215 - Mahood - Drone congregation areas


Andony Melathopoulos: [00:00:00] Frequent listeners of the show know that I absolutely love Oregon. You may also have picked up that. I love Alberta, Canada as well. The place that I'm from and learn my beekeeping, but I want to add another location onto this list. And that is Georgia. I had the. Pleasure to go to the Harris young beekeeping Institute on its 30th anniversary.

Or I got to meet the delightful Georgia beekeepers. They are wonderful group of people. They're very innovative. A lot of fun. Let me tell you, my jaw literally dropped being at the Harris young beekeeping Institute. It has a wonderful program it's held every year. In the region, you should definitely attend if you haven't in the past, it's held in the mountains of Northeast Georgia, which was stunning at that time of the year, but it's also integrated together with the university of Georgia's prestigious master BKP program.

And that is where I met our guest today. Julia Hood is the, one of the very few master craftsmen beekeepers from the master beekeeping [00:01:00] program from Georgia. She earned this designation through a fantastic. Project research project on drone congregation sites that we're going to focus on today, but she also does a lot of education in Georgia prisons to be keeping education in Georgia prisons.

She's just in the Stute observer of bees, an excellent beekeeper educator. And I'm so delighted to bring her today to you on pollination.

Okay welcome to pollination.

Julia Mahood: So excited to be on pollination.

Andony Melathopoulos: Says it's a mutual, it's a mutual excitement. This is really great. And I had the good fortune of being up here at the young Harris beekeeping Institute and during the master's program and you have successful. Ascended to the level of crafts craftsmen.

So this is this is above the master's level. It

Julia Mahood: is.

Andony Melathopoulos: How long did it take you to do this?

Julia Mahood: That [00:02:00] the minimum is you have to have held tight. The master beekeeper for two years. I've been a master beekeeper for 12 years, but I didn't really think about doing this for awhile after. And I've thought about sitting for the test in 2020, and then it got canceled because something happened and and it was actually good that I had that extra two years cause I was able to really I felt much more confident about fulfilling all the requirements.

So it takes years. I will say that it takes years.

Andony Melathopoulos: I've had the good fortune to see a work that you've done in, towards your certification and a one. Big elements of that was drone, congregation areas and your innovative way of trying to detect them. Can you just start, many of our listeners may not know whether to drone congregation

Julia Mahood: area.

Yes. With honeybees have unique mating behavior. They only meet when they're flying in the air. Very high up. It's impossible to see really with the naked eye, but. The drones and the Queens leave the nest and [00:03:00] afternoons, and they fly to these specific areas that we call drone congregation areas. And it can be an area from 30 to 200 meters in diameter and they fly around and look for these to mate with, and then they, the drones will come back.

If they don't get to mate, suck up honey, and go to another DCA in the afternoon or perhaps visit the same ones. And the thing that's so fascinating is there's some mystery about the DCAS because they remain constant year after year. They do, but there's no intergenerational learning with the drones.

They don't communicate. They don't do any dancing in the highest there's. We don't, we know that they don't do that, but they're, they die out in the winter. And there was an interesting study done where they marked all the drones and several colonies with dots of paint on their backs. And then overnight they moved them several hundred kilometers away to a different apiary.

And in that area, they knew where the DCAS were and then they tracked. The, so they took them there overnight, where they opened up the haves. They had people waiting in the DCAS trapping bees. And within [00:04:00] 15 minutes they were trapping those March drones, which is just mind boggling, but they knew where to go, that they found the DCAS within that short amount of time.

And this is folklore, but supposedly there's a DCA in Sheffield, England. That's been known to have bees in it since 1722 wow. Okay. And they drones got the name drones because of the. The roar that they make when they fly the buzzing. And when you've got thousands of drones flying in the air, 12 to, I don't know how many, 12 meters to not a hundred meters high, then you're going to get this roar when it's heavily populated.

And that's how, one way to find these CAS is just to walk around and listen to that roar. But that's challenging. And especially if there's any ambient noise, researchers

Andony Melathopoulos: have, where are these located? How high off the ground are they?

Julia Mahood: They can, the bees are flying it sometimes different Heights.

Yeah. So at least 12 meters up to

I have to do the math. I'm used to the feet thing, but they will come down low, but they can also fly up to 400 feet off the ground. I've had them, [00:05:00] I've seen them as high

Andony Melathopoulos: as that because there's so many of them, you could actually hear them, even if they're elevated. Okay. Yes.

