Red Light Heating For Honey Bees

I carelessly caused one of my colonies to slowly starve this winter. The cluster was about the size of my fist, maybe a little larger. Ten days ago while I was getting ready to dismantle the hive and cut my loses, I found the queen still alive. I knew the cluster was too small to keep her warm enough to survive another month of cold Newfoundland weather, so I quickly jury-rigged a nuc box with a light bulb for heat, put the bees in that and hoped for the best. The bright light bulb killed off about a hundred bees like moths to a flame. I eventually replaced it with a red light bulb. Today I put a cage around the light bulb (in a different box) for extra safety and it looks like this:

Empty nuc box with caged red 60-watt light bulb for heat. (March 27, 2016.)

Empty nuc box with caged red 60-watt light bulb for heat. (March 27, 2016.)


Then I put the bees in like this (that’s a dummy board on the outer edge of the frames to prevent the comb from melting):

World's smallest cluster being kept alive with the heat from the caged 60-watt red light bulb. (March 27, 2016.)

World’s smallest cluster being kept alive with the heat from the caged 60-watt red light bulb. (March 27, 2016.)


I looked over the bees during the transfer and couldn’t find the queen. There’s a chance she’s in there, but it doesn’t look good. I’ve done all I can. The bees won’t freeze with that light bulb. They have an exit hole close by for cleansing flights and three frames of honey. Now all I can do is wait.

Let’s assume this is a lost cause…

I think I could have saved the bees if I’d discovered them starving at least a week or two earlier. The cluster would have been larger. They would have had a better chance. Not using a caged red light bulb from the start probably didn’t help, but it was the best I could do on the spot with the materials I had available. I learned about a beekeeper who uses a red light to keep his bees warm all winter. I would never do that, but I do plan to keep at least one heated nuc on standby for next winter just in case (and I’d probably use a ceramic light bulb instead so the bees can’t even see the glowing filament). I’ve also decided to pick up a thermal imaging device for my smart phone. I already have a stethoscope, which has been helpful though it’s not what I’d call a precision instrument. Cheap endoscopes are also available, though I’ve heard people having mixed results with them. But I’m pretty sure if I’d been able to take an infrared photo of my starving hive throughout the winter, I would have seen the cluster begin to shrink as it was cut off from its honey supply and I would have been able to move honey close to the brood nest and save the bees.

APRIL 6, 2016: Even the caged light bulb attracted and killed some bees. If I had to do it again, I’d wrap the cage with heavy duty tinfoil, or perhaps even better, I’d use a large tin can instead of a cage and poke some tiny heat holes throughout it. Judging from what I’ve seen so far, I’d say a 60-watt light bulb, even behind a big tin can, would provide enough heat to keep the cluster and the queen alive.

Continued in God Save The Queen (Maybe).

6 thoughts on “Red Light Heating For Honey Bees

  1. I considered that from the start, but it’s not worth the trouble. The cluster had 300 or 400 bees at the most and now it has maybe 200. If it was a full frame of bees, maybe, but a few hundred isn’t worth the risk of opening a hive and trying to do a combine in sub-zero weather.

  2. Bummer. I’m so sorry about your bees. It was a good lesson learned, though. At least you have other hives and can make splits, so it’s not all bad.

  3. I’ve had second thoughts about getting the thermal camera for my phone, only because man, it ain’t cheap. There are two brands. One called the Flir and another called Seek. The Flir is the better camera of the two, so naturally it’s not sold through Amazon Canada. I was able to find an online retailer that sells it, but the price after taxes hovers closed to $400 all-in. Hike. It must be nice to be rich. $400 is not a casual purchase for me. I’ll have to save up for a while to afford it, if I bother with it at all.

  4. Holy jumping Moses, the queen is still alive. There’s only about 50 bees left alive with her, but she’s alive. Weather permitting, I might try to steal a frame of bees from another hive and see if I can combine them.

    It was so strange to see her examining cells, looking for a place to lay.

    My plan (that I’m making up at this instant) is to find a frame of clean drawn comb, something she might want to lay in; place that with a frame of honey in a nuc box; somehow steal some bees from another colony and put them in the nuc box; capture the queen with some attendants in a queen cage with a sugar candy plug; and install the queen in the nuc box. Then maybe in a day or two she’ll come out of the cage and everything little thing will be alright. That’s a big maybe.

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