Australia is Outfitting Thousands of Bees with Tiny Tracking Backpacks

By Robert Sorokanich on at

Bees populations are mysteriously dying worldwide, and that's a problem: one-third of the world's crops are pollenated by the black and yellow fellows. To try and figure out what's causing the bee decline, Australia's national science agency is strapping RFID tags on bees' backs to detect changes in their movement.

The tiny (0.1 inch square) trackers are being affixed to 5,000 bees in the Tasmanian capital of Hobart. Researchers gather the bees, anaesthetise them with a blast in a refrigerator, then affix the tags with adhesive. Recorders placed around hives and food sources will track the bees' daily movements. Bee-GPS in itself won't solve the population mystery, but any unusual changes in the swarm's behaviour will alert researchers to investigate and see whether it's parasites, pesticides, or pollution that's confusing the colony.

The current tracking tags are plenty small, but Australian researchers hope someday to make them even tinier, and generate power from the bees' beating wings to transmit bigger data packets. Forget cloud computing, these files will be stored in the swarm. [CSIRO via Quartz]

Image: CSIRO