The Bee Space

Listen to Your Bees


Here is a great article that I thought you might find interesting.  Enjoy!

Listening to Your Bees

by Peter Dight

I believe the hiss is a warning…

I’ve a reasonable library of beekeeping books, and a couple of years ago I was reading an old book which mentioned listening to your bees to see if they are going to swarm.  It told of how a queenright colony, when their hive is sharply tapped upon, will react by ‘hissing’.  I believe the hiss is the bee equivalent to a warning signal, generated by a section of the population fluttering its wings in response to the vibration caused by the tap.

If the colony is making swarm preparations, weeks before a queen cell is drawn the queen will be slowing down her laying rate as she becomes exhausted or as the bees, sensing a drop in queen pheromone, start withdrawing food for the queen.  Thus the emerging young bees have fewer larva to feed when they emerge as nurse bees.  This surfeit of nurse bees, as yet not fully developed in their first 10 days since hatching from the comb, are milling around in the hive with little or nothing to do.  Now, when we tap a hive in this state, the normal hiss starts, and the idle nurse bees react by imitating the response, but their underdeveloped wings and/or inexperience cause the resulting sound to differ noticeably.

A longer hiss may indicate a swarm

So, on tapping a colony, if you get a short sharp hiss it will be queenright, while if you get a longer deeper toned attack followed by a sustained decay, which resembles a wave more than a hiss, then you are likely to be facing a swarm soon.  This can be noted some two weeks before the first queen cells are drawn and can cut the number of intrusive manipulations required for swarm control, and save a lot of time if you have a quantity of hives.

When I read about this and asked other beekeepers I was laughed at, and still am when I ask some beekeepers.  I tried it the next season after learning about it and after months of noting no difference in the hiss’s I heard, one day noted an easily recognizable difference; and yes, a week later queen cells were starting to be drawn.

Since then I discovered a 1950-60 invention called the Apidictor, and if you know of a beekeeper with electronic and audio design background, you may try to get them interested in building one for you.

End of Article

Hive tapping does work…I tried it

As soon as I read this article I went out to my hives and started tapping them to hear how they were doing.  Sure enough, they responded exactly as Peter wrote that they would.  I also did some research and found a schematic for the ” Apidictor” at There I learned that one E. F. Woods created a device which was able to electronically isolate the key “swarm” sounds…the sounds which could indicate to a beekeeper a possible swarm in the future.

So, try it out…listen to your bees.  Who knows, we may yet learn something from nature!

Thanks to Peter Dight for letting me share this article!