Do they help honey bees navigate?
In May 2009 one of our Wisborough Green BKA members was asked to look at some bees in a barn with a view to removing them, as there was going to be a family event held in the barn later in the summer. I am well known locally for removing wild colonies from difficult places and the member felt she couldn't do it herself, so wanted advice. On arrival, I was shown the end of the barn where the bees were. They were going in several holes and on seeing where the structural woodwork was, I soon realised there were at least three colonies involved.
I thought I would use it for demonstration purposes and arranged for 6 other beekeepers to help. We removed the weatherboarding to reveal 4 colonies, although one wasn't worth saving. It didn't make sense to me that bees would nest so close to other colonies that would compete with them for food. I have removed well over 200 feral colonies that have selected their own nest sites, but I have never seen so many nesting so close together before. Even during the time we were removing the bees there were several other places on the barn that scout bees were showing interest in. There were 11 known swarms or colonies that were associated with the barn in 2009 and we get several calls by the owner every year (an example is that on 15th April 2019 we removed 4 overwintered colonies).
At about that time I was asked by Philip Denwood, the Editor of Bee Improvement Magazine to look at an article submitted by BIBBA member John Harding, with a view to putting it on the BIBBA website, of which I am web editor. In the article was reference to "geopathic stress lines", giving John's findings that bees placed on them have a lower varroa count than those that aren't. I did a websearch on geopathic stress lines and was a bit confused by the results. Some sources suggested they were the same as ley lines. I remembered that about 30 years previously in a waiting room I had read a magazine (not beekeeping) article about ley lines and that some creatures, including bees, were attracted to them, others were repelled. I was sceptical and didn't take much notice, but retained the information. On a trip to give a lecture in the North West I had a chance to pass close to John Harding's home, so I visited him. He told me about his findings and how with several hundred colonies he hadn't treated for varroa for several years. He showed me how he detected the lines by using divining rods, that were made out of steel coat hangers. I tried and to my surprise I picked up the same lines John did. Of course I knew where they were, so it can easily be said I was merely reacting to what I knew.
When I returned home I made a couple of divining rods, tried them out and headed for the barn. One ley line went through the end of the barn and several crossed it in exactly the same places as the bees had nested. I subsequently realised the barn was on a high concentration of ley lines.
I made several calls to John Harding to discuss what had happened and he wasn't surprised at all. He told me that oak trees also grew on them. I did a bit more research and found that ley lines were rediscovered in modern times around 1920 by Alfred Watkins, who had written several books about them, including "The Old Straight Track". He is also credited with being a founder member of Herefordshire BKA.
I know very little about ley lines, only that they are some form of energy that comes out of the ground. Searching for information soon involves the spiritual side that I have little interest in. I have to say I'm still a bit sceptical, as there are several elements that I struggle to understand, to the point where I'm not sure that what I'm detecting is the same as what others do. For that reason I now refer to what I detect as "Energy Lines". What I detect are very straight and quite narrow, only being an inch or two wide, directionally at random, with no pattern. I have detected them across large fields and placed stakes in the ground at intervals of 30-40 yards. Viewing them from the other side of the field they are in a straight line. I am certain they are magnetic because I only get a reaction when using steel divining rods. I have used brass and aluminium but they don't work.
My technique for finding them is simple. I concentrate on what I am looking for. On many occasions I have concentrated on other things as a control and I have had no reaction from my rods. I have tried to find other things and in general I am fairly successful, but I do have failures. I don't consider myself an experienced diviner and I am in no doubt that you have to practice regularly, which I don't.
Now back to bees. I permanently keep divining rods in my car for when I collect swarms or see colonies that have selected their own nest site. Since 2009 I have checked every place I know where a swarm has settled and everywhere a wild colony has set up home. They are all in a place where at least three energy lines cross, usually more. In July 2011 I was called out to a swarm that had clustered on the lawn of a large house. It was where at least 8 energy lines crossed. The queen had a damaged wing, so couldn't fly and I wondered where the swarm had come from. I noticed a large oak tree about 100 yards away on one of the energy lines that went through the swarm. The tree had bees in it. I can only assume they had gone along the ground until they found crossing energy lines. I have come across similar situations several times. In February 2013 I was asked by an entomologist to look at a "wild colony in a tree". When I got there it was in the branches of a tree that had blown down some time earlier and the bees had built their nest in the open. I found it was immediately over where at least 13 energy lines crossed. It was only a short distance from houses, where there were many better places to build a nest. I have seen many honey bee nests that have been built in the open, all of which have a higher number of energy lines crossing through them than those in cavities do, suggesting the high concentration is more attractive to the bees. The least I have come across is 8, the most the 13 mentioned above.
I have checked several hundred sites and I haven't had one negative so far. I have spoken to beekeepers who say they always have swarms settle in the same places. I have a pretty good record of finding them. I place all my bait hives where three or more energy lines cross and am very successful in attracting swarms without using swarm lures as some beekeepers do.
