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  • Writer's pictureSam Orlando

Bee Behavior Misunderstood: The Case for Ethical Beekeeping and Insect Welfare

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

Written by: Bonnie Chapman

STAUNTON, VIRGINIA - In a groundbreaking study, scientists are challenging long-held beliefs about honeybee behavior, particularly how they cluster during winter. This revelation raises significant ethical concerns about current beekeeping practices and insect welfare.

Honeybee Clusters: Insulation or Distress Signal?

Traditionally, beekeepers and researchers have viewed honeybee clusters in winter as a form of insulation. However, recent findings suggest this may be a misunderstanding. Honeybee colonies typically overwinter in tree cavities with different thermal properties than the man-made wooden hives they are often kept in. This difference in habitat raises questions about the thermal dynamics at play.

Reevaluating Hive Designs

For over a century, commercial hive designs have been based on the assumption that clustering provides evolutionary insulation for honeybees. However, this study indicates that clustering may increase conduction, leading to higher stress for individual bees. The implication is that conventional hives, with their thin walls, may be inadequately insulated, causing unnecessary cold stress to the bees.

The Transition from Convection to Conduction

The study explores the transition from convection to conduction in a bee/air mixture and evaluates effective conductivity using the effective medium theory (EMT). It concludes that clustering is not a benign reaction to falling temperatures but a distress behavior. This finding challenges the view of clustering as insulation and suggests it might actually decrease insulation.

Impact on Beekeeping Practices

Current beekeeping practices, like using inadequately insulated hives and refrigeration, are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of honeybee behavior and hive enclosure thermodynamics. Recent practices, such as placing bee colonies in cold storage, may be reconsidered as they could be causing more harm than good.

Ethical Considerations and Insect Welfare

The study also touches on the ethical considerations of insect welfare. There is growing evidence that insects, including honeybees, may experience pain. With insects playing a crucial role in ecosystems, the ethical concerns around beekeeping, pest control, and research are becoming increasingly important. Pesticides, which kill trillions of wild insects annually, are highlighted as a significant welfare concern.

Proposed Changes and Legislation

The study advocates for changes in beekeeping practices to reduce the frequency and duration of clustering. It also proposes extending animal welfare laws to cover insects and developing more humane pesticides. These recommendations are geared towards minimizing insect suffering and ensuring their well-being.


This study challenges long-held views in beekeeping and opens a new chapter in understanding honeybee behavior and welfare. The need for urgent changes in practices and legislation is clear, highlighting the importance of ethical considerations in our interaction with these crucial members of our ecosystems.

Stay tuned to Breaking Through News for more updates on this developing story in science and technology.

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