At temperatures around ten degrees Celsius, honey bees retreat into their hive. Extreme cold snaps can still affect them and lead to bee deaths. A high-tech honeycomb developed at the University of Graz, which can monitor the winged insects in winter and automatically regulate the heat supply in the beehive, should protect against this.
When it gets cold outside, honey bees stay indoors. To survive the icy temperatures, they form the so-called winter cluster by sitting close together on the honeycomb and keep each other warm – the queen crouches in the middle. The bees generate heat by vibrating their muscles, but sometimes that doesn’t help either – the bees go into a freezing coma, stop moving and eventually freeze to death, says the Graz zoologist and head of the Graz University’s Artificial Life Lab , Thomas Schmickl, explained.
“On very cold winter days, beekeepers can’t just open the hive and see how the bees are doing. He can intervene and feed him, but he only sees how many did not survive the winter in the spring,” says Schmickl. With a honeycomb system that uses sensors to register how the bees behave in the hive and to respond in a targeted manner – for example with extra heat supply – the condition of the insects could be monitored and their survival facilitated.
As part of the EU-funded “Hiveopolis” project, the researchers from Graz, in collaboration with the Swiss École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), have developed and tested a smart beehive that can do this. They have now published the first research results in the journal Science Robotics. As the experiments with the high-tech honeycomb show, a weakened swarm of bees that have already fallen into a freezing coma can even be “revived”.
The smart honeycomb is equipped with 64 high-precision temperature sensors and ten heating fields and can autonomously regulate the heat of the winter grapes. “It should never get colder than 18 degrees Celsius in the floor, if necessary it can be heated,” says Schmickl. In addition, the honeycomb could inform the beekeeper via text message of an impending temperature drop and prompt them to take further countermeasures.
Previously impossible insights
The honeycomb, which can be controlled from the outside, enables in principle impossible insights into the behavior of the insects. “Our robotic system helps us to study and understand the behavior of honey bees. We can enter into a dialogue with the animals and explore their survival mechanisms,” explains biologist Martin Stefanec from the University of Graz, one of the lead authors of the study.
It has been shown that the animals are not only warmed up by the selective regulation of the heating, but can also be redirected to areas within the comb that are richer in honey: “They need places with a certain temperature and naturally move there Stefanec says. The collective behavior of the bees can thus be thermally controlled, Schmickl adds.
Temperature is an environmental factor that greatly influences the lives of honeybees: “Many rules of bee society – from collective and individual interactions to raising a healthy brood – are regulated by temperature”, Rafael Barmak of the EPFL also emphasizes the importance of the draft regulation in the cabinet.
The researchers therefore want to use the comb in the spring in the future – for a new purpose: at this time of year, the colony must grow rapidly through brood production in order to reach critical mass for the survival of the colony. With the help of sensors, for example, the temperature in the honeycomb must be regulated and the upbringing of the offspring optimized.
I am an experienced and passionate journalist with a strong track record in news website reporting. I specialize in technology coverage, breaking stories on the latest developments and trends from around the world. Working for Today Times Live has given me the opportunity to write thought-provoking pieces that have caught the attention of many readers.