Tag Archives: honey bees

POLLEN SERIES – black/white SEM photo series

name: the SEM photo series, year start: 2013-aug, year end: 2013-sept, techniques: dissected honeybees, pollen grains, scanning electron microscope

This work is a series of photographs made with the high-end SEM microscope. During 2 months I was invited to work at the chemical engineering laboratory of the Vrije Universiteit Brussels (VUB) to carry out research on city honeybees and their relation to the urban environment. As well the honeybees, as the pollen grains the bees were bringing back from their foraging flights, were closely inspected under the SEM microscope. Continue reading


The last weeks I colletected yet on several days pollen at the entrance of the beehives. I also have a pollen collected from spring this year.
On 21/22/23-8 I can work at the Chemical Engineering Lab of the VUB on the SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope). The SEM offers the possibility to make perfect 3D images at +20.000 enlargment scale. Ideal for photographing pollen and bee-parts as proboscis, receptors, e.g.
The lab is specialized in surface metals research. I work with Gizem Süngü, a future PhD student. Continue reading


Palynology is the “study of dust” . A classic palynologist analyses particulate samples collected from the air, water, or from deposits including sediments of any age. The condition and identification of those particles, organic and inorganic, give the palynologist clues to the life, the environment, and energetic conditions that produced them. wikipedia.
At Sony CSL in Tokyo I meet Masatoshi Funabashi. Masa is an expert in complex systems relations in ecologies. We talk about flowers and insects, and we decide to work with honeybees (among other insects) to collect usefull information on the ecosystem. The bees will work as interface/sensor for gathering environmental information via the pollen they collect. In my wiki, I start with a pollen database.

bee covered with pollen

June 2013 Masa and me decided to work on a joined research project that investigates the link between insects, pollen and ecosystems. We will set up a database and compare pollen -straight from the plant- with pollen brought back by honeybees to the hive. With pattern recognition software we hope to collect information about the ecosystems foraged by the honeybees.
We will work with the software ELFE to discover emergent patterns in a multitude of pollen pictures.
In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. Emergence is central to the theories of integrative levels and of complex systems.

I am completely fascinated by the aesthetical forms of the pollen grains. The more I research, the more I want to work with sophisticated machines to study the material. With the help of Professor Luc Steels I can work at the VUB in the chemical engineering Lab, where they have several SEM – scanning electron microscopes. Working on these machines a complete new world is opening up.


Wednesday 12/06/2013 I’ve started a new colony in the Warré hive. It was a precarious undertaking. Due to bad spring weather, nature is a month late. I controlled all the hives on swarm cells, but in none of the 5 hives the bees had the tendency to swarm yet, no new queens in the pipeline! Thus I had to make an artificial swarm which can create its own queen.
First I adapted 2 capped honeyframes from the size of a Kempische hive to the size of a Warré hive – I had to make the frames a lot smaller. As I had to cut into the honey cells, this became quickly a very dirty setup. Continue reading


During the past three years, Okno has been exploring the potential of sensor-equipped beehives. Making use of innovatory technologies, we are studying bees as biomarkers providing information about the ecosystem they are part of. The collected data are stored in online databases, mapping the urban landscape and raising awareness of this shared living environment, and are used for the creation of ecological works of art. Earlier this month, Annemie Maes from Okno was organising a bee monitoring workshop at Valldaura Self Sufficient Lab in Barcelona. Continue reading


April 10/11/12 2012 part#1 of the Bee Monitoring sessions was organized at Valldaura. The first part of the project focuses on the monitoring of beehives through sensors while exploring different materials and appliances of the beehive itself. The idea is to consider the bees themselves, and their behavior and reactions, as sensors of the environment that inform us on the quality of air, water, the diversity of plants … sensors of nature and a healthy environment. The current interns prepared for the wokshop by building a natural structure with the local materials. This structure will be used to give shadow to the area where the first beehive will be placed. It will be extremely important during the hot, dry summer days. Annemie Maes, from OKNO, a Belgian non-profit organization, conducted the workshop where the interns were introduced to the basics of apiculture, beekeeping, and the nature of bees in general.

