Hive Paint Schemes

Painting hives should meet several requirements: Protection of the wood, temperature control, aesthetically not displeasing, easy to paint, and provide landmarks for bees to prevent drifting. Several of these are pretty easy and well known, outdoor latex paint, only paint the outsides, light colors (particularly down here in the south). Aesthetically not displeasing is really up to personal taste, I have hives painted by a four year old that are "cute" because a 4 year old did them, the style would be described in the art world as "abstract". Easy to paint usually means bare white or other solid color.

Providing landmarks to the bees is harder. Most hives are plain white and drift occurs when there are lines of hives. Research has shown bees can distinguish shapes and colors and this should be helpful in reducing drift. All the research I found used simple shapes and bee distinguishable colors which aren't quite the same as human distinguishable colors. Like humans bees have 3 color receptors. However those receptors are shift towards the ultraviolet into a range humans can not see.
Shapes. I'm going to fall back to heraldry for the names of the shapes. They should be simple to paint and be able to be laid out with just a few lines of masking tape. All of these assume the hive is painted white first, then the second color used for the design. In the inversions the tape is used to keep areas white and the majority of the hive is painted the second color (hopefully a light color). Some of these can be done as inversions and take less effort like the Chevron or the 2 Fesses.
Basic Shapes
1 Line
Per Fess Per Bend
Per Bend Sinister Per Pale Chief
1/3 of field
Terrace in Base
1/3 of field
1/3 of field
Side sinister
1/3 of field
2 Lines
Fess Bend
Bend Sinister
Pale Quarter
From any of 4 corners
From any of 4 corners
I don't like it seems too small
Per Chausse
From any of 4 directions
Touches corners and midpoint of oppisite side
Per Chevron
From any of 4 directions
Starts 1/3 up and rises to 1/3 from top
From any of 4 directions
Does not touch corners and drops to within 1/3 of top
3 Lines
from any of 4 direction
4 Lines
From any of 4 directions
2 Fesses
2 Pales
2 Bends
2 Bend Sinisters
Border Billet*
Baton Sinister*
Easy Inversions
Cross Saltire Inverted Border Roundel* Pall
From any of 4 directions
Also from top and bottom. (Requires Compass)
Quarterly (Per Cross) Per Saltire
*I uses ones that don't touch any edge for nucs.
Cross and Saltaire can also be truncated from the edges, which I use for nucs

Harder to Paint Charges
Annulet Crescent Cross Saltire

Evidence shows bees can distinguish a solid circle from a ring but its a pain to paint. The easisest way is paint white, put a disk in the middle and paint another color, then a larger disk and repaint white. Getting the white to cover the other color can take several coats.

Cross and Saltire are done as inversion and by not extending the masking tape to the edges.


Wavelength Human Color Human Receptors Bee ColorBee Receptors
<300 Ultraviolet (Invisible)     Ultraviolet (Invisible)  
300-380   Bee Ultraviolet?350
380-450 Violet
#8f00ff screen,#9400d3 pigment
S: 430Bee Blue
450-480 Blue
480-500   Bee Blue-Green
500-520 Blue-Green
#00ffff screen,#00b7eb pigment
   Bee Yellow
520-550 Green
  M: 544 540
550-570 Yellow-Green
  L: 570  
570-600 Yellow
600-630 Orange
    Infrayellow (Invisible)  
630-780 Red
>780 Infrared (Invisible)    
All the above shapes should be done in contrasting colors, both to us and the bees. A good palate would be:
  • Red or Black (Color)
  • A Green (tend towards yellowish ones) or Yellow (Metal)
  • A Blue Green (Color)
  • A Purple (Color)
  • White (Metal)

    Follow the rules of heraldry no color on a color no metal on a metal


    Bees, Biology and Management by Peter G. Kevan show some patterns that bees can discriminate between and shapes recognized by bees. They include circle, square, triangle, diamond, bar at an angle, 3 vertical bars, kind of a "Y" and an X. The article on this book finishes with the following: Read this book with this caveat: If you are not already a bee geek when you start, you will be one when you finish. Don't say you weren't warned. It is a treasure of a book.

    December American Bee Journal 2007

    Square, Diamond, Circle, Triangle, inverted triangle

    Can distinguish ring from disk:

    Yellow, Blue-green, Blue, Ultraviolet, Black, White

    The major difference between the color sense of a bee and a human is that the .human eye can distinguish about sixty distinct colors in the visible spectrum, while the bee can distinguish only four different colors in the visible spectrum: yellow, blue-green, blue, and ultraviolet

  • Karl von Frisch showed that bees distinguish between a disc that is half yellow, half blue, and a mirror image of the same.