Sensors in beehives may capture early signs of disease
To the human ear, the buzz of the honeybee can sound like one unchanging hum. Yet a group of researchers hopes that decoding tiny variations in the noise could help halt the catastrophic decline in the world’s honeybee population.
The researchers, led by a team at Nottingham Trent University in England, believe the changing sounds from a hive indicate swings in the bees’ state of health and that high-tech eavesdropping could provide beekeepers with early-warning signals. Supported by a $1.8-million grant from the European Union, the scientists aim to analyze the buzz from 20 hives kept at a village in rural southeastern France in a five-year experiment that started earlier this spring.
Team leader Martin Bencsik has previously used sensors known as accelerometers to capture a distinct change in bee sounds before the phenomenon known as swarming, which is when the queen quits the hive, taking many of the worker bees with her. The challenge this time is to identify variations in the buzz that can be linked to disease, including colony collapse disorder—a mysterious ailment that has weakened colonies around the world. The researchers’ key tool: industrial sensors designed to pick up subtle changes in vibration patterns. Embedded in the wall of the hive, miniature accelerometers will measure the vibrations in the honeycomb caused by the bees’ activity and the sounds they create. With no ears, bees are generally thought to rely on vibrations—received through their legs—to communicate with one another.