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Beehives are microclimates with conditions that require careful control to remain at optimum levels at all times. Changes in beehive conditions affect the honeybees living there. They can turn harmful if left unchecked for long periods of time. Honeybees are always regulating the temperature and humidity of beehives. They employ various techniques to achieve nearly uniform temperatures in the hive. Of major consideration to honeybees, is the brood of the colony. Other parts of the beehive come second in priority when it comes to warming or cooling the beehive, as well as in humidity control. Read on to learn how honeybees maintain temperature and humidity in a beehive, and what you can do to help them.
Honeybees need an optimum temperature of 950F (350C) in the beehive. Falls and rises of temperatures below or above the optimum temperature are injurious to the wellbeing of honey bees. Extreme falls and rises can cause temperatures to reach levels where they cause the death of honeybees and bee brood.
The optimum humidity of the beehive is between 50% to 60%. Any drops or rises in humidity below or above the optimum of 60% poses a risk to honey bees, their eggs, honey production and impacts pests and parasite infestations among others.
What is the Humidity Inside a Beehive?
A beehive that has a healthy colony of honeybees has a humidity of 60% on average. The humidity at an instance of time may be higher or lower, depending on many different factors. Even then, the lowest that the humidity should be at is 50%. Additionally, the humidity rarely exceeds 65%. Honeybees use various methods to keep the humidity within a range of the mentioned lower limit, upper limit and best optimum level.
What is the Temperature Inside a Beehive?
The temperature inside a beehive is 950F (350C) in the brood area. It may be different in other areas of the beehive depending on the area, and the activity of honeybees. Researchers have found an average temperature of 710F (21.670C) in the area of the beehive that is immediately above the brood area during winter.
Empty areas of the beehive that are not in current use, have been found to have temperatures as low as 520F (11.110C) during winter. This temperature gradient is natural in honeybee colonies. It is a result of the honeybees prioritizing keeping the brood warm over warming other areas of the beehive. The queen bee is also prioritized for warming by the colony. She may keep laying eggs or stop laying eggs during periods when temperatures are far outside the optimum of 950F (350C).
How Does Temperature Affect Honeybees?
Temperature outside the optimum for honeybees and brood can cause altered behavior in bees. Extreme temperature differences from the optimum 950F (350C) can cause death of the affected honeybees. At 1130F (450C) and higher temperatures, honeybees face the risk of death due to high temperatures. They risk death due to cold temperatures at a temperature of 280F (-2.220C) and below.
How Does Humidity Affect Honeybees?
Humidity affects various aspects of the life of honeybees. Firstly, low humidity below 50% causes eggs of honeybees to desiccate. The eggs cannot hatch and may get damaged, thus resulting in a drop of the population of the affected colony.
Secondly, a humidity of 60% is best for the evaporation of water from nectar in the beehive. The nectar loses water until it has water content of 17% only as needed in honey. Ready honey is sealed in capped cells within honeycomb.
Thirdly, high humidity in the beehive raises the likelihood of fungi and molds growing in the beehive. These can turn harmful to honeybees and also lower the quality of beehive products.
Condensation forming in the beehive is the fourth way through which humidity can affect honeybees. High humidity causes water vapors to condense into droplets under the surfaces of the beehive. This usually happens on the upper surfaces of the beehive, such as the metallic top cover. Cold water droplets falling onto bees cause them to die quickly due to exposing the bees to extremely low temperatures.
How do Bees Maintain Beehive Temperature?
Any time that the beehive temperatures drop below 570F (13.90C), honeybees form a cluster. The bees group together inside the beehive to preserve heat by being tightly packed together. In the cluster, the bees generate heat by flexing the muscles of their thoraxes. Honeybee thorax muscles are also called flight muscles. Using this behavior, they raise the temperature at the center of the cluster to the low 90s0F (320C) which is favorable temperature for the queen to lay eggs, and for the brood to develop normally.
Additionally, honeybees seal up any beehive openings and cracks that they cannot adequately guard or which are allowing unwanted inflow of air from outside the beehive. They use propolis for this purpose.
How Honeybees Cool the Beehive
Temperatures of above 950F (350C) trigger honey bees to initiate cooling of the beehive. At first, some bees position themselves at the entrance of the beehive, at other available openings and throughout the beehive and fan their wings to create air currents that cool the beehive. If the temperature keeps rising, other behavior is triggered such as use of water to cool the hive, and bearding to lower the number of bees in the beehive.
For water to be effective in cooling the beehive, some honeybees bring water into the beehive and release it onto surfaces in the upper section of the beehive. The water absorbs heat and evaporates. Warm air is fanned out of the beehive, while cool air is fanned through the beehive to cool the hive.
Bearding results in a reduction of the number of honeybees inside the beehive. There is, therefore, release of less body heat into the beehive by the bees. Among the honeybees in the bearding cluster there are many which continue fanning air into the inside of the beehive. They contribute to the continued cooling of the beehive.
