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Checking honey bee productivity.

A sensitive electronic scale that automatically weighs bee hives every 15 minutes day and night is giving scientists in Tucson, Arizona, a better understanding of the hard-working honey bee.

Readings from the scale indirectly measure such things as number of insects foraging at different times of the day and when the bees brought back the most nectar and pollen.

Rapid weight loss of a hive can mean pesticides have killed foraging bees or that the queen is dead. The sooner a beekeeper learns of these conditions, the sooner the hive can be brought back to health.

Consistent gains indicate bees are doing their job--collecting nectar for honey production and more importantly for U.S. agriculture, pollinating up to $10 billion worth of crops annually.

Agricultural Research Service entomologist Stephen L. Buchmann has recorded hive weight changes for 2 years in the Sonoran Desert near the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson.

This is the first time an electronic scale--accurate to within 0.035 ounces--has been connected to a personal computer programmed to take readings every 15 minutes. Previously, researchers and beekeepers had to move the 150-pound hives onto a portable scale and manually record hive weights. Because of the required labor and time, hives were weighed weekly.

"We can tell how many bees are in the hive by analyzing changes in the hive's weight. For example, if we didn't know how many 10-pound bricks were in a wrapped box, we could put the unopened box on a scale. If it weighed 50 pounds, we'd know there were 5 bricks inside. Our technique is similar except it's far more sensitive. We can detect the departure of as few as 8 to 10 foraging bees from a hive," says Buchmann.

"So far, our most interesting discovery with the electronic hive has been the speed with which foraging worker bees recruit others to visit the most productive plants," says Buchmann.

"Bees are very efficient social insects. They communicate with dances and wing sounds to tell one another about the best pollen source within a 30-square-mile area.

"We used to think it took them 2 to 3 days to shift to a better pollen source. Our electronic hive showed us they can communicate and recruit most of the hive in about a day and sometimes in just 1 hour."

Stephen L. Buchmann is at the USDA-ARS Carl Hayden Bee Research Laboratory, 2000 East Allen Rd., Tucson, AZ 85719. Phone (602) 670-6380.
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Title Annotation:Agnotes
Author:Senft, Dennis
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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