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This page is credited in full to Dave Cushman who created it. His voice is expressed in black colour text and any additions or comments in blue belong to myself. Credit: Dave Cushman’s website.



Drifting Behaviour in honey bees

Prevailing wind or repetitive features in a landscape can cause honey bees to enter a different hive from the one that they left, we call this phenomena drifting.

Typical end of line effect End of the line effect… During my beekeeping career I have kept hives in various arrangements, due to the lie of the land, the shape of the plot or my ideas at the time. The end of the line effect is often quoted in beekeeping books as being an undesirable situation. I am no longer sure that it is very important, but in cases where there is a wind that prevails from a particular direction, you will observe that the most downwind colony has the most bees and gathers more honey, the next two or three hives along the line will also have more than the others with the opposite end of the line being the most depleted of bees and lowest honey yield.

If the wind comes from two opposite directions at different times during normal flying hours and the directions are roughly in line with the line of hives, then both ends of the lines will have taller hives with the lowest in the middle of the row.

Drifting over featureless water is another classic scenario that comes up in beekeeping books time and again, the drawing below depicts two scenarios, the first where the water has no landmarks at all and the second where there is a row of stepping stones that act as fixed points for the bees navigation. In the case where the bee misses the target hive, the path from the point of landfall to the hive may be straight if the bee has knowledge of the bank, but may be a spiral search path if that information has not already been absorbed.

Drifting over water

Patterns of placement… I started my beekeeping with hives in long rows with the entrances facing the sun. The rows were not exactly straight nor was the spacing regular. This was an attempt to reduce drifting. The bee stocks concerned were mainly Italianised mongrels.

The same mixed gene stocks have also been used two to a pallet and four to a pallet. In the latter case each hive faced a different point of the compass. The twin hive pallets had some facing east/west, some were north/south, some had both facing south and yet others were SW/SE.

More recently and with stock that is largely AMM, I face the hives outwards from my working position without any regard for compass direction.

I had a friend (now deceased), that had a great many apiaries, his method was to place 40 hives in a circle, with entrances facing outwards, and about one hive width between them. His stocks were locally naturalised AMM.

Neither he nor I ever noticed any difference in the activity or honey gathering power of any colony that could correlate with direction… Yes, there were variations in crop, but the south facing ones were no better than the rest. I do not recall any variations that were due to prevailing wind direction.

Mating Nucs on a fence… I have a paddock that is fenced in a post and rail fashion, with the vertical posts about 8 feet (2.5 m) apart. I have mating nucs at the same height on every post along two edges of the paddock. The nucs are similar to each other, but each has a distinctly different roof.

I made each of the mating nuc roofs to a different shape with three dimensional patterned blocks of various geometric shapes. The roofs are painted as well, but the only two colours used are black and white. The roof shape is painted in white and the applied blocks are painted black.

There is an inverse to drifting and that is the bees ability to find the hive after the beekeeper has moved or disturbed it. I believe that some strains or races of bee have a strong affinity for their own colony and will investigate other colonies in an attempt to find their particular ‘home’. Some other strains will jump into the first colony that they come across. This may have implications in the spreading of diseases.


I cannot say I have seen a noticeable difference in yield in the hives at the end of rows, but… mine are not featureless white units which is the situation where this kind of behaviour is more usual.


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