FabLab Academy students have been working for weeks, building an open structures beehive. They constructed three items, one to be located on the rooftop of Iaac, one for Valldaura, and one for Okno. The beehives will be filled with sensors (temperature, humidity, Co2, dust). The sensors will track changes inside the beehive and allow us to study how environmental factors affect the beehive and bees’ behavior, as well as how that data can be used as an environmental sensor itself.
The first open source Warré beehive was assembled by the interns, guided by Annemie Maes, and placed in the area that had been prepared for it the previous days.

Part#2 (2 en 3 mei 2013) van de workshop series. De eerste dag zijn we de zwarte bijen gaan halen (Apis mellifera mellifera) in Lleida, 2 uur rijden van BCN, binnenland Catalunya. De bijen kwamen mee in een verluchte kartonnen doos, en ze zaten al op topbars van Warre-maat: 5 frames en 1 koningin.
Toegekomen op de Valldaura-site prepareren we de transfer van de travelbox naar de warré hive. John (zijn eerste job als newbee beekeeper) heeft net de sensors afgewerkt. 2 T° en 1 humidity inside, T° en humidity outside. Hij zal de data elke nacht via een laserconnectie doorsturen naar het Valldaura huis, vermits de site geen wireless heeft. De data worden nu tijdelijk gesaved op een SD card die op de smart arduino met bee-shield gemonteerd is. De sensors en smart arduino worden gepowerd door een zonnepaneel dat naast de hive staat. Hier maakt John de connectie met het panel. Connectie van sensors en arduino werkt, data komen binnen en worden opgeslagen.
Ai! Een onvoorzien feit! Omdat we de originele plannen van de Warré hive hebben aangepast naar de grid van OpenStructure, zijn de binnenmaten van de hive een klein beetje veranderd. De diepte is 1cm korter geworden, en dit geeft uiteraard problemen, want ipv. dat de nieuwe bijen op topbars geleverd zijn, zitten ze op full frame Warré frames. Dwz: 1 cm te hoog! What to do now? De box sluit uiteraard niet meer, en de verschillende lagen boxen kunnen niet meer gestapeld worden.
Er zit maar 1 ding op: alle bijen afschudden van de frames in de onderste box van de Warré, de 2de box wordt hierbij gebruikt als trechter. Nu maar hopen dat we de koningin niet kwijtraken in deze transactie! Het is blijkbaar gelukt: de meeste bijen zitten in de hive, en de bijen die buiten achterbleven lopen zelf naar binnen, een teken dat de koningin binnen zit. De hive wordt vastgezet met spanriemen als voorzorg tegen curieuze everzwijnen. Onder de hive hangt de plastic box met arduino en andere technologie. De outsite tmp en hu sensors zijn beschermd tegen vocht. Transfer gelukt.

Part#3. We make a second warré-hive in the fablab BCN for the Valldaura apiary. We will create an artificial swarm, a split from the first colony. Sunday 30/6, a beautiful sunny day, we open the first warré hive, which is setup now with 3 boxes. The last box was added (nadiring or adding from beyond) 1 week ago. The colony developed very well over the first 2 boxes, the last box was not build out yet. It is remarkable that capped and fresh honey, pollen and open and closed brood are all mixed, on all frames. In a regular hive (kempische, langstroth, dadant, …) the different elements are well divided per frame, in concentric circles. Here, in the warré, the cells are literally mixed: honey and larves, pollen and queen cells. Yes, there are a lot of queen cells in the hive.
I take some full honey frames as a basis for the new hive/colony. Than I add a frame with pollen, there are also several queen -cells on that frame. As 4th and last frame we add a frame with closed and open brood. I cannot detect the queen immediately in this bunch of black bees, but no worries: or she stayed in the parent hive, or she is tranferred to the new hive. In both hive there are enough fresh & closed queen cells, so that a new queen won’t take to long to start laying and continue the maintenance of the colony.
At last, I shake off as many young bees as possible into the new hive, and we hope that the regular hive-life will go on as soon as possible. Best would be to control in ± 3 weeks (when the larves of all the presently closed brood cells will be born). If there will be new open and closed cells, we can be sure that the queen is at work!


