Science blogger Chad Orzel, author of the entertaining How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog, received one of these little thermal cameras and had great fun. Available for Android or Apple devices it attaches to the smart phone or tablet via the micro-usb port used for charging. Thinking ahead to bee hives in winter, we had to get one of our own.

Unfortunately on our devices the plug orientation causes the camera to face back at the user. Useful for thermal selfies but otherwise inconvenient. We had to bodge things with a suitable USB cable as short as we could get.USBshortcableBodgedAdaptor Although solving the immediate problem, with one hand occupied in pointing the wee camera it was awkward for the other hand to hold the tablet and thumb at the controls. This problem we solved with a craft stick cut down to a few inches and a pair of twist-ties. We will try something less fragile someday but for now this serves.

And here is an older image of autumnal Clarissa in nocturnal thermal. The bright glow from her left indicates the occupied part of the hive. Dorcas and Beatrix had similar appearance with respectively a larger and smaller glowing area, consistent with our observations of their relative populations. This is a much more convenient way to see hive temperatures than scanning with a non-contact infrared thermometer as we did previously. We were almost looking forward to winter cold so we could easily observe the cluster sizes, watching them shrink slowly with the inevitable deaths, ready to intervene should decline seem too rapid.

But before the cold weather came we had put in place the insulating barriers, drawing the blinds upon our thermal windows into the hives. We see that a bundled-up Clarissa in freezing cold reveals little. The shot was taken from behind lest we be measuring the effects of sun on the dark surface. We can talk ourselves into the image being brighter on the right, occupied side of the hive but not with any conviction.

In summary, our plan for easily monitoring the cluster was scuttled by our protecting it from cold. When we presented at a recent meeting of the Ann Arbor Backyard Beekeepers someone suggested that with a longer USB cable and stick we might try taking pictures from under the hives since the floors are not insulated. We have not yet tried this experiment.