Bee OpenCV
February 2018

Check out the code for this project on Github!


This project uses OpenCV, a C++ computer vision library with bindings in a number of languages. I chose to use opencv-python, which can be installed using pip but tbh is kind of a process.

My end goal is to use image recognition to count the number of bees in flight. Here I’ve used top-down images of bees on comb to simplify the problem while I’m learning the tools.

Results So Far

I used two different methods to find matches: keypoint detection and template matching. I used the same source image for both methods:

European honey bee on white background

Keypoint Matching

Keypoint matching uses corner detection to find points that are likely to be significant, then attempts to match those points to features in other images. I used an ORB matcher to detect and describe features. One perk of ORB is that it handles rotation. Here’s the resulting matching between my source image and a on comb:

Bee compared to bee example

Note that it’s… not great. Similar features on both bees are confused with other features, and this will need significant tweaking before it reliably identifies a bee in an image.

Template Matching

Since bees are generally alike, I thought template matching might be a better approach.

With template matching you supply a template or example image, and scan over the new image looking for instances of high similarity between the pixels. The result is a bitmap of matching strength, with very black areas denoting a stong match.

My source image included a lot of whitespace, so I generated a mask using bitwise_not to flip the white and black space, then threshold contouring to grab the bee-yist parts of the image.

Using this mask, I generated a match image and displayed the best match:

Bee template compared to group of bees

But in this case, I want to see multiple matches, so I can count the bees. Displaying the top 100 or so matches shows that there’s a lot of overlap between the potential matches:

Bee template compared to group of bees

To dedupe these multiple similar matches, I implemented Non-Maxima Supression, which checks surrounding pixels for a better match and only keeps the best local match.

That helped with the duplication issue:

Bee template compared to group of bees

But still only yielded one result (more on that below).


Template matching yielded better initial results but doesn’t account well for rotation and varying scale, so keypoint detection is a better choice.

Even with deduping, template matching was only able to detect the bee in roughly the same position as our template bee. That’s an accepted limitation of template matching; it doesn’t handle scaling or rotation. Some people solve this by rotating the template 360 degrees in a for loop, and gathering matches for each rotation. That seems hacky to me- when I revist this project I’ll focus on improving the keypoint matching to get better matches for a single bee in various environments, and then work on being able to match multiple bees.

My goal usecase is to detect flying bees at the hive entrance to monitor hive activity, so trying to detect the difference between similar objects like a bee and a fly is overkill (although a fun excercise!). I could propably accomplish that goal with very basic blob detection, and may explore that as a next option.