Load cells and listening in on honey bees

Published On: August 31 2021

As a current BBC campaign is reminding us, giving bees a suitable food plant such as lavender is a great way to attract these amazing insects to your garden, back yard or balcony.

Now scientists are listening in on bees in the hive to try and understand their complex communications system. According to an article at Phys.org, bees build up an electrostatic charge in their bodies which is released when they communicate:

“Their wax-covered bodies charge up with electrostatic energy due to friction when flying, similar to how rubbing your hair can make it stand on end.”

Listening in on honey bees in the hive

The aim of the researchers was to “listen in” on the discharges to assess if the hive was healthy or the colony were suffering any adverse affects from environmental conditions. In their paper published in “Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience”, the team created a specially designed hive featuring an array of sensors, including three load cells to weigh the hive (more on this later).

The whole hive was then contained in a Faraday cage to enable accurate readings of electrostatic energy. This included measuring activity during the famous “waggle dance” or bee ballet that bees use to communicate flight directions and the distance to a good source of food.

The team managed to measure the electrostatic field signals (ESF) emitted by bees performing the dance. (They also discovered that bees perform the dance during the night, which suggests bees can remember the instructions until daylight.)

Why weigh a hive?

Hive weight is a good indicator of hive health, and also detects swarming activity. Adding a simple load cell system to a hive is a project that many amateur beekeepers have embraced as part of monitoring their hives remotely.

In a paper for “Sensors”, researchers from Italy described how

“Smart sensor systems are being developed for real-time and long-term measurement of relevant parameters related to beehive conditions, such as the hive weight, sounds emitted by the bees, temperature, humidity, and CO2 inside the beehive, as well as weather conditions outside.”

In the past, load cells have been positioned on a frame that sits under the bee hive. The frame needs to remain stable in all weather conditions, and also ensure air circulation. The team developed a low-cost platform that would monitor both bee health and the weight of honey being produced.

“The measured parameters include inner and outer temperatures, humidity and weight, and the CO2 concentration inside the hive, which is representative of the bees’ health. An Arduino Nano hardware unit is employed to collect and locally process the data generated by a single load cell ( placed under the hive and used as the weight sensor. The selected load cell, an aluminum-alloy straight bar, includes four strain gauges and two precision resistors in a Wheatstone bridge configuration, powered at VIN = 5 V. “

Why honey bees are important

We all enjoy a little honey on our bread or in our cooking, and some claim that eating local honey can reuse the severity of hay fever. However, the real value of UK bees is as pollinators. As we said in our previous blog:

“The value of honey bees as a pollinator far outweighs their value as honey producers and the UK’s crop pollination industry has an estimated value that is greater than £400 million every year.

As the Phys.org article summarises:

“In the future though, it’s possible that eavesdropping on bees may provide rich and important information beyond the local pollen hotspot. Their communications could be crucial in understanding—and protecting—whole ecosystems.

Need accurate load cells for apiculture or agriculture?

We design and manufacture our own load cells here in the UK. So you can rely on quality load cells and swift delivery. Check out our range at the load cell shop, or call us with your specific requirements.