What is best? And how to test it.

Last night we cleaned 140 cocoons from two different houses, one round house ( 3″pvc white) the other house square painted (latex) plywood. There were 111 cocoons in the round/pvc house which had commercial paper tubes inside guard liners. The square house had home made paper tubes inside lines and had 40 along with 3 chalkbrood. Unfortunately, the trays in the square house were cedar.

I just read that some mason bees will not nest in a square house. Next year I’m going to put a round pvc house, a square unpainted pine house with pine trays and pine trays in the old plywood painted house. I’ll put an equal number of cocoons in each. I want to find the most productive design shape for the house.

Do you have any suggestions how I could make a better test? What is your experience? I wonder what difference color makes?  Bob S. Vancouver, WA

Bob , your question is an interesting one.  Not just the question of building the most productive design shape  for the bee house, but how to test it.  The best research experiment is where you have one variable , such as colour, or shape (not both) that is tested.  For example, say you want to test if the colour of a bee home makes it more attractive than other colours.  And you test say 3 colours.  Yellow, black and blue.  You create a bee home that is the same shape, contains the same nest material, is oriented in the same direction, is placed at the same height, and perhaps other factors.  You have at least 6 of each colour and then set them all out.  Then, after nesting the cocoons harvested are counted to see if there is a difference between colours. in other words you need 18 nests for this experiment and the bees to fill them of course. 

Many of these questions have not been tested rigorously.  But you do see ‘results’ written in various places.  Use this information with some skepticism and if possible test it out yourself. The other question to keep in mind is who wrote the article.  Are they an authority on the subject?

One huge challenge in setting up any kind of experiment is the extrapolation you might make with results from your first experiment. For example.  If you have 3 bee homes, one of each of colors, you might have a larger harvest in the center bee home because, for example, of its added protection from sitting between the two outer bee homes.  Now the center bee home is the blue home.   The inexperienced experimenter would jump to the conclusion that blue homes are the most productive.  Blue might be, but it needs to be tested with more than 3 bee homes and be repeated several times.

Doing experiments is fun and it will drive your questions into newer regions of bee biology.

Dr Margriet

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