New Nestbox

Our new bumblebee nestbox arrived today. It's been created by George Pilkington of Nurturing Nature, and has specifically been designed to tackle limitations of existing designs, in particular:


  • larger in size with improved venting
  • a wax-moth proof entrance system (plastic flap) which the bees (but not the moths) can learn to negotiate
  • a max moth capture system
  • sturdy, sustainable production
  • a red transparent viewing lid to provide viewing without interrupting the bumblebees


 The first job this evening was to paint/woodstain the box in order to protect it from the elements, as it comes untreated and will obviously have to survive unattended outside. We are just using Ronseal woodstain. 

It is actually going to take about 3 coats - which have to be finished off in the morning. Then I need to consider how/where to fit a camera inside and a thermometer. Given this box has the red viewing lid, we could probably live without the camera, but I would rather have it available if possible, not just for convenience, but because we can capture activity we might otherwise miss.

We have also decide whether to leave the entrance as is, or adapt it with some tubing into the lawn. The jury is still out on that but 5 metres of tubing arrived today, so we're covered if necessary. ☺



Settling In, looking in

A busy day of "project work" today, helping the new beepol hive to settle in. 

One of the main jobs was for me to finally complete the CCTV setup. I've used essentially the same configuration as previously:

video tech: click the image for a fullsize version

The CCTV system is more than mild form of passing entertainment - it has actually become the mainstay of our hive setup, providing the means to monitor the safety/progress of the bees and also provide research data about their behaviour. The main job today was to  fit the "entrance camera" which monitors the entrance and exit holes and is able to trigger motion/detection and recording. The mini camera is also infrared equipped so it can detect any activity at night (e.g. wax moth lurking). I mounted it on a small wooden beam "no more nails-ed" to the side of the bee lodge:

IR entrance cameraIt gives a great view of the entrance holes and in particular, during these early days, will allow us to check whether he bees are able to navigate the "anti-wax-moth" brush system. 

The full lodge setup now looks like this:

beepol lodge technology and camera setupThere are two external cameras (as seen above) plus one inside. A spray painted takeway box glued to the wall provides a convenient junction box, a-la "chocbox" - and protects the CCTV connections. The thermometer has yet to be mounted in the box, but that's something we have to do when we next open the lodge (which will be planned to encompass several jobs, including improving the seal between the base and the lid).

I am still contemplating putting a second camera inside the lodge to get better coverage of activity but for the timebeing we're at the limit of our CCTV system. However, I have also ordered a CCTV switcher from eBay to try. This will enable one of the camera feeds to actually support for cameras on a sequence, effectively extending our system to support 7 cameras. I've gone for the cheapest (simple) switcher for now (<£20) however I did contemplate a full 16 channel processor which would allow all manner of camera splits, picture in picture and motion detect. However since that would then provide for up to 19 cameras into one 4 channel DVR I felt I would soon quickly become frustrated by the mismatch in the system and the inability to record exactly the way I wanted to. So, my decision for now is to see how it goes with the cheap switcher and consider a 16 channel DVR as an upgrade for next year. 

I also tidied up the cabling (currently 5 cameras/cables being run round the garden) and routed some of it through some cheap "pipe foam" (for insulating pipes). This is cheap and easy to work with - though in full course I will install proper trunking. There is not much point switching to wireless cameras because the cameras still need power routed round the garden!

Wax Moth & Infrared

The additional external camera on the lodge further raises the spectre of whether the infrared has the potential to attract wax moth. I've done a little more research on this but there doesn't seem to be readily available conclusive information. The main text discussing how moths are atttracted to light and infrared is a book from 1972! It must be out of print because secondhand copies of it are about £70! Moths are attracted to flames and one theory is males are attracted because the infrared emissions from the flame are like the pheremones from the female. (Can't quite compute how 'light' is equivalent to 'smell', but there you go). 

It doesn't really matter if we attract males, because obviously these will not lay eggs in the bee nest. In general, however, evidence and experience seems to suggest that it's the ultraviolet end of the spectrum that tends to attract the moths (in common with most insects).

However, we don't want to leave anything to chance; so I decided to rig up the extra infrared light I was using indoors (to heat and light Holly's nest) on the garage wall to see whether anything is attracted to it. I also made another two wax moth traps (coke bottle with a hole in it, filled with vinegar, sugar, water and banana peel) to place near the light. Over the coming evenings we'll whether we catch anything.

