Are Infrared Cameras in the Winter Necessary?
Ask the Expert!
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Cathie Fox, Indiana writes:
Do you use infrared cameras in the winter? Are they worth the money? What model do you recommend?
Rusty Burlew replies:
In the past few years, the number of electronic devices for beekeepers has mushroomed, ranging from moisture and temperature sensors to sound monitors and everything in between. I’ve frequently been asked to test these new devices, so I have quite a bit of experience with them. But bottom line, the only one I use on a regular basis is an infrared camera.
In fact, I hardly know how I kept bees without one. Let’s say you want to add a type of mite treatment and the directions tell you to put it just above or within the cluster. Where’s the cluster? Just take a picture with an IR camera. This type of use keeps the bees warmer because you don’t have to open the hive and start pulling frames. Instead, you know right where to go.
Also, the winter cluster moves up as it eats through its food stores. A cluster that has moved to the top is frequently out of food, or at least hasn’t been able to get to the food on either side. How far up is your cluster? Just take an IR picture.
If you are worried about the size of the colony or its movement, you can track it all winter without ever opening the hive. You can tell if it’s moving, growing, shrinking, or disappearing. Once last year, I was sure my top-bar colony was dead. For some reason, I couldn’t hear the bees even when I tapped gently. When I pulled out my camera, I was ecstatic to see a white-hot glow right in the center of the hive. Problem solved.
One of the most interesting photos I’ve ever seen was sent to me by a friend. She had taken an IR photo of her two-story Langstroth hive in winter. The cluster was in the middle, straddling the two boxes. But in the lower left-hand corner was another, but much smaller, glowing sphere. She decided to have a look. So on the first warmish day she took apart the hive and found a mouse nest! She was able to remove it before it did any further damage.
I even use the IR camera in summer. If you want to get a usable photo, you can take a picture early in the morning while the outside temperature is still cold. Whenever the internal hive temperature is warmer than the outside, you can get a usable photo.
My personal favorite is the FLIR ONE Gen 3 that fits on cell phones. They make them for both the iPhone and Android and they start about $200. That may sound like a lot, but when you consider the cost of a new package or nuc, it doesn’t take long to pay back.
By the way, my husband has used my IR camera to find studs in the walls, water pipes, and check for faulty electrical connections. They have many uses beyond the bee hive.