Scientists fit 5,000 bees with tiny ‘backpacks’ to track their movements

Scott Sutherland
Geekquinox
January 17, 2014

A team of Australian researchers has come up with a new way to track bees, in order to study how they're affected by Colony Collapse Disorder. They want to put tiny sensors on their backs — a bee backpack, if you will — that will allow them to follow the bees' movements in real time.

Scientists with Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) and the University of Tasmania discuss the project in this short video:

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Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a serious threat to not only the bees, but to humans as well. Many of our crops are dependent on pollination from bees, and the produce section of our grocery stores would become quite bare without them. Unfortunately, the exact cause of CCD still isn't known, but more evidence is coming out that it's a combination of factors, including pesticides (such as neonicotinoids), viruses, bacteria and parasites (not to mention the effect of pesticides in weakening the bees' immune system against those other factors).

Part of the problem with studying Colony Collapse Disorder is that it's very difficult to keep track of bees once they leave the hive. This is important to know because one of the main 'symptoms' of the disorder is that the adult bees completely abandon their hive, and often no bee bodies are found. If researchers were able to tell exactly where they go, they would have a much better idea of what the bees are being exposed to, and thus what might be causing this behaviour. This new 'bee-backpack' tracking system will now give scientists that ability.

The program is being tested on wild bees in Tasmania for now. If it's successful, it could see much wider use, not only with bees in other areas of the world, but also with tracking other kinds of insects as well — like malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

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