Entrance Brushes

We are following the beepol advice to add brushes (made from paintbrushes) to the lodge entrance/exit holes. However, we are introducing them slowly by not fully sealing the entrance for the timebeing. The idea is to train the bees to use the entrance holes and get used to the look of the brushes and pushing their way past them whilst slightly ajar, before having to actually push right through them. From what we've seen on the CCTV they are not too keen at pushing through the brush when fully 'closed' (unless we have it too stiff) although we have seen one or two attempt and achieve it. So this is something we will monitor carefully over the coming days. 

We tried to follow the Beepol instructions for making the brushes but found it all a bit messy and that with one piece of tape holding the whole thing together, the bristles would just fall out and it was impossible to get it to a thickness that seemed strong enough to prevent a moth edging its way in. So we came up with a system of multiple layers each taped together. This worked well - possibly too well if we find the bees can't get through it! We'll report back on the final working design.

initial "brush design" for wax moth protection


Plan Bee

We are thrilled to have ordered a new bumblebee hive before the season is over!

After the demise of our Koppert Hive, we thought that would be that until quite by chance we discovered the Beepol range from a discussion on the Bumblebee Conservation Trust Facebook page.

Unlike the Koppert solution, which is mainly an industrial solution marketed and sold to farmers and growers, the Beepol system is very much more aimed at the home gardener and bumblebee enthusiast. (Sadly this is also reflected in the pricing with retail prices being higher than trade prices and the involvement of the retail "middle man")

The main hive is very much like the Koppert system, with a plastic inner nest and outer cardboard box. It is slightly less industrialised than the Koppert box, which means there are pros and cons. Pros: it contains a clear lid for viewing, which the Koppert box doesn't (so no cutting through the lid to insert a camera!) Cons: the open/close of the bee entrance is more fiddly, involving a foam bung and string. On the Koppert box this is done with a clever built-in plastic slider.

In most other respects, though, the boxes are extremely similar, with similar performance. The life of the Koppert box is stated as 10 - 12 weeks at upto 50 bees, but less accurate data is provided for the Beepol box, saying it might last anything from 8 weeks to "the whole season" (march - september) and ships with a Queen and 30 - 40 bees. At this stage we'd be hoping we can get 6 - 8 weeks life from it into September.

The nice thing about the Beepol system, again differentiating it from the more industrialised Koppert solution, is it has a matching wooden "lodge" to house the hive while it is active. This is something the Koppert system does not include and why I had to go about building a whole shelter system to protect our Koppert box in the garden. (When a farmer uses it, they just stick it in the field on a palette with some polystyrene over the top).

The lodge is a lovely, reusable home for the hive, that is attractive to have in the garden and allows easy access via a hinged lid. The other great feature is room to install a video camera inside (WOOT!) that will look down through the clean plastic hive lid. This is just perfect for the 4-camera set up we have. I will fix another camera onto the front of the box to observe the entrance.

The major, major concern at this stage now is how to control the wax moth that we know we have in the garden and have now learnt of the existence of our previous bees. We will have to take every precaution possible. This will include some DIY advice from Beepol about using paintbrush bristles taped to the lodge entrance/exits to provide a screen that the moths do not have the strength to push through. I'll be honest, I'm a little concerned that this heath robinson approach might not work well as it will be hard to determine what is ok for the bees, but not ok for the moth. However, at the moment Beepol say they are working on a productised solution and the DIY option is the best there is for now.

With that in mind, we have also ordered B401 Certan. This is a biological preparation that is harmless to bees, humans and honey, but will defend against the wax moth. We will spray the lodge and hive with a Certan solution. We will also seal all vents with tight webbing (which we used on our other nestboxes to prevent ant intrusion) so that there are no secret holes for moths to enter.

As with the Koppert Box we will also take precaution against ants by mounting the lodge on greased bricks. We will also have to monitor closely in the high winds we can experience in the Fens - this is why my shelter for the Koppert box was so robust, but also led to us not really examining the box once it was all in place. We will be more vigilant with this one.

All in all, it's quite a concern, but we will learn a lot and be able to share it with the bumblebee-loving community.

Can't wait to get our new bees!


