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How to train your honey bees

Honey bees can be trained to do a lot of things. Recently, they have been trained to detect bombs, diabetes, and maybe even cancer. I simply train my honey bees to drink from artificial feeders at a certain location. Easier said than done (in the summertime anyway).

Whether honey bees are being trained to detect bombs or to feed from our tasting table, the process starts with sugar water. Very concentrated sugar water. In my case, I put a 75% sugar solution in a mason jar, poke holes in the lid, flip it over onto a base, put it right outside of the hives, and wait for the bees to find it. Once enough bees are coming to the mason jar feeder, I can move the feeder gradually farther and farther away from the hives, slowly decreasing the sugar concentration, until the bees are where I need them to be.

In the fall, when I don’t have many flowers to compete with, this whole process takes about 2 days. In the summertime, however, the whole process takes anywhere from 2-5 weeks, with a little bit of nudging.

Things we tried to no avail:

  • Constructing a duct tape bridge from the hive entrance to the feeder, speckled with sugar water. Did not work.

  • Writing notes to the bees (notice the decorative flowers as well). No dice.

  • Scenting the sugar water with anise. I was actually really surprised this didn’t work- according to Tom Seeley, honey bees should go nuts for anise. Not our bees.

Things we tried that actually worked:

  • Scenting the sugar water with mint.

  • Starting with a 50% honey solution instead of a 75% sugar solution.

  • Physically moving the bees from the entrance of their hive to the feeder. To do this, we placed cardboard speckled with sugar water right at the entrance of the hive and waited for about 10 bees to find it. Then, equipped with gloves, we slowly moved the piece of cardboard to the feeder. Once the bees got a taste of the honey solution at the feeder, they just had to go back to the hive and tell their friends (via the waggle dance). This summer’s interns got creative with the cardboard.

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