You may be asking yourself just what could beekeepers need with an infrared thermometer.  This is a tool typically used by HVAC and energy efficiency contractors.  Despite what seems like no apparent relationship at all, today we’re going to talk about how remote infrared thermometers have become an important tool for a particular group of beekeepers.

First of all, an infrared thermometer is a tool that allows one to detect heat radiation from a distance and without making contact with a surface.  An HVAC technician will use an infrared thermometer to see where heat is leaking through a wall or near a furnace or through concealed ducts in ceilings.  A quick point and scan shows the tech where the temperature increases as they scan along an area.  You can get more details of how infrared thermometers are normally used here.

Infrared Thermometer Featured Image

Pictured above is a general model.  This is a low cost model that has been used by many beekeepers I know.  There are other models that offer more features which some other beekeepers will use as well.  Are you still wondering what a beekeeper would use an infrared thermometer for?  To find a heat source, of course.

OK, Suessian humor aside, for beekeepers who become involved in doing live bee nest removals from buildings and houses one of the greatest challenges is to accurately locate where the nest is inside the wall.  Honey bees might enter at one point, such as near a window ledge or door trim that has a gap between it and the building.  However, once past that point, the nest can be five feet away, above, below or along a straight line horizontally from that entrance.

live bee removal

The problem for the beekeeper is that we never know exactly where that nest is going to be until we open the wall.  Sometimes we can use a stethoscope and try to listen along a wall for the sound of the bees buzzing in the wall to determine an approximate location.  That’s not always foolproof though.  Sometimes electrical boxes and other things near a wall can make a similar buzzing sound and mislead the beekeeper or disguise the bees entirely.

When using even an infrared thermometer beekeepers can start at the entrance and work their way along a wall until they see the signature heat increase within the void that shows the precise (or nearly so) location of the nest.  This is actually very important for both the beekeeper and the property owners.  The more accurately we can locate the nest location using a tool like an infrared thermometer, the less unnecessary cutting we have to do to get to the bees and get them out of the wall.

Using tools like this saves time, money, energy and stress on the bees.  Low stress bees are easier to work with and make getting the job done quicker and with less problems (like people in the area getting stung).

Jeff Armstrong, a notable bee removal specialist in Louisiana, says, “I don’t leave my truck without one in my pocket.”  In regards to reliability, Jeff told us, “When the surface temps you are trying to read are higher than the mid 80’s the tool is not as valuable for locating colonies anymore.  Of course houses/structures that have (interior wall) readings above the mid 80F point are usually vacant or without AC.”

infrared thermometer in use

The reason that infrared thermometers lose reliability in higher temperatures is partly because bees will work to maintain a specific nest temperature necessary for the eggs and larvae to survive.  When the surface temperatures of the walls, etc… being scanned are about the same temperature or higher, it makes singling out the nest site much more difficult.

There are other tools that beekeepers who do live removals will use to locate where nests are.  We’ll talk about some of those as we go through 2015.  It just goes to show once again that we beekeepers are a crafty bunch who make the most out of what we have around us.  Of course, many of these tools go hand in hand with other technology to remove live bee nests from buildings.  Take for example a bee vacuum.  Finding the nest with an infrared thermometer is only the beginning.  After that, we have to open the wall and get the bees out.  It can be a pretty involved process and it’s not always pretty.

About the author

Tony Sandoval

Beekeepers in the 21st century use technology in ways most people never think of. I will take you into sunlit valleys where you can see the sunshine through a browser, inspect hives with portable devices and harvest products of the hive using all manner of technological devices you might have not thought of before.

I am a Master Beekeeper and President of the Omaha Bee Club, I am a published author in Bee Culture magazine (a nationally published beekeeping magazine), and a Linux junkie who plays with servers and wireless networking for scientific experimentation in bee science projects.

Let's take a look at tech through the eyes of a scientific apiculturist, shall we?