Comparative influences of hive architecture in Apis mellifera fitness.
This project was designed to determine if manufactured hive design has an impact of honeybee fitness. Not much research has been done to show if hive architecture has any effect on honeybee fitness. There have been several hive body styles, shapes, and comb fasteners, developed over the centuries, but in the last 150 years, a majority of western beekeepers have overwhelmingly used one hive type and that is the Langstroth hive. Loranzo Langstroth received a patent in 1852 for his top loading, removable honeybee frame design (Langstroth, 1898), but the impacts to honeybees were not considered fully. The goal for him was ultimately improving the production of honey at low cost to both the beekeeper and the bee (pg 15). The ability to manipulate hive frames was for the benefit and convenience of the beekeeper. The secondary reason was to be able to inspect the colony for evidence of disease, queen rearing, and splitting. Removable frames were also useful in avoiding the destruction of the colony during inspections, extraction of honey, wax, royal jelly, and propolis, which is how some hives were managed. The other hive that will be used in this study is the Keyna Top Bar Hive. This long trapezoidal hive has been promoted by many “natural” beekeepers as the hive that is most sustainable and beneficial to the honeybee. It is used in many regions of the world and is enjoying newfound popularity in the U.S. These two hives are going to be compared in this study by their overall performance with weight, humidity and temperature collection data used as the measures.
Thickness of hive boxes has been in decline since lumber standards and dimensions have been reduced in the U.S. to the current measures of today (Smith & Wood 1964). One can infer therefore that this reduction results in lowered r-values or resistance to heat transfer. Over the years, lumber has become more expensive to mill and transport and hive walls have become thinner. “The inch of today is much different from the three barleycorns of ancient England,” (pg.3). A one-inch thick piece of wood today is only ¾”th, therefore has less resistance to heat transfer. The second significant change to the majority of hives used in the United States is that most foundation, (the place the bees actually build up their comb upon inside the hive) is machine manufactured, pre-stamped wax or plastic at a certain cell size 4.8 to 5.5mm. This steady cell enlargement, came about in hopes of developing larger bees for the purpose of higher honey production. And lastly, the shape of the actual comb inside the hive has become square or rectangular, a shape that would not be found in the wild, nor in the Middle East; a place where the least occurrences of Colony Collapse Disease has been found. Today, this box shaped hive (the Langstroth hive) continues to be in production for the vast majority of beekeepers to employ. This quasi biomimicry study sets out to determine if hive shape; comparing the Langstroth hive and the Top Bar hive architecture [see image 1], and the two foundation apparatuses in which bees draw their honeycomb, (frames and top-bars, respectively), and shape of comb collectively, have an overall effect on colony fitness. The standard by which the health of honeybee colonies can be determined is primarily weight, as it relates to these two hive types. Additionally, observable pest levels, temperature, and humidity readings of each hive in the study will measure fitness at the macro-level.
The Top Bar and Langstroth hive comparison project began strong. Hives were built, apiaries set up [see image 2], and packages installed by a graduate student. However, the 40, three-pound package of honeybees arrived 6 weeks late, with several queen losses or non-laying queens occurring in the first week.
As per project proposal, based upon a Nigerian hive study (Ande, Oyerinde, and Jibril, 2008) , colony packages received minimal beekeeper intervention, with queen replacement within the first two weeks and initial sugar water feeding of one gallon per colony. After installation, beekeeper intrusion was kept to a minimum, with the exception of sampling of bees in the fall.
Weights were recorded every two to three weeks through the summer [see image 3], and early predictions of successful over wintering based on scale data of all hives were noted. Based on early weight recordings, colony absconding rates, and general observations, statistically significant conclusions are unlikely. As of this writing of this report anticipated survival rates for all hives are expected to be low for the following reasons:
a.) extremely late arrival of honeybee packages (better than 6 weeks), with seasonal nectar flow well underway.
b.) several queen losses the first week.
c.) a transfer of one complete apiary to a new location due to farmer reluctance to follow apiary set up and maintenance guidelines.
d.) a month of unusual high levels of humidity and temperatures from week three to week five.
e.) as per project proposal, restrictions on beekeeper intervention for assisting weak hives were maintained.
By the beginning of August 2013, more than half the colonies, both Top Bar and Langstroths, were losing weight or had absconded. About 25% retained their weights, but going into winter, most of the hives were too light to ensure survival over winter. In spring 2014, the collection and commingling of data for both weight, temperature, and humidity data, in addition to pest levels on remaining hives will be analyzed collectively once loggers [see image 4] are removed from the hives. Conclusions based on weight, pest load samples, and temperature and humidity readings [see image 5] cannot be determined until that time, as per project proposal.
Langstroth, Loranzo. (2004), Langstroth’s Hive and the Honeybee (Practical treatise on the hive and the honeybee) Mineola, New York, Dover Publications. (Original work published 1878).
United States. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Forest Products Laboratory, Forest Service. History of Yard Lumber Size Standards. By L. W. Smith and L. W. Wood. Vol. Sept. Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1964. FPL Misc. Forest Products Laboratory. 29 Mar. 2010. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.
