It’s happened to nearly every drone flyer at some point. You are enjoying some nice panoramic shots and a few black dots appear on your monitor. At first, it’s annoying that something is ruining your perfect shot but then you realize a swarm of bees is attacking your drone! When it first happened to me I was worried that I would wipe out an entire beehive. But also that they would swarm my drone in such huge numbers that they’d easily take it down! Let’s take a look at why bees attack drones and what you can do about it!
Drones are regularly attacked by bees and the reason is mistaken identity. Bees are attracted to drones because of the low-frequency humming that is generated by their propellers cutting through the air. This attracts the bees to take a closer look. This is where the problems start – the downdraft caused by the propellers can agitate the bees and also suck the bee into the blades – quickly killing the bee. When a bee dies it releases a pheromone (a chemical signal) encouraging other bees to attack the drone – its a vicious cycle until you can land your drone.
Anyone who flies’s a drone regularly will notice that other animals are also attracted to the drone. I’ve had my drone swooped by birds, bees, and other insects. There are even some studies looking at how elephants respond to drones!
Why are bees attracted to drones?
Bees are an inquisitive insects. Honeybees usually fly within the range of 1 and 6 km, but sometimes go up to 13.5 km. Some honeybees can even travel as far as 20 km from their hive.
During their travels they are on the look our for all sorts of things including flowers, threats and water. Of course a drone would become a pretty interesting thing to investigate because it emits some of the most interesting sounds for a bee – low frequency vibrations.
In some of the most well respected bee keeping books these are the things that then cause a bee to attack:
Common sources of attack stimulus for honeybees include alarm pheromone, vibrations, carbon dioxide, hair, and dark colors.Crane 1990
You’ll notice that the drone ticks two of them – vibrations and dark colors. As soon as that first bee is sliced apart by the blades attack pheromones are released and the bees are unable to help themselves!
There is also some evidence to suggest that electromagnetic radiation from drones can also cause harm to the bees. Drones put out a lot of electromagnetic radiation to communicate with the controller. The radiation may interfere with the natural compasses of the bees, making it hard for them to travel precisely and safely.
The situation is just as bad for the bees as it is for us — it fast-tracks the damage to the agricultural landscape and food supply.
What happens when a bee attacks a drone?
Once a honey bee has decided to attack it will take on a stance (if standing) and protrude its stinger. At this point, the bee releases its first pheromone – the alarm pheromone. This tells the other bees in the area that something dangerous is present and they should approach the threat.
Once the bee has identified the drone as a threat it will orientate it’s stinger towards the drone and launch an attack.
While attacking the been will admit a high pitched buzz. Unfortunately for the bee, at this point it stands no chance against the plastic or carbon fiber blades of a drone’s propeller. If you want to know how much damage a drone can do to a human finger – check out my other blog post here.
For the bees that escape the blades they will administer the sting to the drone and spend it’s final minutes of dying flying around the drone (trying to distract it like the bee would for a predator).
How long does the bee attack last?
Honey bees are unlikely to pursue a drone over long distances. If the drone is far away from you – flying back toward your location may be enough to stop the carnage.
If however, the drone is above you while it is getting attacked – it’s probably safe to land. If there are bees still around the drone wait until they have left the drone after landing – they could easily sting you too!
Interesting fact: If your drone is being attacked by Africanized bees it may pursue your drone for hundreds of meters.
What does a bee attack look like?
Here are some example videos from around the web where drones have been attacked by bee’s during their flight.
There have been a number of videos reported for bee attacks and also people using them to remove hornets nests. I guess using the chopping power of the blades to your advantage could be a good thing for insects and pests you want to get rid of – it probably isn’t the cleans way to do it however!
Drones sound like bees – great for elephant conservation…
Most of the time this is actually a terrible thing as it can attract bees as we have discussed above. But there are some good things that could come of it – not for bees – but for elephants.
Researchers from Duke University took a drone into Wonga Wongue National park to monitor the movement of elephants.
Upon testing the [drone] with the park rangers, known as Ecoguards, and the researchers observed signs of disturbance amongst the elephants when using the UAV system. Interestingly, some elephants seemed unaware of the UAV, while others seemed distressed based on the presence of the UAV. Some signs of distress involved throwing dirt upon hearing the UAV and quickly retreating, as well as spraying dirt with their trunks, a behavior known as dusting. In many of these cases the elephants would not have been able to visually perceive the UAV based on the terrain, which suggests that the elephants were exhibiting these behaviors upon only hearing the UAV.Drake University
The researchers found that, of the drones they tested, the DJI Phantom sounded most like bees. The elephants were seen to throw dust in the air – just like they were trying to ward away bees.
This information could be used to move elephants away from danger and keep them in designated areas of a conservation park where they would be safe from poachers and other threats.
How to clean your drone after a bee attack
After a bee attack, your drone will probably end up looking quite sorry for itself! This vlog on my YouTube channel is when I last killed a bunch of bees that attacked the drone!
Cleaning your drone after a bee attack is quite a simple process – you just have to be a little care full and light on with the soap and water but beed insides come off quite easity. This is the process that I use:
- Remove the propellers.
- Wipe down the propellers with soap and water.
- Check the propellers for any significant damage (particularly to the leading edge of the blade.
- Use a lightly damp cloth with soap and water to remove any bee remains from the body of the drone.
- Pay particular attention to the vents of the drone – where it draws in air.
- Use a toothpick to collect the bee remains from the edge of the vents (be careful not to push it back inside)
- Let the drone dry for a few hours.
- Reassemble the drone and take for a test flight.
If any significant insect parts got into the motors it could cause a fair bit of instability – take the time to check for stability before your next big flight!