Based on traditional bee hive designs, the Beepol Lodge has been hand crafted in the UK from durable timber grown on FSC plantations.
Bumblebee colonies do not continue through the winter in the same way as honeybees do, so each year a fresh new Beepol garden hive can be purchased and placed within the lodge, ensuring every summer you can enjoy the sight and sounds of British Bumblebees hard at work in your garden, grounds or golf course.
The Beepol Lodge contains one Beepol garden hive, which can be replaced with a new one when the hive comes to the end of its life and the new queen bumblebees have dispersed. It has a hinged roof for access and for viewing the Bumblebee colony within.
The Lodge has exit and entrance holes designed for the particular size and shape of Bumblebees and even a landing ledge for them to rest on, as they come back to the hive with heavy loads of pollen.
Each Lodge incorporates wooden legs to keep the hive off the ground and has an option for attaching a mini wildlife camera, so you can see your bees at work from the comfort of your home or office.
The Beepol Lodge is the ultimate wildlife feature for your garden, grounds or golf course, providing a fascinating permanent place of residence for your very own Bumblebee colony every summer.


Apian Autopsy

On Saturday 16th July we declared our Bombus Terrestris Bumblebee Hive (our first) closed for business. It had been dormant for 3 days; sadly silent, inevitably inactive.

In total it survived for 10 weeks (10 - 12 weeks being the stated life) - although during the last two weeks their was a steady decline from activity almost every 30 seconds, to once every 30 minutes, to a handful of events per day. It was very sad to see this happening, knowing that - although inevitable - something didn't seem right, and what was already a short enough life seemed shorter than it should have been. 

Koppert Box

The nestbox/hive was a commercial hive from Koppert. It consists of a carefully designed plastic "tub" insided a protective cardboard box. "Tub" is a bit of a dis-service to the main nest box actually. In fact, it is a carefully and beautifully designed space for the bees to nest, with

  • a large supply of sugar water
  • all the nesting material they need
  • pollen to get started
  • a two-way exit/entrance and a one-way entrance
  • a built-in "shutter" to control the entrances
  • carefully designed ventilation system

koppert box removed from shelter


We allowed for the fact there might still be some live bees in the box. To that end we prepared one of our wooden nest boxes with nest material and food supplies so that we could transfer any surviving bees to a new home. we also bought some cheap kitchen tools for scraping and grabbing; they were very low cost so that we could dispose of them afterwards if they could not be satisfactorily cleaned. 

table prepared for examination and transfer of live beesWe also kept all the video cameras on the CCTV system running in case anything interesting happened. There is one inside the Natupol box, one inside the wooden box and one on the table.

Opening the box

It was difficult to get the cardboard lid off the box - we discovered this was due to the sticky silky fibres of wax moth that had invaded the nest. We had suspected this had happened, leading to premature failure of the colony; and I had seen evidence of moths inside the hive on the CCTV on a few occasions. 

This video gives you a good idea of what the inside of the box was like when we opened it up. 

There were no live bees in the box. Below are the other main things we observed

Wax Moth

 The wax moth larvae (catepillars) are self-evident on the video. Their cocoons and trails are extremely sticky and tough and it was very hard to get the box lid off (we ripped it) and remove their cocoons from the inside of the box. We were veyr disappointed to find them inside the nest, though took some comfort from the fact it was not totally destroyed within. Indeed, most of the wax and a good deal of honey was intact and the wax moth larvae were concentrated in two places: top left of the box (near the CCTV camera) and underneath the heart of the nest, embedded into the polystyrene insulation. 

This does beg the question whether our infra-red internal camera might have encouraged the wax moth and provided better conditions for growth (the latter almost certainly being the case). I need to do more research to conclude whether it is safe to have the infra-red camera inside the nest. (The bees, by the way, are not adversely affected by it). 

Wax Pots / Honey Pots

I was quite surprised to see the vast quantity of wax pots intact within the nest, having expected the wax moth larvae to have consumed it and for that to have then explained the rapid decline of the colony.  As you can see from the pictures, this was not the case - and indeed, there was a sizeable reserve of honey. 


Theories, then, for the decline of the colony would include possible desertion (which I believe I have evidence for on CCTV) and dysfunction of the nest caused by the wax moth silk - e.g. preventing bees from hatching and moving freely about the nest. 


