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Humidity and temperature regulation in a colony is not much of a hassle for strong honeybee colonies. This could be attributed to their adaptation to their locality for years spanning millions of years. Nonetheless, the beekeeper has to be wary of the existing conditions for various reasons. Hive inspection, bottling of honey, or making beeswax are activities that require perfect timing. These activities require specific temperatures and the beekeeper has to keep track of this. That is precisely why beehive thermometers and humidity monitors should always be a part of the beekeeper’s tools of trade.
Important of Temperature in Beekeeping
Temperature levels are critical not only for the survival of honeybees in a colony but they also affect the beekeeper’s activities. As a general rule, any hive inspection should be avoided when temperatures are below 13°C (55.4°F). Beehive thermometers and humidity monitors are designed for the beekeeper to ascertain the air temperature and humidity in the colony.
Beehives require a constant temperature of 33°C (91.4°F), +1 or -1°C (33.8°F). The required temperature for melting beeswax is 70°C (158°F) and that for decrystallization of honey is 40°C (104°F). Honey is bottled when the temperature is 35°C (95°F) with an allowance of less or more than 1°C (33.8°F). Within this range, the honey is less sticky and will easily flow through honey extraction equipment such as pipes into collecting jars.
As for humidity, honeybee colonies require 40 to 60% humidity. This is achieved through the use of water collected by forager bees. Humidity affects the colony since excessive condensation in the hive interior will interfere with clustering, forcing the bees to split and collect on hive edges.
Honey quality is affected by temperature levels. Too high temperatures affect the taste of honey. It makes it taste bitter hence the need to monitor temperatures while harvesting and bottling honey. On the flip side, low temperatures cause honey to crystallize. This does not mean the honey has gone bad by any means. In fact, good quality honey must crystallize when under cold temperatures. A bowl with warm water is sufficient for loosening crystallized honey.
Beeswax is also temperature sensitive. Low temperatures cause beeswax to solidify and harden whereas high temperature melts it. The ideal temperature to melt wax is 70°C (158°F). The melted wax can be used to make blocks or candles.
How Bees Respond to Temperature Changes
Honeybee behavior is affected by prevailing temperatures. Bees are generally keen on three types of temperatures which include cluster temperature, air temperature, and their own body temperature.
This affects the tendency of bees to venture outside the beehive. Temperatures of less than 12.7°C (55 °F) discourage bees from flying out of the hive as the wings are hampered. However, the honeybees will work best outside the hive when the temperature range is between 13.8 to 37.7°C (57 to 100°F). Anything that falls outside the 10 to 43.3°C (50 to 110°F) mark for bees makes it impossible for them to fly out of the hive.
Hot summer days with high temperatures cause bees to congregate outside the hive, an activity known as bee bearding. This will occur if the hive is not well-ventilated. This will also happen when the hive is overcrowded and the hive interior is too hot. The bees will at this point prefer not to work.
Cold months particularly winter is the toughest for honeybees. The bees will not hibernate as one might expect but will respond accordingly. They will form a cluster when air temperatures are around 17.7°C (64°F). This is done to keep the colony warm. A further fall in temperature to levels below 13.8°C (57°F) leads to a tighter cluster with a more air-tight outer cluster of bees that act as a cushion to the rest of the colony members.
Another honeybee behavior noted during cold weather is the act of vibrating wings to generate heat. This will occur when temperatures have dropped to -5°C (23°F). The worker bees that are inside the cluster are responsible for vibrating their wing muscles and those on the exterior of the cluster provide a tight barrier and stay motionless to prevent the energy from dissipating.
Honeybees are economical when it comes to energy in the colony. They will not strive to alter the temperature outside of the winter cluster. Instead, bees focus on the cluster itself where the temperatures still vary. Bees that are inside the cluster exhibit higher temperatures, unlike the bees on the edges. The bees will continuously switch places, with the warmer bees moving to the edges and the colder ones going inside the cluster to warm up.
Changes in outside hive temperatures affect how the bee cluster responds in terms of size and temperature alteration. During winter the honeybee cluster will have on average a temperature level of 35 °C (95 °F). The inside cluster will exhibit an average temperature of 27°C (81°F). The outside cluster will in the same period exhibit temperatures of 9°C (48°F) within the same period. The temperatures may however go beyond the 37.8°C (100°F) mark.
Cluster temperatures will fall to a bearable minimum of about 12.8°C (55°F) for the inside cluster and 7.8°C (46°F) for the bees on the edges of the cluster. A winter bee cluster can bear temperatures of up to 6.7°C (44°F) for the outer bees on the cluster.
Honeybees will use their own bodies to regulate the hive temperature. This is a role that is solely bestowed upon the group of worker bees referred to as “heater bees”. These bees use their bodies to alter temperature levels. When temperatures are below optimal levels they vibrate their abdomens. This movement heats up their bodies and will increase the honeybee’s temperature to up to 43.8°C (111°F).
