Sweet Science: Honeybees Outfitted With Sensors

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Swarm sensing is set to become a reality in Australia. Scientists there are outfitting thousands of honeybees with little sensors to find out what’s really causing their colonies to collapse.

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As many as 5,000 tiny sensors are going to be placed on honeybees in Hobart, Tasmania. Each sensor is a mere quarter-centimeter in size and contains radio frequency identification tech. Every time the bee passes certain checkpoints, its presence will get logged and the data then sent to a central research location, according to a press release about the project.

The research is being led by Paulo de Souza, a scientist in charge of micro-sensor technologies and systems for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization or CSIRO. He’s collaborating with the University of Tasmania, the Tasmanian Beekeepers Association, beekeepers in Hobart as well as fruit growers around the state on a trial of the sensor tech. Their goal is to visualize how bees move in the environment and perhaps even discover what’s causing bee colonies to dwindle.

Colony collapse disorder is a known problem affecting bee populations around the world. For some strange reason, worker bees are disappearing. So far nobody has been able to solve the mystery.

Not to fear: The sensor project shouldn’t harm any bees. Before the tiny sensor goes on, the bee is placed in a cool space to induce a rest state, according to de Souza. The sensor is attached using a small amount of adhesive and then the bee is woken back up and released.

“This is a non-destructive process and the sensors appear to have no impact on the bee’s ability to fly and carry out its normal duties,” de Souza said in a statement about the project. Hat tip to Inhabitat.

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The little sensors are just the start. Maybe one day scientists will try this out using little cameras — or even smart phones. We need to become better partners with the bees if we’re ever going to save and protect them. All our crops are on the line.

Credit: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.

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