Julia Mahood: Yeah. So when, so in one of my more populated DCS in this.

My hearing's not great. I live in, it's not bad, but I live in a city where there's a lot of ambient noise and you can hear it. And it's just it's it gives you the chills to listen to that roar and to hear it's like when you hear a swarm leaving in a little different. Yeah. So finding DCAS is traditionally what researchers do is they walk around with helium balloon, balloons, weather balloons filled with helium.

Mandibular Fairmount attached and just look for BS on it. Fairmont what's that Q and P is the sex attractive and queen honeybees. It's a queen mandibular hair.

Andony Melathopoulos: She gives a cent off and that it has

Julia Mahood: that sense. Okay. All right. So you got a little funny side story. I was giving this talk once and I said, you use Q1.

And I had a friend in the audience, it was at a dinner and they were, there was some alcohol involved. And so [00:06:00] my friend's wife leaned over and said, did she just say they use human pee?

Andony Melathopoulos: Not human

Julia Mahood: pee might be a little easier to come by then ordering it from the five. So

Andony Melathopoulos: There's this smell in the air.

And these

Julia Mahood: drones, sex attracted. Hanging out in the DCAS and when a queen enters the DCA, they can smell her. QNP from 50 from 300 feet away. They can see her from 50 feet away, but they, so they smell it instantly and they formed, they fly, they trail behind each other in flying these comments with, one in the front and these drones trailing behind.

And then they, honeybees are polyandrous. So the plane is going to meet with. When the first drone meets with her it kills him. He dies and the next one lines up, it takes one second. And sometimes you get, there's an audible popping noise pop. She may mates with up to the average is 20 drones.

But sometimes we know that they've made, she's made it with upwards of 50 or 60 drones [00:07:00] and the more drones that are. And but most drones that the drone drones or Queens are outnumbered. To one. So they find these drone congregation Aires. They don't make, they go back and suck up more money and come back.

But but finding them with the helium balloon is expensive. Helium is it's a finite gas and there's actually a shortage. And so it's expensive, but you can also only monitor the area that you're walking under with this balloon. So it's just not very tenable. Oh,

Andony Melathopoulos: because there may be a tree in the way.

Yeah. You can't need it yet. All right. Gotcha. Yeah. That's problem.

Julia Mahood: Because it's real, it takes two people. So I worked on a way to use the other kind of drone and mechanical drone, unmanned aerial vehicles.

Andony Melathopoulos: Let me get this straight. You're using a drone to look for drones. Yeah. Yeah.

Julia Mahood: It only gets a little confused.

So are you usually refer to the mechanical drone as a UAV unmanned aerial vehicle? So you I'd take my UAV and I tie. And then cotton thread to the feet of the UAV. And I [00:08:00] dangle a little weighted, a lure for the queen. Mandibular Fairmont is lure and just fly up in areas and it can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack, but when you find one, it's just so totally worth it.

It's really awesome.

Andony Melathopoulos: So you've got this drone with this little thing dangling down and you just just I'm going to go for a walk today and you just fly your drone around. How do you know when? Yeah I guess you're watching the, you can see it from the ground,

Julia Mahood: use your controller for your, most of them have cameras on them.

So you really need one of the camera on it, which is cool. Cause you can see the drones flying at close to the camera and you can also see down. And that's another reason you want your Lord to be big enough that you can easily find it with your camera. So you're looking on your screen. And you see the lure.

And if you're in a DCA, within a couple minutes, because they are just, they're like, ah, wait, Laura. And they come flying over and they're flying all around. So it's pretty easy to know it is it can be, like I said, like finding a needle in the haystack, but [00:09:00] we know that I've had luck anyway, going for depressions in the landscape.

These tend to fly out and want to go downhill and not go up hill. So you can use Google earth pro two. To look around. You're go out from your AP area and look for depressions in the landscape. And that's a place to try. It's good to get permission if you can, so that people don't get upset with you.

Fine. There's a, there's an apartment complex near my house and I was flying over it. There's like the books say open area with a windbreak. So that's what I was going for first. And I would flew all around the complex and I went back and I was looking at my video and I was, I flew over the swimming pool and there were people not very happy that there was.

It's gesturing that they didn't like that, but I was really not a creepy person wanting to look at bikini. So I was looking for honeybees having sex. Yeah.

