Nest-sensor setup (part 1)

I made some further progress today in getting our beepol lodge "internet enabled" - to get temperature, light and activity data automatically logged and available online. 

More details are on the technology page, but I'm using an ioBridge board to capture the data and push it to their web platform, whenceforth all manner of wonderful things can be done with it. 

I've been setting it up over the last week - getting to grips with the way the sensors would and the way data is recorded. I've pretty much got to grips with the basics, as well as some of the features that are possible such as twitter notifications.

The rain and wind and low temperatures continue to make getting in the garden to do jobs a very cold and messy (muddy) affair - notwithstanding, I did some of the setup in the garage, which included drilling through the wall for the wires and getting the network up and running.

getting the iobridge powered up and running in the garage - sensors routed through the wallI mounted a weatherproof box on the outside of the garage. This will contain an ambient light sensor, and some status LEDs (for example, a sunset/sunrise indicator) and a warning buzzer (e.g. for nest "over temperature")

outdoor iobridge sensorsThe white cables are the two temperature sensors - one for inside the nest, the other for the ambient temperature. 

This is the kind of output we're getting at the moment. Once it's been running a few days, I'll set up some rules (such as triggers on temperatures).

iobridge dashboard of bumblebee sensorsYou can see I've set up a "flap input". This is not installed yet, but the plan is to put a small switch on the wax-moth flap (made from aluminium foil) and count the amount of "flap" activity, which will give an indication of how many bumblebees are coming and going into the nest. Just need a dry, warmer day to get that done. 


Rain, Rain, go away! The bumbles can't get out to play!

More rain, more rain - and you can almost sense the frustration in the bumblebee nest, with a stack of bumblebees (and numerous queens) all clustered on the front wall. We're not sure if they are just waiting to make a quick break to get out, or actually basking in the infrared warmth of the camera (you can see how the pool of light is centred more or less over the entrance hole). 

Rain, rain, rain - the bumbles want to get out, but are patiently waiting

Having said that, they could also group at the bottom of the nest underneath the other camera too - which they haven't done. So, maybe they are just queuing for a quick get-away!

Oh and look at that big fat queen right on the right of the entrance! she's enormous!


Building a Space Elevator: gotta start somewhere

Can't believe the weather at the moment - despite an official drought in this (and other) regions, it's been tipping it down the best of a week. The only bright side to this is it means my backlog on the CCTV analysis might not be as insurmountable as it currently seems! 

Not so great for the bumbles though - they've not had a lot of time to get out of the nest! And then they have it's been pretty short trips, often getting caught out by showers. It's been horrible to see them coming back wet, because, of course, it takes them longer to get into the nest via the flap than it would do otherwise (the queens especially have the most trouble). I suspect we have actually lost quite a few - it's one of my usual hunches, which i now rely on to be generally right (they are!) - based on a sense of how many are going out versus returning.

There's not actually a lot of pollen out there either - the rape seed fields have blossomed but the local ones are probably too far for our bumbles to get to from here. There's some dandelion on the roadside - but I had to say, they are doing well to get what they're getting!

All the rain is causing a bit of a backlog in the nest for bumblebees - in particular, queens - waiting to get out. They seem to like the inside front of lodge for waiting/resting. We're not sure why - whether they can sense the outdoor temperature through the wood; or the vibration of the rain; or feel the heat of the sun; or perhaps the warmth from the infra red camera. Anyway, here are some pics

Queens stacked up waiting to get out!It's not just queens of course - here are some workers for comparison - a few fanning too.. These are large workers, but the size different is still obvious.

workers crowding and fanning the entranceWe aso have a bumble that is permanently on door duty. She seems to have a lookout role but also blocks the others (especially the larger ones) from leaving when the weather is not good. She sits there overnight too - right up against the entrance. In fact she often pushes against the wax moth flap to open it slightly, apparently to sense the air/weather. We are still trying to figure out exactly how they sense temperature, because we know this controls the leaving patterns in the morning. Here she is:



Building Bridges

We noticed yesterday that bumbles at the back of the nest, right under the camera, were climbing up some kind of self-made "pole" from the floor of the nest to the first lip (maybe 4 - 5 inches). It's hard to figure out how this construction has come about, because for a while it looked just like the end of a piece of "stuff" lying flat on the base of the nest-tub and protruding into the picture. It got shunted around a bit, then something happened overnight, and next thing we know it's being used like an elevator to get from the floor of the box to the top of it! We can definitely see bees shimmying up and down it quite consciously and occasionally "fixing" it (i.e. messing with it) at the bottom.

It's a bit hard to see in the picture (the video always seems clearly than the stills) but it comes up from the floor in the middle left:

fixing the bottom of the bumble "space elevator"a bumblebee climbing the 'space elevator'

Perhaps they're building a space elevator? ☺cool...

Flying for the thrill of it

It's a cloudy and overcast day, about 19 degrees, with windspeeds up to 7.5 mph (not counting gusts).

Common wisdom says bumblebees don't fly in the wind, though of course you'd expect them to have some provision to do so, at least to overcome the challenge of being caught out in a breeze.

Of course, above a certain speed, like a canoeist paddling upstream, they wouldn't be able to make progress against the wind.

Unlike an aeroplane, however, Bumblebees do not rely on air-speed over their wings in order to generate lift (which is what gave rise to the popular myth "scientists say bumblebees shouldn't be able to fly; a comparison with the physics of fixed wing flight doesn't work for bumblebees).

It seems our bufftails are a hardy bunch - whilst activity is much reduced today, it hasn't stopped a few hardy ones venturing out to collect pollen and/or find a mate; time is, after all, of the essence as far as both are concerned. The one I've just seen has been out for about 30 minutes and come back with a decent stash of pollen.

And one final nail in the coffin for the concept of "dull days" - cloudy and overcast it may be, but the light inside our nest box has increased to a level where the infra-red camera is occasionally switching to full colour daylight mode. All that white cloud and reflected light is making it bright.

Maybe the brightness of the day is tempting the bees to venture out. Or maybe they just enjoy the thrill of a windy flight.

Rainy Rescue

It was looking stormy this evening and although a storm never materialised, about half an hour before sunset it suddenly went chilly and tipped it down. The lavender, as usual, had been full of bees, so we had a quick check to see if any of the more daring (or perhaps less attentive) bees had been caught unawares. Indeed this was the case - both a small redtail and a bufftailed bumblebee were clinging to the lavender, scared to move. 

One by one we cut the lavender and added them to a plastic tub and then took them to the back garden to heat them up. Here's a video of us heating the redtail: 


In the case of the bufftail, we brought her indoors as it was absolutely chucking it down by then, and we left her inside to warm up first with a lid on the tub. We waited till the rain past and checked it was still light enough outside (we still had some of our own braver bees leaving the nest, even though it was sunrise). We followed the same procedure with the hair drier and it worked a treat. 

We might have buried one bumblebee tonight, but it's great we could help another two on their way!