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Bees: Hot or Not?

Posted by on November 9, 2012

I’ve, read a lot about how bees don’t really hibernate, but instead cluster around the queen, keeping her about 94F even on the coldest winter nights. And I’ve also read about nervous beekeepers that pace the floors mid-winter, wondering if the colony is still alive, but not wanting examine the inside the hive for fear of freezing them to death in doing so. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. And so we wait. Without knowing. For months.

While it’s certainly not cold enough on the Cape in November to freeze them all with a quick peek inside the lid, any organic beekeeper wants to disturb the hive as little as possible. I decided their had to be an answer to this, and being an engineer, I solved this dilemma with technology.

It would stand to reason that if the queen is 94F, given the concept of heat exchange, that the workers surrounding her would be hot in the center, cooling towards the sides of the ball, and that even the walls of the hive would be a at least a little warm. Maybe not warm enough to the touch, but warm enough to be measured.

So out came my infrared-based digital thermometer. After sundown, I stood at the hive and measured the temperature of the ground, and then at the three points indicated by red numbers in the picture. I knew the outside wood of the hive wouldn’t be an accurate measure of the inside of the hive, but at least it would give me an indication of whether they were alive. If the worker bees were doing their job and the queen was 94F, I would think the outside of the wooden hive would be a few degrees warmer than the air.

Much to my delight, I was right. The lowest super (#1) was 43F, about the temperature of the air outside. Since the brood nest is in the upper super (#2), the temperature measured 49F. With a 6 degree difference, something was going on in there. But the real thrill was measuring the humidity escape hole at the top of the hive (#3) at 55F.

With a total of 12 degrees difference, I knew the ladies were alive and well. If the outside of the hive was a little warmer, just imagine how toasty it is on the inside.

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