Andony Melathopoulos: Okay. Let's boil this down, cause this sounds like something that, a really fun activity. If somebody is a bee enthusiast and you want to check out your area, you might want to do what, how do you, what do you gotta, I guess you've got to buy [00:10:00] one of these under the.

Julia Mahood: With a camera. So there are many different, you can go from $60 to $1,400. Obviously the better, more expensive ones is going to have some advantages, but you don't really have to spend that much. You do need one that has a controller that you can look at a video on the screen because you want to be able to just the, I ordered a $50 from Amazon and it didn't.

The ability to take video, but you couldn't see it in real time. And that didn't, that does not work, but and then you need to have something that has a way to attach that, like a piece of thread that's not so close to the propellers because you don't want to get the thread caught up in your propellers and you can, there's one for about 75, 80 bucks that will work, but you can also, these things are everywhere.

It seems like everybody in their brother has one. So if you have a friend that has. Or lot of construction, people in construction use them, but th the hobbyist people, you might have a friend who's looking for a reason to fly their UAV, which could [00:11:00] be cool to be a partnership, or so lots of people have until

Andony Melathopoulos: you tell him that you're going to be using human P with it.


Julia Mahood: The other thing is an easy thing to do is to reach out to your local UAB clubs. Cause these people along with their beekeepers, they like to get together and do it. And you can ask people like if I meet anyone that says they have a drone, I say, have you ever had an instance where a lot of bees were mobbing your drone?

Because an interesting thing that I've noticed is that there's some, it looks like defensive behavior to me, the. Fly up, even though there's queen Laura down below, they fly up into the PR and they do get chopped up in it. So it's a little sad, but there's a few they're expandable. They're so cute though, but they w they're flying into this strong wind propeller.

So there it's, that's why it feels aggressive to me. So they are attracted to it. And if [00:12:00] you go on YouTube and you put in honeybees and drones, what people, these wild stories of swarm, honey honeybees attacked my room, protecting the queen or something. And it wasn't a swarm they're way too high up.

You can tell from the video that there was a DCA that they just happen to cross. So I asked people, have you ever had that happen? And I got my card and say, if you ever find it, please let me know where it is. So that's something that's easy. And then, you could, even, if you have somebody who says they've found it, you could walk out in the afternoon and just stand there and look and listen and say.

But they, time of day is important when you read the books and the beaconing books about DCAS, you will frequently read that they're in DCS from 12 to three or one to four. And I'm in, I live in Atlanta in the south. And our drones fly later in the day. And there was a researcher in Florida who did a work on some work on during congregation areas.

And she actually almost gave up her project because she was monitoring them to. And then she discovered the other, they [00:13:00] really start flying in mass at 4:00 PM. So time of day matters. You might map out a couple of spots, but then, go back every hour, just find some or rotate around a few places by the time you get your equipment out and set it up and go to another one.

And then, circle back around. I've seen drones in a DCA it's 7:00 PM in the summer, where it doesn't get dark till nine. So time of day is also important. If you're in a warmer area, you might. I

Andony Melathopoulos: suppose you could check your colonies to see if the drones

Julia Mahood: are, that's I started out doing that and I was like see these fellows fine at noon.

So I'll go out. But there's one DCA was very heavily populated. I've never seen anybody in there before 3:00 PM and then it really heats up at four. So even though they were flying in and I wondered about that, like maybe, or we know that they take cleansing and orientation flights as younger. Maybe they're going out.

Maybe those are the guys going out a little earlier. And there's also some evidence that smaller drones who are less competitive that they maximize their they try a little harder by going earlier or staying late. Like the people who are [00:14:00] left at the bar at the end of the night.


Andony Melathopoulos: Not the best time to go for a date. You're looking to pick somebody up. Okay. So there's you've got the drone, but where do you get the QNP.

Julia Mahood: There's a product called temp queen that is made to put in a Queensland colony. If you've ordered a queen and she's, you don't know when she's going to arrive and it'll keep them laying workers from develop.

And it's been meant to be a fair amount. Artificial is a little green tubes and better be sells it. And Mann lake sells it. I'm not sure who else sells. And one of them sells like a three-pack and it's, it's not terribly expensive, it's less than 10 bucks for a little pack. You can reuse them and do you keep it in the freezer?

