Livestock Research for Rural Development 29 (5) 2017 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Enhancing honey quality, colony and beekeepers’ safety through the use of modified red-light source during colony inspection in the dark

Tessema Aynalem, Birhanu Kassa1 and Demelash Dagnew1

Department of Animal Production and Technology, College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, Bahir Dar University, PO Box 5501 Bahir Dar, Ethiopia;
1 Andassa Livestock Research Center, Amhara Regional Research Institute, Ethiopia


The study was conducted in the north-Western part of Ethiopia, at Andassa livestock research Centre apiary site. It was aimed at identifying battery colors for night time inspection of Ethiopian Apis mellifera local honey bee races. To identify the battery colors for night time honeybee colony inspection, three identical batteries with different colors were used. Two medium, two strong, and two very strong honeybee colonies were randomly assigned to each color treatment. The treatments were replicated six times and a total of nine transitional and nine frame hives were used during flowering season.

The study has shown differences among different colors emitted by battery lights in ability to attract worker bees. The use of ordinary battery modified to emit red light during night time internal honeybee colony inspection reduced the bee sting, calmed aggressive bees, avoided excessive use of smoke, reduced smoky odor of honey and reduced contamination of honey with microscopic soot.

Key words: bee death, color, honey quality, smoke


Beekeeping is an environmentally friendly venture contributing much to the improvement of the livelihood of beekeepers. It is an important sub-agricultural economic activity that employs over to 2 million people. Despite the potential to produce huge volume of honey, current production is limited to only about 10% of the potential. Due to its nutritional and medicinal qualities, globally, there is large and growing demand for honey (Gizachew 2010). But, the low quality of the honey produced has resulted on comparatively low the exported amount (Beyene and David 2007). Africa's bees tend to have more aggressive behavior than their European or American counterparts (Raina et al 2009). They are highly defensive and much more aggressive towards humans and animals. They respond more rapidly and intensely than European bees and usually sting in larger numbers (Hepburn and Radloff 1998, Fletcher 1978, Hunt et al 1998). African honey bees are more likely to attack a perceived threat over much longer distances from the hive. They Produce more alarm pheromone than European honey bee workers, which excites other workers to sting, and further contributes to greater colony defensiveness. As the worker bee stings, the sting attached to the rear end of the bee's abdomen pulls away, causing worker bee’s death shortly afterwards. More defensiveness results in more worker bee’s death (Adjare 1990).

In order to know how the colonies are progressing, beekeepers open the hives and inspect each comb. This will let the beekeeper know whether the honey is being caped regularly, whether the colony is getting ready to swarm or the hive has been attacked by pests. The bees are removed by smoking and brushing (Adjare 1990). Many honey harvesting methods are available to separate bees from their honeycombs. But, the most popular methods of removing bees from combs for honey harvesting in African countries are to smoke the bees heavily and brush them off the individual combs (FAO 1986). Beekeepers use the smoke to calm the bees or mask alarm pheromones released by guard bees during opening the hive and work without triggering a defensive reaction. To calm the bees and push them away from the comb during internal hive inspection and honey harvesting, they use much cow dung smoke. During this process, a fresh look at the question of honey quality is useful. Honey is produced for sale in countries all over the world and honeys from a wide range of climatic zones are candidates for sale on the world market. But different quality aspects such as purity, absence of fermentation, flavor and aroma are considered during marketing. Most of the honey quality defects are induced during harvesting. Excessive use of smoke during harvesting will flavor the honey quickly, makes the odor of honey smoky and contaminates with microscopic soot no matter which smoker fuel has been selected.

In most parts of the World, bee hive opening for honey harvesting or for internal inspection is done at night. A high temperature during the day makes the bees active and difficult to handle (Aidoo 2009). Worker bees become less active during the cooler times of the day, especially at night hours, (Yasuyuki 2009). Most beekeepers therefore inspect their colonies late in the evening when temperatures is low and the bees are relatively calm, less defensive and easier to manipulate. At night, beekeepers commonly use ordinary white light torches (battery) for visibility during hive inspection. However, the aggressive African honey bees launch large attack towards the direction of ordinary white light torches (battery) and sting the keeper, which makes the work load heavier.

When ordinary white light torch (battery) light is used, worker bees are attracted in high numbers to sections of the hive where the light is shown. A beekeeper applies smoke to move bees away but the bees keep coming back to the illuminated area. In this case the honey and wax accepts more smoke than threshold. On the other hand, though our bees are mostly inspected at night, still there is high level of incidence of stinging on beekeeper, and more worker bees’ death. In some cases large number of angry bees have stung the gloves of the person carrying the torch (battery) emitting ordinary white light.

