Thousands of bees get RFID chips to track why they're dying off

Over the past few years, bee colonies in North America and Europe have been decimated by the Varroa mite, and a mysterious syndrome named Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). In an attempt to find what could be at the root of all the destruction, scientists in Australia have fitted thousands of honeybees with tiny RFID tags so they can easily track their movements.

CCD has been blamed on everything from corn syrup to cellphones, but at this point nobody is really certain which factors are truly at fault. So to track the patterns of healthy bees more closely, researchers have gone to Australia where CCD has yet to become a serious problem. They plan is to study how tiny quantities of pesticides might affect the way the bees interact and socialize, using a tracking technique called swarm sensing.

Five thousand bees will be fitted with the tiny 2.5 mm square RFID chips, which will allow the scientists to track their movements much like a toll tag on your car lets the roadway authority know when you drive past a certain point. Bees tend to fly in regular repeatable patterns, so any changes in their activity will be easy to spot. To tag the bees, they are placed in a refrigerator to make them immobile, then the tags are simply attached with adhesive. The researchers say that the tag has no effect on a bee's behavior, but how would you like to have a big square chip glued to the back of your neck?

The research is being carried out by Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), which is the country's national science agency. Lead researcher Dr. Paulo de Souza says that they also plan to extend the study to smaller insects such as mosquitoes and fruit flies, but first they need to shrink the RFID chip down to 1 mm square first.

CSIRO, via Treehugger

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