Mapping the foraging areas at Valldaura:
Calendula officinalis, Malva, brassicaceae, Quercus ilex, Arbutus unedo, erica, blackberries, Hedera helix, Ruscus aculeatum, Lobularia maritima, Sambucus nigra, wild mint, cherries, apples, strawberry tree, Rubia peregrina, Ruta graveolens, Asphodelus fistolosus, Diplotaxis erucoides, almond, apricot, Plantago lanceolata and Plantago major, wild lavender, Viburnum (tinus), Foeniculum vulgare, Populus nigra (good for propolis), Celtis australis (edible), Chelidonium majus (stinkende gauwe – medicinal), Fragaria vesca, Urtica (netel), Bursa pastoris, Hypericum perforatum, Thymus, Rosmarinus, Asparagus acutifolius, Melissa, Santolina chamaecyparissus (cotton lavender), …

Cerdanyola PlantesFlora CatalanaPermaculture Plants


About the Valldaura workshops:

robot bee


After visiting the Koç University in Istanbul last february, I started thinking about links between haptic robotics research, neuroscience and the antenna’s of insects. Receptors, senders and receivers, input and output (but what is happening inbetween?). Stings, pheromones, poison, skin, reactions, multifaceted panoramic vision eyes, antennae with 3000 receptors, electrically charged fur for pollination purposes: examples of high tech nature and high technology. Besides its senses, let’s analyze the circadian rythm of the western honeybee to understand the functioning of the super organism in the best possible way.
Compound eyes with 6.900 small lenses, each representing a pixel in an image. Antennae, responsible for the smell function (in stereo!), 100 times more sensible compared to humans. A tongue that can unfold and extend till half of the body length. Wings beating at 230 times a minute, and folding back to adapt to small holes (in flowers). Mandibles for carrying, pincing, collecting and biting. Feet with hooks and pads. Legs with pollen baskets. And not yet spoken about the superorganisms communication methods. With pheromones (smell), vibrations and the famous waggle dance, the bodylanguage of the bees.
A profound study of the honeybees’ senses is needed if we want to come up with an innovative design that can compete with the sophisticated functioning of the organism.

bee anatomy


Honey bees have 5 eyes. Two compound eyes, these are made up of many hexagonal facets, meaning that they can simultaneously see all around them (above, below, side to side, infront). Like humans, bees are trichromatic, but whereas humans base their vision on red, blue and green, bees base their colour vision on blue, green and UV. This means that some colour combinations visible to bees, are not visible to humans. However, bees cannot see red, however, they do visit red flowers because they can see the UV patterns within the petals. And they also have three ocelli: these are simple eyes positioned on top of the head. These eyes are sensitive to light, and aid the bee in its orientation. The Proboscis is a long tongue which the bees use to suck nectar from flowers into the mouth. Antennae are vital for touch and smell. They are used for communication within a honey bee colony , for locating food, for sensing predators, and even aid flight.
The thorax is the anchor for the legs – the hind legs also featuring pollen baskets. The forelegs are used for cleaning the antennae. The thorax contains the flight muscles and salivary gland. There are 2 pairs of wings attached to the abdomen. The abdomen contains the honey stomach which enables the bee to carry about 75 mg of nectar from a flower back to the nest or hive. The sting is a modified egg laying organ. Only females are able to sting, and do so only when they feel threat of attack.

