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I was told a family story by my mother that has been passed down through the generations.

my mother told me that my great (x2) grandpa used to keep bees on his farm, he built some strange building for them to live in, but he had problems early on. I guess the bees would not go back to the hive properly. so an "experienced" local beekeeper told him to put different numbers over the holes for the bees. then the story goes the bees went in the right hole and went on to become a part of the farm.

now to me this story makes no sense to me. from my understanding bees cannot read and use smell to identify their hive. it got me thinking that maybe the other beek said this to calm down my anxious family member?

has anyone her heard stories like this one?
 

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Bees recognize the unique smell of their hive but when foraging bees return to their hive they use visual clues to identify it. (If the wind was blowing the wrong direction they might have trouble smelling it from the outside.) Bees can recognize colors and shapes and it seems reasonable to me that they can discriminate between some numbers.

http://www.pnas.org/content/92/7/3029.full.pdf
 

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I believe it's traditional in some areas to mark the entrances of the hives with a distinctive shape/color to help prevent drifting, a large number might serve the same purpose?
 
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