The honeybee’s normal body temperature range is 35°C (95°F) plus or minus 1. The body vibration mechanism brings this to a higher level by about 8°C (16°F). They will then move around empty cells within the colony to distribute their body heat. This helps boost the temperature of nearby cells. A single heater bee will boost the temperature of up to 70 nearby cells.
Body temperature regulation is an important strategy that helps colonies survive through winter. Weak colonies are prone to collapse due to the inability to keep their temperatures up when it is cold. As for stronger colonies, regulating temperatures is never an issue and will vary cluster size and location with ease. The same cannot be said for weaker colonies where colonies can die out despite having enough food stores next to the cluster.
Extreme colds and an inability of colonies to maintain body temperatures will cause bee paralysis. This is possible when the body temperature goes below the 10°C (50°F) mark. A further drop to 7.2°C (45°F) leads to freezing and the muscles can no longer function. However, it is possible for bees to engage in cleansing flights during cold winter months. This will occur when air temperatures are more than 6.7°C (44°F).
Importance of Beehive Thermometers and Humidity Monitors
Beehive thermometers and humidity monitors are important to the beekeeper since they help measure the temperature and humidity within and outside the hive. It is used to ascertain the conditions inside the hive by placing it on top of super frames or on top of the brood. That way, the heat generated by the bees can be captured and recorded.
These gadgets are usually quite accurate and are capable of detecting the slightest changes in humidity and temperature. The beekeeper is notified early enough in case of any abnormality and action can be taken before it is too late. The equipment helps monitor the health metrics of honeybees and will allow the beekeeper to make informed decisions based on factual data collected from the hive.
Some of the functions of the thermometer and humidity monitors include the following:
- It is used for measuring the temperature and humidity within and outside the hive.
- The beekeeper will also use the equipment to ascertain the humidity and temperature inside and outside an air-conditioned room. This is important when undertaking some beekeeping activities such as honey bottling.
- The beekeeper can also use the equipment to check humidity and temperature in and outside the fridge.
- It also helps measure human body temperature.
- You can also use the monitor to check the humidity and temperature of a fish pond, baby shower, car, and any other place.
How to use Beehive Thermometers and Humidity Monitors
Cold winter months make it hard to ascertain if the bee colony is alive or not. And let us face it, this is the time any activity that involves exposing the colony is discouraged. Therefore, hive inspection at this time should be kept at the bare minimum. Fortunately, there came the idea of a thermometer and humidity monitor that makes it easy for the beekeeper to know if the colony is alive and under the required humidity and temperature levels.
The thermometer and humidity monitor are easy to use. Follow the below steps:
- Step 1: ascertain outside temperature – this is easy since the fact that the monitor is outside will automatically measure outside temperatures.
- Step 2: measure hive temperature – the second step is to insert the device into the top entrance of the hive and check the temperature reading. The interior temperature should be higher than the outside temperature. This could be a slight difference and is sufficient in confirming the bees are alive. The difference can be between 15.5 to 16.6°C (2 to 4°F) in some instances.
- Step 3: capture the reading – once you note the thermometer reading is changing, allow some time and take note of the final reading.
Hive Inspection Take-away
Extreme heat and cold do not provide the best conditions for inspecting hives. If anything, avoid or minimize inspection when it is too cold or too hot.
The best temperature for hive inspection is about 15°C (60°F) and above and not more than 38°C (100°F). Timing is important with the ideal time being when the bees are out foraging. Proper timing is imperative to ensure the bees are not disturbed. The outdoor thermometer and humidity monitor allow the beekeeper to ascertain the prevailing conditions.
Inspecting hives when the bees have gone out makes the work hassle-free. Aggressive bees will most likely be outside foraging and it is easier to manipulate hive parts without squashing the bees. The few bees on frames also make it easy to inspect frames. Mid-morning to mid-afternoon is the ideal time to check hives, but with temperatures of 21.1°C (70°F) since this will vary with respect to climate.
It is wise to avoid inspecting hives when temperatures fall below 10°C (50°F). At this point, the bees are clustered and will not move an inch even when disturbed. Your concern at extreme cold such as this should be to keep the bees warm and not introduce cold to the colony. Therefore, do not open the hive for long periods. Exposing the bees will force them to work much harder to restore the temperature. If you have to open the hive, then choose when there is a little bit of sunshine and do quick inspections.
Excessive temperatures also do not favor hive inspections. When temperatures are more than 38°C (100°F) a large group of bees will come outside the hive and form a cluster that we call bee bearding as mentioned earlier. At this point, the main concern is for the colony to remain cool and aerated. The large number of bees that come outside helps lower interior temperatures. If you have no choice but to inspect the hive during the hot summer then consider doing so early in the morning. The cool temperature at this time is also good for the beekeeper.
The beekeeper should be well-equipped with the necessary tools for the job and that includes beehive thermometer and humidity monitors. The device helps to ascertain the hive and outside temperature and humidity. This proves to be helpful when deciding whether to carry out a hive inspection or not. In addition, you need to ascertain the temperature before extracting and bottling honey.