunset and red after sunset (so we know when the bumbles should be in), a small alarm that goes off if the temperature gets above 30C (and tweets some warnings in advance), and I'm currently working on counting the breaks in a light beam so we can start to count the bumbles coming and going. 

Can't wait to get it all hooked up in situ!

Weekend Update 2

It's pretty much been a bumble-filled day today (sunday) as well. I was determined to catch up on as much as possible. 

Updates to observations

The observations page will probably never be finished, but it was definitely lacking a few items I'd forgotten and some photos and videos. So, I've added some information about trip times, some more video and some extra pictures plus a few other bits and bobs. 

New Tumblr

I decided I wanted an immediate way to share photos, especially those taken in the field, just as a way to get more close up and personal with the lives of our bumbles. Although I can upload to this blog via the iPhone it's not really quite as immediate, and you don't necessarily want to write an article for just a single picture). So, I've created a tumblr page at 

More Data

Sometimes life feels like a constant stream of data - mainly because most of my data capture is manual at the moment (though improving in areas). So, I'm constantly playing catch up and this weekend was no different. However, I've managed to skim another 2 full days of CCTV and count all the trips and new memorisation flights. 

So, for 18th and 19th April in our beepol nest (2012B1) we have:


  • total trips = 275
  • total memorisation flights = 44
  • total Queen trips (included in above number) = 18
  • total Queen memorisation flights (included in above number) = 7


If we add this to existing data for the first two days, it gives us a total of 180 memorisation flights (i.e. colony of at least 180 workers) and 12 Queen Memorisation flights (thus we assume 12 new queens!)


Another Patient

I went outside today to cut the grass and just before I did so checked the live CCTV for anything nearby. Lo and behold a small bumble struggling to fly. I went to her rescue and tried to help her to the nest, but she was determined to make a break for it and fell to the floor. I decided I should rescue her and add her to the two we already have indoors.

She has the same disabilities as one of the others - exactly the same leg and wing not developed, so she cannot fly. She's slightly larger though. I added her to the box with the others and all seems to be going well. From what I have seen they are all having a good drink as required. 


Our third inpatient for 2012 - quenching her thirst on some spilt honey water



We all want cool air

When we went to check the nest last night, there were two bees actually resting in the entrance tunnel. This scuppered our plans to have a good check of the nest and really figure out what was going on with our Queen - who we saw inside the nest, still, between the wall of the wooden lodge and inner cardboard box. We have a picture from the previous night though - the Queen is not visible but she's down the edge on the far bottom left. 

 late night nest check

Given that she's previously spent all her time hidden away under the bedding, brooding, this is a major shift in behaviour; although of course, we've seen her wanting to leave and not succeeding, so we know that all is perhaps not well. 

Anyway, we took a decision to partially lift the lid quickly just to look for her, rather than check everything. She was in the same place, still still. The likely prognosis, of course, is that she has sadly died in the box - possibly she's even got trapped between those sides and run out of energy. I cling onto the slim hope she might have started hibernating there, but it's extremely unlikely. 

The other bees are still working the nest though - I saw four in action yesterday and three today: large, "baby" and "tiny" (or venti, grande and tall as Starbucks would call them). 

They are starting quite late now - 9.52 yesterday and 9.51 today - how about that for timekeeping!? It was another scorching day, in fact the UK record for October temperatures was broken. So, although the bees have wonderful weather for foraging, the light and length of day is not so good. And our nest is (deliberately) in the shadiest part of the day. We already discovered that their behaviour is triggered by light and temperature change, so it's not surprising they are starting significantly after sunrise.  They are finishing about 10 minutes before sunset. 

Overall activity rates are dropping though, certainly in terms of number of trips. This is not just because they are spending longer on each trip finding pollen (although for some bees that is true: our big bee spent 4.5 hours out foraging on one trip yesterday). But also because they are spending more time in the nest. Whether this is due to temperature or some other reason, I don't know. I don't imagine there is any hatching going on, so there is no requirement for them to be in the nest from that point of view. 

There is also no bee collecting regularly honey water (the one that was died) which is use to fill the honey pots. Again, they won't be needing them now anyway if nothing is hatching. So that doesn't explain the time in the nest either. Maybe they are getting old and tired. 

The last four days the trip count has been: 23, 17, 12, 13 - quite a tail off. Maybe they've twigged they dont really need the pollen! (Bombus Terrestris are known as "pollen collectors" - they gather pollen all the time, regardless of how much is needed). 

What we've also seen the last few days is "fanning" - when the nest gets hot some of the bees will go near the entrance and "fan" air into/through the nest. To be honest, one lone bee doing this in our lodge will have minimal impact, but they are still conditioned to do if needed. The biggest bee in the nest has taken main responsibility for this and actually started at 9:53 - for about 10 minutes at a time. 

There's at least one also sleeping near the entrance tonight again - which is preventing us getting into the nest at all. Perhaps they are feeling the heat and like the occasional waft of cool air. 



She's leaving home

It's been another eventful day in several ways.

