honey bee management

Runway lights for honey bees

Yesterday, Tricia over at Apiarylandlord (UK) told me about another method for moving bees a short distance. She wrote in part, “If you are moving them significantly less than 3 miles and more than 3 feet, you might like to use a trick I read about . . . [The author] said that he could break the rules [by placing] a long painted white board (e.g. a wooden plank about 2-3 metres long and 8-10 inches wide) leading to the hive entrance for a few days beforehand. I pictured this like runway landing lights. Then moving the hive by steps of about 15 feet became possible if this ‘landing strip’ was also moved.”

Interesting idea. Many of us have wanted to move a hive only ten or twenty feet. Any of the standard methods such as moving them three miles away and then back again—or even locking them up for three days—seem like overkill. Tricia’s method takes advantage of visual clues that are close to the hive.

Jurgen Tautz in his book, The Buzz about Bees says, “Bees use earthbound and celestial cues as aids to orient themselves outside the nest, and will make their way from one landmark to the next along each part of the journey to their goal. For this they use trees, bushes, and other conspicuous features in the landscape . . .­ During [orientation flights] bees leave the hive each time in different directions, and so map the location of the nest relative to its surroundings” (p. 89).

Tautz also explains that, “Hive markings in the form of patterns, such as horizontal or vertical bars, better aid the bees to find the correct nest” (p. 79).

Also relevant is the fact that “Shape and color are not learned as quickly as odors, taking three to five training sessions to achieve proficiency” (p. 84).

Putting all this together, you can see how a long board painted a bright color might help the bees locate the correct hive if its new position is relatively close to its previous position, and if the bees have had sufficient time to accept the board as a landmark. It might be even more helpful to paint it with high-contrast stripes—such as black on white—much like a zebra crossing.

I haven’t tried this method, but next time I want to move a hive a short distance I will definitely give it a try and let you know the results.


Zebra crossing: will it work for bees? Flickr photo by Dan Crowther.

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  • A trick I heard was to move them, then give the hive a powerful kick. The theory being that it’s like a lightning strike or a tree falling down which resets the bees’ navigational coordinates. The next morning they emerge and reorient themselves.

  • I read somewhere that it is good idea to create a “landing strip” for the bees especially if they need to be moved to new home (my case). It was suggested to use blue color, since bees recognized it more easily (their vision is in UV spectrum). Since I did parallel blue-white stripes at the entrance to my Kenyan hive, I decided to change pattern in another hive – I guess, my creativity was at low that time because I choose center blue triangle (tip facing outside) and made stripes parallel to the sides of triangle … Well, yes, they follow stripes when take off … and collide in air since triangle… even now, most crowded place at the “landing deck” is a blue triangle… They love it! In both hives they follow the stripes especially when landing, thus, stripes need to direct into the hive – perpendicular to what is on the picture above and don’t do triangles… With these stripes, we moved hives 100 feet or so without any problem.

  • What a great post and thanks Sergey for posting your experience. For many urban beekeepers moving the hives just a little bit can be important – “ooh, that spot two feet over gets a bit better morning sun now that the neighbor’s tree has grown up a bit more”, or “really need to put that shed there, hrm” so we’ll be sure to share this with our fans and followers too. Thanks again for the info!

    • Jessica,

      You are very welcome! Bees – are non-stop entertainment to me… always something new… yesterday we had a rain (not usual for SoCal) and I made entrance in Kenyan hive small to prevent water from entering the hive. Well, today, I discovered a few thousand bees was flying around the hive… I was thinking swarming or … whatever…, no, just traffic jam because reduced entrance… like our famous 405 freeway…

  • I used this method and it works. Move the hive in the evening after foragers are back. Place some brush in front of hive in its new location. Just enough brush to cause a reorientation flight prior to leaving the hive area. After a few days, remove the brush.

  • I want to move 3 hives about 200-300 feet away, changing from facing north with a treeline to their backs to facing east in an open but roofed area. I attached different bright color papers (in Ziploc) to each hive several weeks ago hoping that would help once they’re moved.

    Is it better to move in a cold spell before winter ends (my original thought) or wait for spring? We are in SW Ohio, and we should have a few more too-cold-to-fly periods. I am concerned about them returning to old location and dying in the cold. One hive seems very strong, one medium, and the third….not so much. I took over care about 4 months ago. I don’t want to lose them to my ignorance.

    I was thinking of locking them in for 3 days after the move, and then blockading them behind clear plastic (an air duct deflector) for a couple flying days thinking that would let them look at their surroundings before flying. Would that help or just annoy them? I would also use some evergreens boughs to make them think before leaving home once they are free to fly.

    Now, I am intrigued by the landing strips and will probably make them too. Would I need to do a different pattern for each one or would the same lengthwise stripes be OK for all since they sit just 1-2 feet from each other? Do you prop the board up so it’s more horizontal, just slightly tilted down for water runoff, or let the end rest on the ground like a ramp? My hives are about 1.5-2 feet off the ground.

    Also, you noted a quote about bees noticing odors. Is there something with a specific odor that I could begin placing near their hives that would include a few flying days before moving them? They are on our property, so I can attend to every day to replenish it if needed.

    Lastly and a bit off-topic. The trailer they are on is buried in the mud, so I need to hold/transport them another way while we get the trailer out and moved to the new location. Any suggestions on how to move the hives so we don’t break their cluster if we move in the cold? With their candy boards and moisture quilts, they might be too tall to fit in my hatchback, which was my original thought.

    • Alice,

      If you can move the hives without taking them apart, I think winter is better. You can keep the bees locked up, and after a few days they will reorient normally. I strap hives together with ratcheting tie-downs (you can put on in each direction) and move them with a hand truck or furniture dolly. Depending on your set up, you may have to put a flat board under the hive and strap the whole thing to the hand truck as well.

  • Do you have to keep the hive upright at all times, or can you move it with a appliance mover? We want to move them up in our barn so we have to go up stairs. Thank you

    • Joe,

      I’ve moved them with an appliance dolly. Just tip the hives fore-and-aft, not side-do-side, because the combs are stronger in that direction.

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