Something we observed during the life of our nest was bees assembling in the corner under the camera to die. We wondered if it was coincidence or a true pattern. We discovered it was indeed  a pattern - firstly, here is a video from earlier in the season where we saw one bee dragging another one to this corner:

We saw this behaviour repeated on the CCTV. When we came to open the box we found this in two corners:

 dead bees in box cornerYou can see that a large number of bees have collected in the corner - two corners were like this, the other two clear. They were also rather "charred" - although one corner was under the IR cam, the other was not, so my theory is actually that this is also where they go to the toilet (certainly the remnants on the box suggested so) and that there has been a chemical reaction (which is what happens with manure in a compost heap). Other than those bees that never emerged from their pots, there were very few dead in amongst the nest, which suggests the bees act like "good citizens" and organise themselves a "graveyard" to die in. I find that amazing. 

Unhatched Bees

One of the more upsetting aspects of our discovery was the unhatched bees. With wax-moth silk threaded and webbed through the wax pots, they were very constricted and at first we thought this probably accounted for the apparent high mortality rate amongst hatchlings. However, after thinking about it some more and photographing the wax pots that were salvageable, I was struck by the number of them that had been broken open and had developing bees inside. I concluded that this may well have been part of the damage the wax moth created and would explain why many didn't hatch perhaps.

It's both fascinating and sad to see partly-developed bees in the wax pots, curled up and forever asleep. 

 Very noticeable are the white, downy strands of hair that cover them. we didn't find any that were very small, like Holly, who was the most incredible survivor. Apparently temperature, if insufficient, stunts growth: Holly was born very early on and perhaps in the young nest the temperature was not so high. All of the bees I observed during this examination were well developed in size, if not fully developed in features. 

Is that Fifi?

FIfi was our Queen Bee, named by my niece; but of course we never got to see Fifi as she was delivered in the box and stayed in the box throughout her life - all this work as an unsung heroine! We think we may have seen her once or twice on the CCTV camera traversing the corner of the box, though it was very hard to tell.  we are reasonably confident this is her in the middle of the picture as this is the biggest bee we found; you can see she is markedly larger than all the others. 

The remains of Fifi

Next steps

There were no live bees in the box, so we took the opportunity to take it fully apart, destroy all wax moth larvae as best we could and then clean everything later using detergent and a jetwasher to blast everything clean. Of course, we also took photos and I preserved some of the recoverable bees and wax pots to photograph more closely (as per the pictures of the unhatched bees above). This is our surviving record of our colony.

We will keep the Koppert box. Not only is it a wonderful piece of design, but it's also a high-performance nest space! As a minimum we'll have it as a spare for next year, in case we have to transfer the nest out of its host Koppert box for some reason. We can also use it for educational purposes, and possible even try and get a queen to hibernate in it over the winter.

so, in fact, this is by no means the end of the road, rather just the next phase: devising and developing better nest systems, better moth protection and encouraging queens to hibernate. And not just that, we're also getting a beepol box (in a few days, at the time of writing), more of that in the next post.

There is no rest for the busy Bumble-keeper - we are all busy bees!!

Wax Moth: Killer in the Night

On Saturday July 16th we finally turned off our cameras and declared our bumblebee nest inactive. We'd seen no bee action in or around it for 3 full days, apart from one large bee leaving, that looked large enough to possibly be a queen. A sad moment, given all the time and energy invested into our Bumblebees, but certainly not the end of our journey - still much to do. 

I will consign a fuller write up of the our findings from our examination of the box to a later blog post, but for now just a few words on Wax Moth.

Wax Moth is a Bumblebee parasite, a fact we were not aware of until the last few weeks of the function of our nest. It seems that honey beekeepers are well aware of the existence and precautions required against the wax moth; knowledge that perhaps doesn't extend readily down to the novice Bumblebee hobbyist; indeed, all the information I've found online is directed towards honeybee keepers. 

The bottom line is this: the wax moth spends time checking out the nest and even staying close to pick up the scent from the nest. Then it enters the nest secretively with the aim of laying its eggs without being discovered. The moth larvae build these incredible "silky" channels and tunnels to move around  the nest in. It's like a whole underground network made of really tough and sticky silky fibrous material. This protects them from being attacked by the bees. Then they basically munch their way through the wax pots made by the bees until the colony can no longer survive. 

According to experts at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, it is thought that up to 80% of garden-sited bumblee nests succumb to the wax moth. Some of the reasons stated for this being so high include the general garden habitat, which appeals to the moth and also that garden bumble bee nests are generally much more conspicuous (compared to say, a small hole in a mossy bank on the edge of field). I'm not 100% convinced the latter is a good explanation, or at least interpretation (it suggests that the moths are able to discern which man-made constructions comprise bumblebee nests); my personal feeling is that Bumblebees and their nests are more conspicuous in a garden simply by nature of the confined space and land area that is occupied. Add to this the other man-made features which may attract the moths, such as lighting,  and what you find is bees and moths habiting (say) the same 100m-square area: basically, dinner on a plate for the moth.

