Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Eavesdropping on Bee Hive Invaders’ Chatter

Researchers have developed a non-invasive way to check the health of beehives – by listening to their buzzing for signs of pest infestations.

The technology uses an artificial intelligence model to compare the acoustic signature of a recorded audio sample against signatures of known pests such as small hive beetle and the Varroa mite, which pose a significant threat to Australia’s bees and agriculture sector.

“About $2 billion worth of Australian crops are pollinated by bees each year, so an outbreak of pests such as Varroa mites here could be devastating,” said Dr Iftekhar Ahmad of Edith Cowan University.

“Honeybees are known to change their acoustic behaviour when exposed to stressors. A technology that can detect this change and alert the beekeeper at an early stage of infestation can significantly reduce the damage.”

Current monitoring practices involve periodic checking of bait hives placed near Australia’s major ports, harbours and apiaries. These practices are manual, invasive and labour-intensive. However, the acoustic technology is equipped with a wireless communication module that allows 24/7 monitoring of beehives – even those located at remote sites.

The research team will be acoustically monitoring these hives, giving authorities an early warning of any infested hives.