HIVE: What is an “Observation Hive”?

5 February 2015

The Short Answer (TSA)

An observation hive is any beehive built with a window or windows to allow keepers or guests to view the bees at work inside the hive. Surprisingly, housed in an appropriately built observation hive, the bees don’t seem to mind the viewers much at all.

An appropriately built hive is any hive built to normal specifications with one difference.  The observation hive has a glass wall to allow the bees to be viewed.

The only observation hive that would be “inappropriate” would be one that avoided the use of glass in favor of open gaps of various sizes. Open air gaps are “most unappealing” to the honeybee residents. The bees will either seal a gap or leave the hive at their earliest opportunity.

The main challenge with the observation hive is describing one. It’s not that these hives are so strange looking or exotic that they defy description. Rather, almost any style of hive can be turned into an observation hive. So, the list of possible designs seems endless.

A few of these hives are specially designed for observation. I’ve taken to calling them aquarium-style observation hives because the silhouette of the standard hive is flattened on the sides, but widened on the glass-covered front. This gives the viewer the widest view and causes most all of the bees’ activities in the hive to be clearly visible to the “front and center” viewer – like watching fish in an aquarium.

Other hives, like the Valhalla beehive are designed like a standard long-box hive but with a window in the side. This design is less intended for the keeper’s entertainment than to observe the hive’s activity for colony health issues.

Just to throw in another of the many, many variations, one hive has been described as “the observation hive extraordinaire” and a “monstrosity.” While traveling in the Netherlands, Carl Uhlman, snapped a photo of the “extraordinary monster.” (photo link)

But either way, Mike Southern was inspired to build a hive of a derivative design. (photo link)  Admittedly, observation hives of this size aren’t for everyone. You need some room to accommodate these giant versions of the observation hive.  And if you have hives of these sizes, you might want to think about changing the name of your “bee yard” to “bee ranch.”

Read more about the story of the giant hives  at: Honey Bee Suite

And, then, Pete’s Bees brings us an octagonal (8-sided) observation hive. The maker promises further refinements to this basic design. And, he also answers the “no-nonsense” critics who have questioned the practical purpose of his hive’s ornately designed roof.

In so many words, Pete explains that a beekeeper cannot live by harvesting and eating honey alone. He finds his roof design a pleasure to look at and a conversation piece.

And again, there are many, many more styles of observation hives.


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