The development of honey bee colonies assessed using a new semi-automated brood counting method: Combcount

Théotime Colin*, Jake Bruce, William G. Meikle, Andrew B. Barron

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    27 Citations (Scopus)
    139 Downloads (Pure)


    Precise, objective data on brood and honey levels in honey bee colonies can be obtained through the analysis of hive frame photographs. However, accurate analysis of all the frame photographs from medium- to large-scale experiments is time-consuming. This limits the number of hives than can be practically included in honeybee studies. Faster estimation methods exist but they significantly decrease precision and their use requires a larger sample size to maintain statistical power. To resolve this issue, we created ‘CombCount’ a python program that automatically detects uncapped cells to speed up measurements of capped brood and capped honey on photos of frames. CombCount does not require programming skills, it was designed to facilitate colony-level research in honeybees and to provide a fast, free, and accurate alternative to older methods based on visual estimations. Six observers measured the same photos of thirty different frames both with CombCount and by manually outlining the entire capped areas with ImageJ. The results obtained were highly similar between both the observers and the two methods, but measurements with CombCount were 3.2 times faster than with ImageJ (4 and 13 min per side of the frame, respectively) and all observers were faster when using CombCount rather than ImageJ. CombCount was used to measure the proportions of capped brood and capped honey on each frame of 16 hives over a year as they developed from packages to full-size colonies over about 60 days. Our data describe the formation of brood and honey stores during the establishment of a new colony.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere0205816
    Pages (from-to)1-14
    Number of pages14
    JournalPLoS ONE
    Issue number10
    Publication statusPublished - 16 Oct 2018

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