We may have unwittingly contributed to this situation ourselves by having solar lighting in the garden and infra-red lighting on our CCTV cameras. Once in a while we saw a moth at the mouth of the nestbox and wondered whether the infra-red had attracted it there. The jury is still out for me on that one - because what we didn't see was sustained activity around the camera, which I would have expected if the theory was true. 

However, there is another side to the story. When we opened up the Koppert Hive (which proved extremely difficult to do) we discovered that the wax moth larvae in the upper section of the box all eminated from around where our internal camera was sited (poking through the box lid). This left us wondering whether the heat/infrared from the camera had provided an attraction to the moth/larvae and a preferred environment for it to develop. At this stage I need to do more research/reading to be able to answer. 

 wax moth larvae and cocoons extending down the box side near the infrared camera

In a sense then, I was paradoxically relieved to discover that there had also been significant larvae development at the base of the box, underneath the whole nest. Perhaps, again, this leads to a theory of warmth being desirable, but it does suggest that it was not the camera and camera alone that provided an environment for the moth development. 

 Wax moth larvae in the base of the box, embedded in the polystyrene

Their invasion on the nest is really rather horrible. The larvae are bright yellow/green, up to 2cm long and fast movers. (There are lots of pictures on the web, so I didn't take any close ups to publish here). They hide out in their silk cocoons, which are dense and sticky (and why the box lid was so hard to remove; we almost had to rip it off). They seemed to have built a vast structure of cocoon tunnels to hide in around the edges of the box, away from the core of the nest itself, but these then extend into the nest/wax pot area in a web of silk paths and make the whole structure one very sticky and matted mess of silk, wax, honey and pollen. It seems to me it's possible this is responsible for restricting the movement and hatching of bees within the body of the nest structure, which aside from the destroying the wax itself, may also contribute to the nest decline. 

I was very sad to discover our box had been invaded by wax moth - we suspected it around mid June after a decline in audio activity from the nest, before a slight reduction in visible activity. By the beginning of July I was 99% certain - at one point we did see a moth inside the box on the CCTV, although we didn't see the larvae. Then the rapid decline began over the first 10 days of July, and I was sure. I was more sure than a sure thing from Sure Street, Sureland when on the final day I could see the larvae actually moving around on the nest bedding on the CCTV. Pretty gross actually. I'd like to try and go back over the CCTV if I have time to try and figure out when the initial invasion happened. 

I was gutted that we were powerless to help - or at least seemed so at the time, the Koppert box being a sealed unit. But in fact, having now disassembled it, that is not the case, (it's just cleverly constructed and clipped together) and it may have been possible to intervene earlier if we had really been sure of what was going.

This was partly down to lack of visibility inside the box and partly down to not really knowing about the risks of the wax moth until late in the day. The other lesson I will learn from this, is that it would have paid to have checked the nestbox all round from time to time. We believed the best thing was to leave it as alone as possible in its shelter and avoid stressing the bees by moving, examining and even opening it . But in hindsight, this might actually have paid off if we'd seen evidence of intrusion round the back of the box where the camera was. Although, to be fair, once the damage had got to the stage where it was visible, it may have been too late.

For next year we will try some strategies to try and reduce the risk of wax moth invasion:


  • Seal all the ventilation holes around the nest box by sticking on small webbing (as used on our wooden box to prevent Ant intrusion)
  • Eliminate lighting (or at least any nearby) in the garden
  • Control the opening of the nest box using a wireless timer (also available from Koppert)
  • reduce usage of the infrared camera, certainly inside the box
  • use "Certan" treatment around the box
  • plant some mint, which may help to discourage them


I would actually like to some research at this stage with what's left over from our box. We could use the wax pots that are left over (substantial quantity) to both track the rate at which the larvae can destroy it, but also potentially assess the effects of the above strategies - for example, whether the infrared attracts the moth and encourages development. The only thing is, we don't really want to end up creating a whole colony of new moths which could go on to destroy other bumble nests or come back next year to destroy ours. So, for the timebeing, we are still contemplating this.

But one thing is clear for next year: whatever we do, we have to try and prevent this devastating killer getting near our nest.