A possible solution to this problem is basing on the fact that insects are less attracted to certain colored lights. Thus, the use of light with different colors during night time colony inspection could be an alternative for safe internal colony inspection and quality honey harvesting with fewer stings that save the lives of the worker bees. This study was initiated to test the use of batteries with different colors during night time internal honeybee colony inspection as alternative to safe honeybee colony management and quality honey harvesting with fewer stings at night.


To evaluate different colored light source batteries for night time internal colony inspection of Ethiopian Apis mellifera local races of honey bees

Materials and methods

The study was conducted at Andassa livestock research Centre apiary site. Three identical batteries with different color emission were used. The first battery was designed to emit ordinary white light and the others were modified to emit red light and blue light respectively by fitting round piece of red and blue polythene sheets and painting red and blue markers on the glasses of each battery. Three sheets of white cloth measuring 100 cm 2 were obtained. The experimental design was arranged in RCBD. Inspected honeybee colonies were grouped as medium, strong and very strong based on worker bee population and coverage of the inside comb space. Two medium, two strong, and two very strong colonies were randomly assigned for each treatment. Each treatment was replicated six times and a total of nine transitional and nine frame hives were used during flowering season. At 8:00 pm when the day darkens, each honeybee colony was disturbed by tapping the side of the hive close to the entrance and one of the pieces of the cloth was hung about 20cm away from the hive and the white light was emitted up on it being in the same direction as the bee’s flight for foraging. The number of bees attracted to the spot light and landed on the cloth within five minutes were counted and recorded. The experiments were repeated with other treatment honey bee colonies with different strength. The other treatments, with modified red light and blue light emitting batteries were carried out with the same procedures. The number of bees attracted and landed on the spot light in the piece cloth within five minutes were counted and recorded

Materials that used to the experiment
Figure 1. Ethiopian honeybee Colonies in frame and top bar hives Figure 2. Modified Red, blue and white light sourced batteries to inspect hives

Result and discussion

Data was subjected to statistical analysis of variances (ANOVA) to test the degree of variance in the Ethiopian Apismellifera local honey bee races attraction to different color lights. The result revealed significant differences among different color lights source batteries to attract worker bees, (Table 1).

Apis mellifera local honeybee races were attracted to three different colored lights shown on white cloth mounted close to the beehive entrance at night. The numbers of Apismelifera local honeybee race worker bees attracted to white, blue and red lights source batteries within a period of five minutes resulted differences in attraction rate as shown in table 2.

Figure 3. white Blue and red light sources respectively

Table 1. Analysis of Variance number of honey bees attracted to different colored battery lights

Source of variation


Sum of squares

Mean squares

F Value
















It was observed that the color differences of the battery lights have resulted highly significance (p ≤ 0.05) within five minutes. This shows different battery colors have different attracting abilities during night time colony inspection. LSD result of multiple comparisons in (Table 1) showed as there is a significant difference within various color lights emitting batteries. The attraction of disturbed worker bees to white and blue light was comparatively not significant. However, the attraction of disturbed worker bees to red light was highly significant, (p ≤ 0.05).

Table 2. LSD multiple comparisons of bees attracted to different colored battery lights

Over all mean

Number of bees counted

LS mean





White light

263±5.42 b

Blue light


Red light

89.33±5.42 a



Medium colony


Strong colony


Very strong colony




Figure 4. Number of bees attracted to different colored battery lights

Beekeeping plays a great role in poverty reduction and environmental protection including forest conservation through pollination activities of the bees (Gronenberg 2001). Every worker bee that dies duet to beekeepers mishandling has value for food security and environmental conservation. Studies have shown that honey bees are extremely visual animals, with large portion of their brain dedicated to visual processing (Gronenberg 2001). They have well-developed color vision (Werner et al 1988). Most light trap researches have focused on monitoring of moths and literatures reveal little about the attraction of beneficial insects such as honey bees to different lights (Henda et al 1999a). Traditionally, internal honeybee colony inspection and honey harvesting are done at night when it gets cool to avoid sting attacks of honeybees (Yasuyuki 2009). The efficiency of three colored light source batteries in attracting honey bees with a view for improved night time hive inspection showed that red battery light attracted the least number of worker bees (89.33±5.42) than blue (246.83±5.42) and white lights (263±5.42) within five minutes. Worker bees attracted to beekeepers are supposed to sting the beekeeper and die. This is on line with the work of (Aidoo 2009) found that African honey bees are least attracted to red light than white light when disturbed in darkness. This finding also confirms the assertion of (Henda et al 1999b) that blue and cool white lights are about highly and equally attractive to moths than red light at night in Missouri, USA. Fear of sting was identified as a major setback of bee keeping in Uganda (Mujuni 2012).

Analysis of variance of bee’s attraction to light at night has given significant differences between different colored battery lights, (p ≤ 0.05), indicating that honeybees can be managed less aggressive at night using red battery light. This reduces the fear and danger of sting.



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Received 18 September 2016; Accepted 11 March 2017; Published 1 May 2017

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