The observation bee hive is one of the premier research and educational tools in apiculture. It can also be used as an adjunct to a wide variety of public relations and selling programs. It also is the reason we currently know as much as we do about honey bee behavior at the individual level and it is, therefore, an essential record-keeping tool.
Although its allure is universal, the observation bee hive may not always be the best choice as an exhibit. This is because a great deal of time and energy is needed to set up a hive and keep it going. Most persons have few problems installing an observation hive for the first time. There are meny available for sale and also plans for assembling them. The headache is maintaining the unit. This is especially true if the hive is to be used as a permanent display for the general public.
Unfortunately, there is very little that is permanent about an observation bee hive without considerable work by the beekeeper. Even the largest units of 4 frames still only represent a portion of a full sized colony. Because they are so small, observation hives do not usually survive major fluctuations in either population size or food availability. Anybody who has attempted to keep one of these marginal colonies for any length of time can draw up a long laundry list of potential problems. These can include: swarming, queenlessness, starvation, and invasion by diseases, pests and parasites.
This is not to say that the observation hive doesn’t have a place, only that a commitment to manage it must be made over a long time. There is nothing worse for a public display than a neglected observation bee hive.