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I wonder about apiaries and how common it is for bees to get 'lost' and go into the wrong hive. How often does this happen?

Do visual cues help? Coloured hives, symbols painted on them, etc.

Does any of this make a difference? Or do the bees not need any help?

Adam
 

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A retired beekeeper told me that queen raisers would paint the entrances to their nucs different colors and that they could see it in the ultraviolet spectrum. FWIW
 

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Bees definitely drift with multiple colonies adjacent. The most effective deterrent is not to put them in straight lines. Put the hives in a curved pattern. Natural objects are a better reference for the bees than almost everything we can put on the hives. Think of bushes, solid stationary objects that are unlike beehives that they can use as references. If you go the colors on the hive route, remember their visible spectrum and color distinction is not like ours. Open shapes, like outlines of geometric figures have been more recognizable in research so far.
 

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In my experience they not only use landmarks (trees bushes etc.) but they also seem to know things, like They are in the last hive on the right or the second from the left end. I say this becaue moving that last hive causes the kind of traffic jam you would expect when they make that assumption. :)

According to research up to 30% of the bees in a hive drifted there from somewhere else.
 

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Something of intrest, to save my back I elevated my hives 16" up off the ground. in doing so the girls coming home were like hey Were is the Entrance? is it sight or just routine?
 

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I believe that their internal GPS system puts them in the vacinity of where they expect the entry to be. It's only the last few feet that is visual. Or some of that can be on escaping hive scent. They can definately "smell" their queen from outside the hive, and each queen's scent is distinctive to their super-sensitive smell. However, the returning forager is in a hurry to deposit their load and make another run. In their haste, they get a little reckless or careless. (Don't we all?) And make the mistake of entering the wrong hive. Once there - they belong. Look-alike hives in a neat row collect drifters at both ends of the row. Returning foragers (poor counters) dive off into a hive before they reach their own, when approaching from the side.

Not to start an arguement with Mr. Bush, But his contention that they orient on local projections can also be explained with the above opinion. When the forager returns and her hive is not there, she would naturally go to the hive next door. "Any port in a storm."

Walt...Always the maverick
 

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Even back when I had bottom entrances I noticed that if you take off supers or add supers to one hive and the one next to it is still the hieght of the old one, they tend to go to the one that most resembles their old hive. In other words, the tall one on the left. It's more obvious with top entrances as they are up where you notice it more.
 

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Realized after that last posting that I hadn't said enough on the subject. There's a substantial difference between "lost" bees and returning, experienced foragers. Lost bees, like multiple packages hived in proximity and permitted to fly freely, are subject to the "smell' factor. If they haven't been in the shipping cage long enough to endorse the caged queen as their own, and permitted to fly, they will drift to the hive that has a queen that most smells like Mom. Was pleased to note that here on this forum, where hiving a package was discussed, the consensus opinion was to restrict flying by placing the shipping cage in an upper empty, or beside a few frames in, the deep box. Not a problem for hiving a single package.
Actually, lost bees have another, conflicting trait. Disoriented by relocation, they typically return to the place they first saw light. They may fly around in a search mode for awhile, and then return to the starting place. The lost bees released from a honey house often return to the door or window where they escaped. The queen scent thing in the multiple package situation overrides first saw light thing. Proximity.

Experienced foragers is a different matter. Bees LEARN. The experienced forager takes the shortest route to that entry - she knows where it is. Sometimes, she barely slows down until she is inches away. On final approach, remembered visual cues would most likely be the controlling factor.

Walt
 

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Did it again. Wrote a bunch and didn't get on paper what I intended to say. Too eager to be done with it and punch the submit button.

If you concede an internal guidance system, the question is when does that system give way to visual cues? Since I see no wavering of direction in the final 100 yards, it seems that they are inside the big picture of area projections. Returning straight in from the front, it's a beeline to the entry - with only a change in altitude, not azimuth. We will likely never Know. Watch the "bullits" coming and going and see what you think.

Walt
 

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Bees with an Italian background can drift dramatically under certain conditions. For instance if there are 3,600 colonies within 3 square miles with no landmarks it gets extreme. Same thing in an apiary. Italian bees can not be kept in a european bee house for this reason, they drift too much. Carniolans have a highly developed sense of orientation and are much more adept at finding their way home in a crowded site. So a lot has to do with the race of bees that are being used.
 
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