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As a human I want a house with a roof, indoor plumbing, bug free, and make my wife happy. I don't want to drive too far to work, and it has to be well-suited for offspring.

What are the criteria that define a "good spot" for a new location for honey bees. I'm sure it involves water, shade, access to nectar, and defensibility, but I don't know any of the details.

Has anyone ever made measures of this? Beekeepers? Apiologists? What are the things bees think are important, and what values of those do they think are "best"?

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According to Thomas Seeley, in his book, Honeybee Democracy, he gives the following as important criteria for honeybees when selecting a nest site when a bee colony moves to swarm:

  • Larger volume (the minimum nesting capacity was found to be around 14 liters with more preference to nests with a capacity of approximately 30 to less than 100 liters)
  • Relatively small entrance (10 to 30 centimeters squared)
  • Nest with the entrance located near the floor of a tree cavity
  • Direction of the nest entrance (south facing for thermoregulation during the winter)
  • Nest height (preference given to higher nests for colony defense)
  • Remnants of previous honeycombs (saves work and energy in building the nest structure)

Interestingly enough, bees did not necessarily display a preference for the shape of the entrance, the shape of the nest, the draftiness or dryness of the nest cavity (they are able to plug and waterproof nests).

Flower/nectar/food availability is not necessarily a direct factor as this changes quite frequently throughout the seasons and honeybees are not able to leave their honey stores (which are necessary to sustain the colony throughout the winter) or take them with them every time the colony has trouble finding food. Honeybees have a complex and efficient system for optimized location and sharing of food sources, therefore distance is not as large a factor.

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I assume you're talking about keeping honeybees apis mellifera , not other species.
Beekeepers often move there hives around to follow nectar availability, so I assume nectar availabilty is considered the most important factor. In my country the first to flower is willow salix. After that they move to cherry&plum tree plantations and after that to appel&pear.

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