I have removed a large number of wild colonies that have built their nest in a site they have chosen themselves. The direction of combs varies considerably, even if in the same wall as another nest. The direction of combs in a natural nest has been the subject of great debate, with theories that include bees build comb in line with a fixed reference, to aid defence and in the same direction as the nest the swarm came from. I believe there may be an element of truth in all these theories, but I have discovered the main combs are built in the direction of one or more of the energy lines. I am now able to accurately predict the possible comb directions before I open up the cavity.
In July 2015 I visited the Dover and District BKA to give a Bee Improvement Presentation. They had a Top Bar Hive in their apiary that we looked at. The bees had built the combs part way in the direction of the top bars, then veered off at an angle of about 30-40°. I had a hunch the bees had changed direction due to an energy line, so I got my rods out of the car and to my surprise I found 5 energy lines passing through a point a couple of feet away from the centre of the nest, with one in line with the direction the bees had built the stray comb, with no line in the direction of the top bars. We moved the hive a couple of feet, but rotated it in line with the energy line the bees had built the stray comb in. The person in charge of the TBH removed the comb that was in the "wrong" direction and I had an email a week later saying the bees had now built the comb in line with the top bars. This may explain why bees that occupy a hive where greater wax moth have destroyed the combs don't often build combs in line with the frames.
As an engineer I have always thought the work on bee navigation and communication done by Karl von Frisch didn't explain fully what was happening and there may be more to it that hasn't been discovered. For an insect to be told by another insect how to visit a food source a mile or more away and return with pinpoint accuracy is incredible. It seems likely it may need some more help. Now let's take the situation in the U.K. at least. I have checked John Harding's theory and all the naturally grown oak trees I have checked are on 3 or more energy lines, many on 4-5. Many wild honey bee colonies nest in cavities in oak trees. My thinking is that energy lines and other markers are likely to be fixed, but the sun, that is central to the discoveries of von Frisch, is constantly moving. Could it be that as energy lines are straight, the bees are using all this information together? In no way am I trying to discredit von Frisch's work, merely suggesting something else may be enhancing it.
I have only ever seen two drone assemblies, one in my early beekeeping years and one in July 2013. The latter was where at least 11 energy lines crossed, probably several more as it was impossible for me to count them all. Could it be that both drones and queens follow energy lines to the assemblies?
I suspect there have been many attempts to research energy lines, but there is little reliable information - I wish there was. I know what I am finding, but I have no explanations. I have done some tests to show that I'm not finding water pipes as some suggest.
I was asked to do a workshop on "Bees and Energy Lines" at Gormanston in 2019 to repeat one I did in 2018. In fact there was so much interest that I was asked to do a second workshop. My aim was to find a spot on the lawn were at least 3 energy lines crossed, so an ideal place to put a bait hive. I was given some electric fence stakes with coloured tape, one for each line I found to avoid confusion. I found one line and a point where another line crossed it. At that point I looked for and found at least one more energy line, so I knew I had at least enough for the demonstration. I placed 5-6 stakes along this line radiating out about 20-25 yards each side of the crossing point. Then I did the same with all the other 4 energy lines I found crossing the point. I'm sure there were more, but there were time limitations. When finding lines I was blinkered by attendees using document folders so I couldn't see the other stakes. Each of the different colours was in line. I was pleased this was the case as it was the first time I have set out markers in line with a large audience and being blinkered. This showed me that energy lines exist and are straight.
I have checked many wasp nests to see if they are built on energy lines. I have found some that have been on one, especially if they use a cavity in the same wall of a building that honey bees nest in. So far I have not come across one that is in a position where two or more cross, as happens with honey bees. The vast majority of wasp nests I have checked are not on energy lines, suggesting to me that wasps don't use lines in the same way that honey bees do. I have not seen bumblebees use energy lines.
I have developed a presentation and demonstration on energy lines, where I look for them in the venue. If anyone is interested in it as a subject for an evening event or a convention please email me.
I'm grateful to John Harding for bringing this to my attention. It has added to my interest and possibly further understanding of honey bees.
A note for the sceptics. I am not particularly good at divining and only use it for my own purposes. I can absolutely guarantee that what is written above is truthful. I understand why you may not believe in energy lines and I respect your view. I understand how difficult it is to deal with something you can't see - I was sceptical once. There were many at the time who disbelieved von Frisch's discoveries and some still do.
For 2020 I hope to do an experiment at the Wisborough Green BKA teaching apiary. I have identified several places where 4 or more energy lines cross. I intend placing bait hives on these, with the combs aligned to an energy line. I intend to place the same number of identical hives with comb in where there are no energy lines. I believe 6 or more of each will be a large enough sample to give a good indication if it works.
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