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!
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!
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.
Building a tube system
- left of the 2nd heather in from the right
- between the 2 grass pots on the right
- to the right of the rightmost heather pot
We're still being plagued by wasps attacking our bumble nest even though the brush on the beepol hive is preventing some of them getting in; some of them are smart (or at least persistent) enough to break through and find away in.
We hastily tried a plastic flap stuck to the box and very quickly reversed that decision as it was clear it wasn't fit for purpose.
The key issue is that the entrance hole on the lodge is set back from the resting ledge and tucked under the roof, close to the side; there's no space to create anything sophisticated.
So, at the weekend I decided to try a design that extended the hole (using is wedge of wood with a hole drilled through it) and stick the flap to that. It worked a lot better, and certainly kept the wasps out, but so too all the bees had a bit of trouble with it: in most cases we ended up helping them in and out. I didn't want to take any risks over them failing to get in and then deserting the nest.
So, tonight I began my third attempt. This time the plan was to build a complete fascia to mount onto the lodge, with a tube to the entrance behind the fasica, and then an entrance vestibule with sloping (i.e. gravity powered) plastic flap. It was quite a lengthy process to build, just from cardboard and some plastic cut out from packaging. Here's what I built:
We tested it tonight - and although the fit is good, we discovered the first problem: it's useless in the wind! Flapping wildly, a brave wasp managed to easily get inside the nest (although heaven knows why it was out in such inclement weather).
So, wracking the brains for the next design..
below is a short video compilation of a few clips from recent CCTV that caught our attention - it contains the following clips:
- A bee that climbs out of the nest onto the box and then falls off! No idea what was happening there!
- A bee flying out of the box into the morning sun - I just like the way it's backlit against the sun
- Two bees leaving the box on after the other, turning round then taking off in reverse
I was rather bemused by the two bees that came out of the box and took off in reverse, wondering why on earth they would do that. And especially why two would do it in succession. Then of course it dawned on me (almost literally) - it was just at the time the sun was shining directly onto the front of the box, so I surmise they are avoiding the glare of flying directly into the sun and are instead launching in reverse.
Is this a known behaviour?
One of the things that we read about early on in our project was the fact that bumble bees will memorise their nest the first time they leave it by doing "navigation circles" around it. These are a series of circles of increasing size and distance, where the bee looks at the nest and observes the landmarks around it.
On a few occasions we had queens that we attempted to nest and when they left the nest we thought maybe they had shown this "navigation" behaviour. However, there is nothing like seeing the real thing for sure to know what you are looking at.
I found a great piece of video on the DVR this morning that showed one of our bees in close up coming out of the nest for the first time and spending about 20 seconds up close memorising the entrance. After this, she would have circled at a further distance and height to take in the surroundings properly. (Of course, now she would have the benefit of our "runway" :-) )
So, I already had some iPhone footage attempting to show this circling from a longer distance. So, I've edited the two clips together so you can see what the entire behaviour looks like. It's unmistakable and the behaviour we had seen with earlier queens really did not come close - none of them really memorised the nest entrance like these workers do, even though they circled up to half a dozen times around the nest area.
My own theory is that the circling we saw with the queens was more to do with them getting their own bearings - bearing in mind (no pun intended) that we'd transported them from the nest site they were hunting down, into our own nest box. Quite possibly a confusing process for them. It makes sense they would have to get a handle on their location once exiting our nest box.
Anyway, here's the video...
Although in the close-up segment our worker is out of shot for some of the duration, you can still see her shadow cast on the nestbox itself. She also moves very quickly so appears to dart about rather than move smoothly.