Worker bees will sometimes go to warm surfaces of their beehive and place their bodies against the warm surface. Their bodies absorb the heat from the surface, thus cooling the surface. The worker bees then move to an area of the beehive which is cooler, or go outside the beehive. They lose the heat that they had absorbed from the warm surface and can then get back into the beehive.
How do Honeybees Control Humidity in a Hive?
Bees use a combination of methods to control humidity in a hive. Using these methods, honeybees are able to keep the humidity of the beehive equal or close to the humidity of the air outside the beehive.
When the humidity gets too low, they release water into the beehive to raise the humidity level. They may also fan humid air from outside the beehive into the beehive cavity to increase the humidity of the beehive cavity.
If the humidity of the beehive cavity gets too high, honeybees fan dry air into the beehive. The air can be warm or cold. Air that is cold does not hold water as readily as warm air. The bees may also warm the beehive to cause water vapor to be held in the air inside the beehive, and then expel that warm air from the beehive together with the moisture that is has.
Factors that Affect Temperature and Humidity in a Beehive
Many factors impact beehives at all times. Some of them affect the temperature and humidity in the beehive. Each factor has its unique ability to impact these two beehive conditions. The major factors, therefore, that have the greatest impact on beehive temperature and humidity are:
1. Season of the Year
The different seasons of the year impact beehive temperature due to the variations in the temperature outside the beehive. Equally, the humidity of air outside the beehive impacts humidity inside the beehive.
In summer, there is warmth in the environment, and the air can get quite humid. Due to exchange of air between the environment and the cavity of the beehive, air entering the beehive impacts both temperature and humidity. This also applies in winter, spring, and in fall seasons.
During winter, there is a big threat of condensation forming inside the beehive. Droplets from condensed water vapor cause chilling of brood and extreme cooling of honey bees if they fall onto brood or honey bees.
Spring is typically a wet season in all regions where the four seasons of the year are distinct and pronounced. High humidity of the air can result in high humidity inside the beehive. It is, however, important to note that honey bees have mechanisms for regulating the humidity inside the beehive.
Fall season is a time when honeybees are preparing to go into winter. There is a shortage of resources that the bees can get from the environment during fall season. Dropping temperatures and low humidity in the air can cause temperature drops in the beehive, as well as low humidity in the beehive when there is exchange of air between the environment and the beehive cavity.
2. Time of the Day
Daytime hours are typically warmer than night-time hours. With warmth comes an elevated humidity level in typical scenarios. Beehives tend to get warm during the day and cool down during the night.
Warmth in the beehive triggers honeybees to start foraging in the morning, and to start carrying out other beehive activities. It is even recommended that you position your beehive with the entrance facing the direction of the rising sun. This is usually a southerly direction for US beekeepers.
During the day, warmth from the sun and activity by honey bees can greatly contribute to temperature rises in the beehive. At night, cold environmental temperatures and reduced activity by honeybees contribute to cooling of the beehive.
3. Weather Conditions
Sun, wind, rain and cloud cover among other weather conditions impact beehive humidity and temperature differently. The sun causes environmental warming that can contribute to warming of the beehive. Wind, rain, snowfall and cloud cover among others can cause cooling of the beehive.
Rain and snowfall impact humidity outside the beehive at first, and then later impact humidity inside the beehive. It is important to ensure that these weather conditions and features do not have too much impact on the temperature and humidity of your beehives. Shielding from the hot midday and afternoon sun is important, especially in summer. It can double up as protection for the beehive from rainwater and falling snow.
Remember to install a windbreak in front of your beehives, in the direction of prevailing winds to prevent strong draughts from blowing into the beehive.
4. Honeybees Collecting and Processing Nectar into Honey in the Beehive
Nectar from plant flowers has a high concentration of water and a low concentration of sugars. It undergoes processing in the beehive until it turns into honey. Firstly, it is passed from forager bees to worker bees in the beehive. This process causes minor reduction of the amount of water in the nectar. Once worker bees take custody of the nectar, they put it in cells that are open.
In the open cells, the nectar loses water until it reaches a concentration of 17% water content. Once it has reached the 17% water concentration, the nectar is called honey. Honeybees seal the cell with ready honey using a thin layer of wax. The process of nectar losing water while in the honeycomb cells is both natural through evaporation and induced by honeybees when they fan warm air through the beehive.
Water evaporating from the nectar causes a rise in beehive humidity, and can cause warming of the beehive. In nectar flow season, therefore, there is great risk of beehive humidity rising above acceptable levels due to the activity of honeybees collecting and bringing nectar into the beehive. During periods of time when there is little activity by honeybees collecting nectar and bringing it into the beehive, there is little chance of beehive humidity changing due to water evaporating from nectar.
