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‘Bee Box’ provides stress-free insight into hidden life inside the hive - Lancaster University

L-R: One of the prototype bumblebee nests, and a bumblebee © Dr Philip Donkersley
L-R: One of the prototype bumblebee nests, and a bumblebee © Dr Philip Donkersley

Researchers seeking ways to discover more about bee behaviour without disrupting the nest have built the world’s first ‘wild bee nests’ with built-in webcams.

Lancaster University Environmental Scientist Dr Philip Donkersley, working with Engineer Jenny Roberts CEng, developed prototype bumblebee nests after being inspired by bird boxes with built in cameras.

Using 3D printing and moulding, they created a light-proof chamber with a small narrow entrance pipe. Once buried beneath ground, the prototype dome-shaped nests have already proven to be popular with queen bees on the hunt for a safe place for a nest.

Robust enough to withstand the elements, the nests offer a safe potential nesting site which can even withstand the attention of large mammals such as cows.

And because the nests already have cameras installed in them before being put in the ground, it’s possible to see what the bees are up to without the need to disrupt or distress their colony.

The researchers hope the nests will be the first of many, offering a glimpse of life inside the hive to environmental scientists, conservationists, wildlife-friendly gardeners and the general public alike.

They are also talking to pest control companies who remove bumblebees from buildings, offering the nests as a ‘rehoming’ rather than ‘pest control’ solution.

Dr Donkersley has installed one of their early prototypes in his own garden. Fitted with a camera complete with infrared lighting and powered and processed by a Raspberry Pi computer, the nest is now colonised by ‘bombus terrestris’ bees and the researchers are already streaming the live footage via Youtube.

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