anatomy of the honeybee, honeybee anatomy
bee tongue bee legs

wax lateral


A honeycomb is a mass of hexagonal wax cells built by honey bees in their nests to contain their larvae and stores of honey and pollen.
The axes of honeycomb cells are always quasi-horizontal, and the nonangled rows of honeycomb cells are always horizontally (not vertically) aligned. Thus, each cell has two vertical walls, with “floors” and “ceilings” composed of two angled walls. The cells slope slightly upwards, between 9 and 14 degrees, towards the open ends. The hexagon tiles the plane with minimal surface area. Thus, a hexagonal structure uses the least material to create a lattice of cells within a given volume.
Another explanation is that the shape simply results from the process of individual bees putting cells together: somewhat analogous to the boundary shapes created in a field of soap bubbles. In support of this, he notes that queen cells, which are constructed singly, are irregular and lumpy with no apparent attempt at efficiency.
The closed ends of the honeycomb cells are also an example of geometric efficiency, albeit three-dimensional and little-noticed. The ends are trihedral (i.e., composed of three planes) sections of rhombic dodecahedra, with the dihedral angles of all adjacent surfaces measuring 120°, the angle that minimizes surface area for a given volume. The shape of the cells is such that two opposing honeycomb layers nest into each other, with each facet of the closed ends being shared by opposing cells.

bee-architects01wax lateral
voronoi diagram

The hive is a system of homeostasis. Homeostasis is the property of a system that regulates its internal environment and tends to maintain a stable, constant condition of properties like temperature or pH. It can be either an open or closed system.
A medium sized nest needs 1200gr wax to be build, and 7,5 kg honey for the energy. Beeswax is composed of more than 300 different chemical components.
The vertical comb construction is parallel to the earth magnetic field, the bees can construct this way thanks to the gravity receptors (organs) that are situated in all their legs and body joints.

The bees’ body is the basic template for the construction of a wax cell. From a cylindrical form the cells become hexagonal under the tension of the regurlarly constructed comb and heated by the bees’ bodyheath (cfr. soap bubbles joining together). The wax wall of a cell is 0,07mm. The antennae of the bees measure the cells’ thickness.

The comb + wax is an integral and inseparable part of the colony as superorganism.
The comb is =>
Living space
Food storage
A skeleton
A sensory organ
A nervous system
A memory stare
An immune system

Functions of the comb =>
Telephone system
Information storage
Colony specific identity
Defense against pathogens
Nursery (center)
Storage & production ⇒ periphery
The nectar/honey is mixed with antibacterial and antifungal peptides and enzymes, before storage in the cells


Bees were very important in the daily life of ancient Egypt. The bee was an insignia of kingship associated particularly with Lower Egypt, where there may even have been a Bee King in pre-dynastic times. The bee was considered sacred by early Egyptians and often regarded as a symbol of resurrection. In Egyptian mythology the Sun God Ra created the honey bee from his tears. The bee, representing the word bit – meaning bee or honey in hieroglyphics, was used as a prefix to the throne name of Egyptian rulers. Bee stood for He of the Bee or King of Lower Egypt.


Diaper is the name given to a textile fabric, formerly of a rich and costly nature with embroidered ornament, but now of linen or cotton, with a simple woven pattern; and particularly restricted to small napkins. In architecture, the term “diaper” is given to any small pattern of a conventional nature repeated continuously and uniformly over a surface; the designs may be purely geometrical, or based on floral forms, and in early examples were regulated by the process of their textile origin. Subsequently, similar patterns were employed in the middle ages for the surface decoration of stone, as in Westminster Abbey and Bayeux cathedral in the spandrils of the arcades of the choir and nave; also in mural painting, stained glass, incised brasses, encaustic tiles, &c. Probably in most cases the pattern was copied, so far as the general design is concerned, from the tissues and stuffs of Byzantine manufacture, which came over to Europe and were highly prized as ecclesiastical vestments.