5. Population of Honeybees
The number of honeybees in the beehive affects the temperature. The bees give off body heat in the beehive and cause a rise in temperature. If the population of the colony’s honey bees in the beehive is low, they contribute less heat to the overall temperature of the beehive. Additionally, moisture evaporating from the bodies of the honey bees impacts the humidity of the beehive.
In beehives habituated by large, strong honeybee colonies with many honeybees, the beehive can get very hot quickly and require temperature regulation when the colony is active. This is especially true during the day when all members of the colony are active. Honeybees detect when their population in the beehive is contributing to temperature rise and get out of the beehive. They form a cluster at the entrance of the beehive or on other available openings on the beehive. This behavior is called bearding. It differs from the formation of clusters to conserve heat because bearding happens when temperatures in the beehive are high.
A second major way in which the population of the honeybee colony impacts temperature and humidity in a beehive, is through the mobilization of honeybee labor. Large colonies with many members are able to dedicate honeybees to various tasks. This is impactful on temperature and humidity when the bees are required to carry out tasks that will result in the raising or lowering of the temperature or humidity of the beehive. Such tasks could be fanning air through the beehive or fetching water for subsequent release in the beehive for cooling, among other activities. Many bees dedicated to the task are able to accomplish it quickly and cause the desired changes in temperature and humidity.
6. Beekeeper Activities
Activities by beekeepers affect beehive humidity and temperature by causing drops or rises. They may also have effects of varying degrees on how honeybees maintain temperature and humidity in a beehive. Beekeepers opening up the beehive for maintenance or other purposes are likely to cause cooling of the beehive.
Applying some treatments in beehives also affects the temperature and humidity of the beehive, such as when you use a fogger. The fogger releases heated vapors into the beehive and can cause a rise in the temperature. If the fogged treatment has water in its preparation, the water vapor affects the humidity of the beehive.
The second way that beekeeper activities affect the temperature and humidity in a beehive is through the setting up of beehives, colony management, maintenance actions and the general running of beekeeping operations among others. All actions by the beekeeper have an impact on the honey bee colony, and, ultimately, the beehive too.
Beehives that you set up well give honeybees easy time cooling and warming the beehive cavity. If you perform poor setup, locating or maintenance of the beehive or apiary, honeybees in the beehives have difficult time regulating the temperature and humidity of the beehive cavities they live in.
Consider too, your actions such as removing propolis from wood joint areas of the beehive. If such propolis was there to seal small cracks and openings, you leave the beehive with an unwanted entry route for air and moisture from outside the beehive.
7. Beehive Location and Shielding
Beehives require careful selection of their locations. They also require shielding against several weather elements. Poor location of the beehive or apiary can result in the beehive being predisposed towards being too hot, too cold, or too humid. Locations such as near bodies of water or under many large trees keep the beehive continuously cold. Closeness to water bodies causes the beehive to be very humid.
Equally, you should not place a beehive at a location where it is too exposed to weather elements such as direct sun and winds. Provide shielding for the beehive so that it does not get heated too much by the sun during the day. Gusts of wind should also not have easy and direct entry into the beehive. Windbreaks in front of the beehive help prevent the unintended cooling of the beehive.
Lastly, remember to elevate the beehive using a stand as much as necessary to prevent rainwater on the ground from entering the beehive. You should also avoid having snow covering the beehive entrance, or provide an upper entrance for honeybees to use during winter.
8. Beehive Construction and Setup
Materials that you use to construct beehives and their components have an impact on the temperature and humidity. Good quality wood provides insulation for the beehive against large losses and gains of heat. Wood is also a good regulator of humidity in the beehive cavity. Using high-quality materials ensures that the beehive gives great performance in helping honeybees keep a good balance of temperature and humidity. Low quality materials such as wood that does not easily absorb moisture or provide thermal insulation leave the bees with a lot of work to do.
The arrangement of beehive components during setting up the beehive is also useful in helping honeybees regulate temperature and humidity in the beehive. A beehive with all components set up well performs well in heat conservation and humidity control. It should not have unused spaces that can greatly contribute to loss of heat.
Using many wooden components in the beehive helps boost humidity regulation because wood can absorb and release moisture from and to the air respectively as needed. Placing a condensation blanket or moisture board in beehives during winter is one way that you can use to help in the controlling of humidity in the beehive.
The optimum beehive temperature and humidity is easy to maintain for honeybees. They use various tactics to ensure that the beehive remains conducive for habitation at all times. Interference by the beekeeper can be helpful or harmful to the efforts of honey bees in controlling beehive conditions. Any drastic or sudden changes in temperature and humidity are not good for your honey bees.
You should take measures to ensure that honey bees have enough supplies as they need in the various seasons to effectively control beehive conditions of temperature and humidity. Use the knowledge you have acquired on how honeybees maintain temperature and humidity in a beehive to help them live in favorable conditions all the time.
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