Over the past few years, a number of researchers have looked at the possible impact on honeybees of electromagnetic waves produced by human-made devices. One such study, published in Apidologie, Volume 42, Number 3 (May 2011), observes that active cellphones placed in bee hives cause the workers to pipe — to make the same sounds that normally signal either that the colony has been disturbed or it is about to swarm.
The study, conducted by Daniel Favre of the Laboratory of Cellular Biotechnology (LBTC), Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) and the Apiary School of the City of Lausanne, Switzerland, “electromagnetic waves originating from mobile phones were tested for potential effects on honeybee behavior.”
The worldwide maintenance of the honeybee has major ecological, economic, and political implications. In the present study, electromagnetic waves originating from mobile phones were tested for potential effects on honeybee behavior. Mobile phone handsets were placed in the close vicinity of honeybees. The sound made by the bees was recorded and analyzed. The audiograms and spectrograms revealed that active mobile phone handsets have a dramatic impact on the behavior of the bees, namely by inducing the worker piping signal. In natural conditions, worker piping either announces the swarming process of the bee colony or is a signal of a disturbed bee colony.
Interestingly, although the workers piped, the colonies did not produce a swarm as they would normally be expected to so shortly after that signal, and no queen piping was observed. The author suggests that perhaps worker piping is only one of a number of a signals that the bees rely on to trigger a swarm.
Favre further notes that the experiment placed cellphones right inside the hive itself — putting the bees in much closer proximity to the source of electromagnetic waves than they would be in normal circumstances. The question is raised, however, whether long-term exposure to low levels of these waves might have a similar “dramatic impact” on bee behavior. More research will be required, however, before scientists can draw any conclusions about the implications for the beekeeping industry and our honeybee populations.
Mobile phone-induced honeybee worker piping by Daniel Favre may be read in full online at Springerlink: DOI 10.1007/s13592-011-0016-x. Apidologie, an official publication of the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) and Deutscher Imkerbund E.V. (D.I.B.), is a peer-reviewed journal devoted to the biology of insects belonging to the superfamily Apoidea.