Firstly, we were able to confirm that the drowned bee we rescued, which then 8 hours later showed miraculous signs of life, pulling herself to her feet and moving for 20 minutes, didn't make it. We tried to warm her up and get her dry and even offered some honey water. But she was unable to get to it, with her tongue trapped under her body and not enough strength the raise her head. She's been completely still now for 24 hours. 

Back in the nest, the day started quietly, in terms of activity. Our "stop out" bee, which normally comes back at 6.30 in the morning didn't show up till 8.35 - that immediately signalled something different about the way the day was starting. Indeed it seemed colder, despite (or indeed because of) the clear blue skies and bright sun. 

A lot of scraping and scratching sound was coming from inside the nest, as well as some high pitch squeaks. I'm starting to equate this with the emergence of new bees. Not necessarily hatching, but drying out and preparing to leave the nest for the first time; a process that can take a few days. 

Just after 9am big mamma bee came up on top of the bedding and rested right in front of the infra red camera, no doubt to keep warm; she stayed there till 10:45. There was very little activity during this time, just one or two mid-size bumbles taking a few foraging trips.

As we headed towards midday, the activity levels increased. The little baby bee in the nest, who worked so hard yesterday, started her trips at exactly midday, remaining unseen until then. Her exit from the nest allowed us to confirm the existence of a new tiny bee in the nest. I'd had a hunch about this yesterday and the 'squeaking' earlier in the morning I think might have been attributable to her. The final proof of her "newness" would be to see her leave the nest for the first time.

Prisoner in her own home

During this time, big mamma was appearing regularly on camera. It became apparent she was trying to leave the nest. She was absolutely huge, larger than what we remember and she struggled to climb toward the nest exit, falling back under her own weight time after time - it wasn't good to watch. Then, of course, we realised she'd be fattening herself up now in readiness for hibernation and that would explain her increase in weight - clearly her strength no longer matched her weight. Consequently she spent a lot of time scratching at the join of the lid and base of the lodge - and I realised this accounted for a good deal of the scratching sound we'd been hearing. 

She never made it out of the nest all day, despite hours of trying, but it was very obvious to see she wanted to exit. Sad though it seems, for it surely signals the end of brooding and stability in the nest, it is of course Nature's intended course. Indeed, we are surprised (if not a little worried) that she's stayed in the nest this long, as time is running short for her to find somewhere to hibernate. (Although we could probably keep the nest at a good temperature for her to survive the winter in, it would not be a hygenic environment: full of dead bees and unhealthy interest from other insects.) She may also have been missing her supplies - it was the drowned bee that had had the responsibility for bringing honey-water into the nest. We were baffled as to why such quantities were involved for such a small colony, but of course it's obvious now - Big Mamma was building up for winter.

Big Mamma trying to leave, but unable to find the strength to climb to the exit 

Much as we'd love her to stay, it was agonizing to see her "trapped" in the nest, so our plan tomorrow is to insert a small piece of card into the lodge that will provide a step to the exit - that should allow her to leave. Our only hope is that she is fit and well and will find somewhere to hibernate and is not leaving to go and die. She does seem to look as healthy (as much as we can tell from the CCTV). 

First Flight

At 13:19 our newest member of the colony tenatively climbed to the entrance. She turned and launched backwards as all new borns seem programmed to do. She was in flight! She circled close to the entrance and kept close to the nest, memorising everything she could see, gradually rising in height and wider arcs. We could see her easily on all 3 main cameras (1 newly positioned) but BCW was able to see her through the patio window - a tiny black speck against the sky. The in moments she was off up the street, the same way all the others go. Amazing and beautiful. 

She came back at 13:32 (without pollen) a trip time of 13 minutes - just enough for a first flight.

Overall activity

As per yesterday, I decided to collect some activity stats today, here are the main ones:


  • Total number of trips: 47
  • Trips by "baby bee": 13 (down from 21 yesterday)
  • updated average trip time for baby bee: 22 mins (stdev 6.67)
  • updated average pollen turnaround time for baby bee: 4.7 mins (stdev 2.27)


Activity levels were very clearly down and Baby Bee was pretty much responsible for all the pollen collection. Our newest "baby" addition didn't make any more trips after he inaugural flight. 

Most of the other trips are by a mid-size bee that never seems to collect pollen. In fact it takes honey water from the entrance every few minutes, but flies back out of the nest; Then every 30 minutes or so comes into the nest proper for a minute or two, then leaves, and repeats the whole cycle. So, it spends most of its time outdoors, just coming and taking honey from the entrance. This is the same bee that chooses to stay out of the nest every night. We have no real explanation for this behaviour - but our theory is, it's a boy and he's just having the easy life, and is probably not too welcome in the nest. Though we're at a loss to explain why he goes into it at all every half hour or so!

Tonight we are going to look into the nest for the first time in 3 weeks. We feel that disturbing it at this stage will not adversely affect the natural course of events, as we fully expect our Queen to leave tomorrow with a bit of help and the natural decline of the colony will set in. In a way it's a sad final chapter - but boy, it's been some journey getting here!