Ande, A. T., A. A. Oyerinde, and M. N. JIBRIL. “Comparative Study of the Influence of Hive Types on Bee Colony Establishment.” Int. J. Agri. Biol, 200th ser., 10, no. 5 (2008): 517-20.
 Equivalent to 1.11764 inches or 76.14mm
- 5- sample data
- 2 – SAREUM2.jpg
- 3 – scale.jpg
- 4 – datalogger.jpg
- 25 – Small Ones Farm
- 1 – hive design
Hives were built in spring, and installed in May. Forty sugar-water feeders were installed at all the hives, and straps, and cinderblocks were added to each hive at each apiary [see image 16]. Bee packages (three pounds or about 20 thousand bees) were weighed and samples were taken prior to installation of hives. Hives were weighed [see image17] every two to three weeks thereafter, or when conditions allowed. Queens were examined and fall samples were taken. Sugar rolls for mite levels were not done, as there were no observable mites.
Dyer A, Neumeyer C. Simultaneous and successive colour discrimination in the honeybee (Apis mellifera). Journal Of Comparative Physiology. A, Sensory, Neural, And Behavioral Physiology [serial online]. June 2005;191(6):547-557.
Simone-Finstrom, Michael, Joel Gardner, and Marla Spivak. “Tactile Learning in Resin Foraging Honeybees.” Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 64.10 (2010)
 to increase r-values across all hives
- 7 – hivebuild.jpg
- 8 – hives-in-progress1.jpg
- 11 – vent-mesh.jpg
- 12 – vent-mesh2.jpg
- 13 – umass.jpg
- 15 – apiary-layout.jpg
- 16 – SAREHC1.jpg
- 17 – scaleinuse.jpg
- 9 – hives-in-progress2.jpg
Hand building forty hives, all of the same thickness, across both hive types, dimension requirements, and acceptable volume ranges without risk of gaps for pest infiltration or weather degradation, took much longer than anticipated. Designing a feeder system for both hive types that would release an entire gallon of sugar water over a two to three week period was tricky to incorporate near the cluster of both hive types at equal distances; to reduce the variables proved a challenge. In the end, each hive got a gallon jug of sugar water (3:1 ratio), in an Anchor Hocking 1-Gallon Glass Cracker Jar [see image 18, 19] with holes punched in the lids. These were turned over in the hives on to 1/2″ twigs or in inner cover hole. The TB hives received the feeders beyond the second follower board inside the main hive body and the Langstroth hives received the feeders directly over the inner cover in the standard hives. Top covers were placed over entire hive of both types. Each colony in each hive type had access to the feeders, with the Top Bar bees having to exit the comb area to reach the feeder. At the end of the two to three week period, all hives except one had consumed the feed.
Most significantly, during the project, the calf scale used to weigh the packages was by far the most successful design to determine weights and proved to be very unobtrusive, to the colonies. A leverage scale [see image 20] was tried with limited success.
The scale design was as follows: Hives were wrapped in two adjustable cloth straps [see image 21] like a birthday present, crisscrossing each other. Strap adjusters were placed in order with front to back side of each hive first then side to side strapping in a crisscross method to aid in quick adjustments as colonies expanded and for minimal exposure to bee entrances for beekeepers. Strap buckles were in the back and left of the hive respectively. Hive spacing in apiary itself was measured to allow ease of scale placement, via 4’ aluminum ladders. Ladders were set up on either side of each hive and a 4”x 4” oak bar with a hanging calf scale hanging at bar center was set upon on the ladders. Hives were lifted via a hand winch bolted on one side of the removable oak bar. The overlapping straps were centered above the colony mass inside the hive, allowed for lifting of the hive with minimal tipping. As hives expanded, the side strap had to be adjusted to accommodate growth of the colony and to avoid tipping upon lifting of the hive. Hive were raised until scale absorbed the total weight of the hive. The Top Bar hives were lifted about 2 inches, and the standard hives approximately 6 inches, off their concrete blocks. Weights were recorded and then the process was reversed to restore the hives to their original position. Bees only seemed to object to the process in the late fall during twilight hours.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
At the end of the project, graduate student has been invited to speak at three beekeeper clubs, and has been encouraged to share the results with the Beltsville National Honey Bee Laboratory. She gave three lectures this year in Amherst Massachusetts on beekeeping in general; covering the difference between top bar and Langstroth hives management, including the noted pros and cons and components of the SARE project and its objectives. An hour lecture with hive architecture samples was done at the University of Massachusetts. Furthermore, a field lecture was done at the launch of the Book and Plow educational farm at Amherst College [See image 21,22], and another on bees and their general benefits at the Small Ones Farms Apiary, for a class of 5th graders [See image 23,24,25,26] from the Common School.
Final analysis of study results will not begin until May of 2014.
- 21 – Amherst college lecture
- 22 – Amherst College Lecture
- 23 -Small Ones Farm
- 24 – Small Ones Farms
- 25 – Small Ones Farm
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ernald Hall 204G
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University of Massachusetts
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