Yeah. And it's good for a couple of years. As soon as I come home, I put my freezer, but there's a a UAV pilot who I was working with who was helping me out. And I told him, I gave him some and I'm like, put it in your freezer. And he confessed to me that he left it on his garage floor for a year and it still worked, but I.

You just keep it in the freezer and it lasts a long time. And

Andony Melathopoulos: what this is not a product placement, [00:15:00] but is there a drone that you have that you really like?

Julia Mahood: I have a DJI Phantom or, and it's really nice. And the nice thing about that is it's the white ones that you see and it's got feet that are long.

So there's a big distance between the propellers and the bottom. And that whole thing about. Getting the thread caught up in the propellers is helpful. And then I have a little Mavic mini and it's smaller. It sits close to the ground, but I found this little attachment. It's like sled runners, which if you're going to use one of those little, those mini drones of any brand, I recommend getting something like that.

People 3d print them because it just keeps that. Lower way. And the reason why you use do you want to use them cotton thread? Because if your Lord gets caught on something, it's better to have it break and lose a couple bucks in lore than to crash your very expensive UAV. But but that's, one thing to look for if you're going to do it is the height of the propellers to the ground, the more distance, the [00:16:00] better.


Andony Melathopoulos: Now, one thing that we've established is a way this is great because so little known, these, there were these. If he's drone congregation areas, or we don't have a real, a little spot, close to the university where somebody was interested in doing drone research or something.

But you've created a website where people can upload Joan congregation. Harry, tell us a little bit about the website.

Julia Mahood: Yeah, it's a little citizen science project and it's called map my dca.com and it's a Google. That's special Google map, where people have pens, where they found around own congregation areas and it's free for, and the data on it is free.

So I encourage people. And also on the website, you can read about DCAS and drones and how to find DCAS using this method. And you don't have to use this method to find the DCI's what's important is that you know where they are. So anybody can register as a user and put a pin on the map and it's optional how much information you want to enter, but there are questions.

Temperature and how often you visited and time of day. And then then your pen will show up. And then my, [00:17:00] my, so my little field of dreams, my hope is that it'll fill up and that we will just have a bigger collection of data so that we can better analyze the DCAS. And who knows what we might find out.

I, in Atlanta, the DCS that I've found tend to be over-treat canopy, even when there's a available open field with a windbreak, which is what you read in the books. They tend to be open fields with a windbreak, even though there are some like adjacent to these DCAS, they are in above the tree canopy, which which is very difficult, if not impossible to survey with a weather balloon, et cetera.

So it's understandable that those are the ones we know. Even just something as small as that, we might be able to gather some understanding.

Andony Melathopoulos: Okay. And the instructions for, a protocol or on the website? I really think this is if you're a master beekeeper in the state of Oregon, you have any dots in Oregon, no dots in Oregon.

So master, if you're a master beekeeper in Oregon and looking for a project, I'm doing the DCAS, the Willamette valley. That would be a wonderful project. [00:18:00] Just putting it out there for you. Thank you so much. And congratulations on achieving the craftsman certification. And

Julia Mahood: that's really been a pleasure to meet you and to talk with you today.

It's really been fun, really fun time here at the beekeeping Institute.

Andony Melathopoulos: Oh, and congrats. I hear that you were the license plate designer. Yes. We would love your license plate as well.

Julia Mahood: Art does Oregon to have a B plate.

Andony Melathopoulos: I'll show you in a map. Don't let anybody here. Okay. Thank you so much.

Central to honey bee mating are drone congregation areas (DCAs). In this episode we learn how to locate DCAs using unmanned aerial devices (aka, drones).

Julia Mahood is a Craftsman level Master Beekeeper in Georgia. Professionally she is a graphic artist and she’s been a hobby beekeeper since 2004. She is fascinated with the often disparaged drone honey bees and their mysterious playgrounds, the drone congregation areas, DCAs. She is passionate about educating beekeepers from all walks of life and she teach beekeeping in Georgia prisons.

Links Mentioned:

Julia’s book recommendation:

  • Honey Bee Drones by Graham Kingham- a slim volume packed with drone honey bee info.
  • For a really fun and fascinating read, Sex on Six Legs: Lessons on Life, Love, and Language from the Insect World, by Marlene Zuk.

Julia’s go-to-tool for working with pollinators:

Bionic rose gardening gloves!

Julia’s favorite pollinator:

There are other more beautiful pollinators, but Apis mellifera is my number one!

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