New tracking device developed to better understand bee ‘bee-haviour’

25 Mar 2015

A new miniature tracker has been developed which is capable of tracking a bee over a range of 8.2ft in a bid to better understand their behaviour at a time when they are in a serious population decline.

The device was developed by Dr Mark O’Neill, technical director of Tumbling Dice, a tech firm based in Newcastle in the UK, with the intentions of improving upon the existing bee tracking devices that have so far only been able to reach a measurement distance of just 1cm.

According to the BBC, the device placed on the bee’s back consists of a standard RFID (radio frequency identification) chip but with the addition of Dr O’Neill’s own aerial creation which is both smaller and lighter giving the bees a better range than ever before.

Measuring only 8mm high and 4.8mm wide, Dr O’Neill has been painstakingly creating the devices in his own spare time – about 50 in total so far – which are then placed on the centre of the bee’s back during a chilled state as it is easier to apply then.

Vital to the planet’s ecosystem

It is now hoped that over the three months of a bee’s average lifespan, the tracker could remain on the bee and allow ecologists to see how the increasingly endangered insect, crucial to pollination, gets about on its daily journeys.

 Dr O’Neill’s eventual goal is to have a number of the devices placed around a hive or areas of high-pollination and then track their movements.

The technology has now been put through a trial run with the help of a team of ecologists from the Royal Botanic Gardens in London who say it could be a major breakthrough for bee research.

“These tags are a big step forward in radio technology and no one has a decent medium to long range tag yet that is suitable for flying on small insects,” said Dr Sarah Barlow, a restoration ecologist at the Royal Botanic Gardens.

“This new technology will open up possibilities for scientists to track bees in the landscape.”

Bee image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic