Using a stethoscope to “hear” if your bee hive is alive

18 Jan

If you’re itchy for signs of life over the winter, lord knows you can’t open the hive! But given the right “ear”, you might be able to hear the crunching sounds of life within those four wooden walls.

This week, during Albuquerque’s wicked cold snap, I borrowed a “mechanic’s” stethoscope from a local computer hardware geek and tried to spy on my hive. ZERO. I heard nothing.

The mechanic's stethoscope offered no clues about my bee's survival.

The mechanic’s stethoscope offered no clues about my bee’s survival.

Was it the stethoscope? Was it my bees?

Just when I was about to give up hope, the weather broke and Albuquerque warmed up to 50° which means the girls could get busy if indeed they were alive. Sure enough, about 11 a.m. today, I saw a steady stream of honeybees going about their winter business of pooping, cleaning out dead bees, and possibly even looking for signs of early pollen. Ahhh… beekeeper bliss.

Want to Hear Your Hive?

  • Try a doctor’s stethoscope which amplifies the sounds of bees inside. A mechanic’s stethoscope just didn’t work for me but fellow beeks testify that a doctor’s version will work.
  • Don’t hear anything? Try again at different times in the day. Whatever you do, don’t open the hive until spring!

7 Responses to “Using a stethoscope to “hear” if your bee hive is alive”

  1. sethsnap January 18, 2013 at 9:02 pm #

    Great advice. My dad keeps bees now in Alabama. I’ll share this info with him.

  2. cravesadventure January 18, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

    Yeah Bees!!!

  3. Adric Menning January 21, 2013 at 10:23 am #

    Bummer that it didnt work, I thought for sure it would be a good match, ive located many problems even a failiing circuit breaker in a noisy datacenter, and a where a clog was in a pond pump. using that one(even cracked a combination on a file cabinet), but i suspect the wood does not carry much by way of vibrations. Well ive learned something now too! Good thing dual head doctors type stethoscopes are cheap. ($6-12 online)

    • mistress beek January 21, 2013 at 11:27 am #

      Regardless, there was good fun to be had in trying! Thank you so very much for sharing tools from your toolbox with me.

  4. apiarylandlord February 18, 2013 at 2:20 am #

    It works – but you need to tune in! I bought a stethoscope from ebay remarkably cheaply. First few times I just wasn’t sure what I was hearing but after a while you learn to ‘calibrate’ what you are hearing. You may see some other evidence – for example it sounded different in one corner and I wasn’t 100% sure it was the bees but then I saw some cappings below the same spot. Even then, I was not convinced. You can also listen to an empty hive, if you have one, to help tune in your ear. There are other signs of course. A landing board often means that the dead bees are pushed just outside and land on the board so you can assess level of dead bees which should be just a few a week I think The downside of a landing board on a British national hive at least, is that if it snows, that board can block the entrance. Lastly, especially coming out of winter, if there is a warmer day wander down to the hive near to mid day and just wait to see some odd bees flying. I use the stehoscope rarely know because I have put other things in place and recognise more subtle sounds. I like the glass quilt for example, because if you have covered the porter bee escape with an upturned tub of fondant it is possible to quickly lift the lid and if nothing else see whether the fondant needs replacing. Dead bees don’t eat fondant!

  5. patinaandcompany February 18, 2013 at 7:21 am #

    So very interesting.

  6. Joe Cool February 25, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

    Just put your ear to the hive and give the hive a rap with your knuckles. You should easily hear the buzz of a healthy cluster.

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