Are you listening to your bees?

Experienced beekeepers approach their hives as one might enter a church or temple. With quiet respect. Once there, we listen. That’s an important part of our role.  The listening beekeeper knows in an instant if the colony is queenless or has been defending against marauders (wasps, skunks, robber bees). From sound alone, I can’t tell if the hive will be swarming soon or if it is overrun by mites or disease. But some scientists think the information is there, in the air, audible cries of distress or joy produced by the hive.

If we could listen to a thousand hives a day, remember the pitch and rhythm, and relate that to the health and demeanour of similar hives embedded in our memory from our past experiences, we might know a lot more about our hive. This is a project that Jerry Bromenshenk, David Firth, and their associates have spent years developing. Technology and persistence have led to an app, a small computer program, which can be installed on a cell phone. The phone’s microphone picks up the sounds from a hive and analyzes the sounds against thousands of sounds heard in thousands of other hives. Using an artificial intelligence algorithm (a system that learns from its own mistakes), the phone can return the best guess possible about what’s happening in the hive.  As more and more beekeepers use the system (and report their own real-time diagnosis of hive conditions), the better the app becomes.

Your bees are calling.

This bee app is being perfected by Dr Jerry Bromenshenk and his team at Bee Alert Technologies.  Jerry is associated with the University of Montana. He presented at our big United Beekeepers of Alberta conference here in Calgary in September. At the UBA meeting, he discussed new bee technology. One of the things that Jerry described is the phone app which listens to a colony and then deduces the state of the hives’ health.  When he was in Calgary in the fall, Jerry demonstrated the system on my backyard hives. The app concluded (without opening the hives) that all was well.  The app was right – my hives survived the winter and are booming now.  This system has real potential and has been noticed around the world. Along with Bee Culture and ABJ, it has even been featured in Economist magazine.

Would you like to help get this app rolling out to the public?  The more information it analyzes, the better it gets at decoding a beehive’s health. And if you join the fundraiser ( within the next three days, your contribution gets you one of the first copies of the app – and the satisfaction of potentially improving the way we all keep bees. I’m excited about the prospects, but wary to over-sell the product. I doubt that it will ever be perfect. Heck, my new van sometimes has issues and it’s been 120 years in development. But it is still a step or two above a horse and wagon for my needs. This new app is likely to also be a step or two above my ears when it comes to diagnosing the well-being of my beehives. After 12 years of research and development and two years of testing, this device is ready for all of us to test.

Here’s a bit straight from Dr Jerry Bromenshenk:

On May 1, we launched a Kickstarter project to finalize Tuning of our AI-Powered, Honey Bee Health Guru app. We also intend to add Automatic Alerts and Mapping of the spread of honey bee pests and diseases.   We have just 10 days left  three days left to raise funds and recruit participants:

Kickstarter backers can get a pre-release version of the app. We are looking for 500 backers, and we are close. By the end of May, we will have an established core group of citizen scientists.

We also have a ProVersion of the app aimed at helping Professional Beekeepers improve the ease and accuracy of colony health management. Thus, we are looking for commercial beekeepers who might collaborate with us to tune the ProApp for each commercial operations unique needs. This objective is over and above the objective of the basic app. Providing new tools to improve the efficiency of bee management while reducing overall costs is a personal goal of mine.

Brief Summary of the Bee Health Guru app and the ProVersion:

Our app lets the sounds of the colony itself tell us about each colony’s health condition. Our data recording, AI-powered analyses, and inspection reports are mostly automated. Recording and analysis take less than a minute per hive. Use of the app only takes a few button clicks.   All information can be sent to a Cloud site with the click of one button.           Time, date, location, type of phone, phone operating system are automatically added. From the Cloud, we can send automated reports back to the Professional beekeeper. Have 20 crewmembers in three states? If any or all use the app and hit the upload button at the end of the day, the Professional Manager/Owner will get a summary of all hives checked with the app and a listing by hive and location those that need attention.

Also, whether a hobby, sideliner, or Pro, when app information is sent to the Cloud, we can:

1) Use that information to fine tune the performance and accuracy of the app,

2) Automatically generate alerts to the Pro, for each Pro’s beekeeping operation,

3) Automatically produce regional reports of pest and disease outbreaks and map the spread (similar to the measles outbreaks of the CDC).

Thanks for your help in getting the word out. When we launched the Kickstarter, I did not include information about the ProApp – the basic Kickstarter project might not have been funded. At this point, we have secured the initial pledge funds, so we are moving forward in these last 10 days to expand our goals – namely, the inclusion of the ProApp testing and development and the addition of automated alerts and mapping of the spread of emergent pest and disease incidents.


Jerry Bromenshenk, Ph.D.,

Pres/CEO of Bee Alert Technology, Inc.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
This entry was posted in Bee Biology, Beekeeping, Diseases and Pests, Tools and Gadgets and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Are you listening to your bees?

  1. Reblogged this on Bellingham Blog and commented:

    Help the bees!!


  2. Martin Goulooze says:

    Jerry is one bright and innovative mind and a treasure to beekeepers today. Thank you Jerry for our betterment.


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