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RFID Detects Workloads of Bumblebee Foragers
The HF RFID technology—consisting of a tag on each bee's back and a reader at a foraging chamber's entrance—helped University of Arizona researchers learn how labor is divided among foragers within a hive.
Mar 06, 2017—
Radio frequency identification technology has helped a team of researchers to learn the foraging behavior of bumblebees by tracking their movements into and out of pollen and nectar chambers. A study, led by Avery Russell at the University of Arizona, was published this year, three years after the study took place.
The researchers tracked the movements of a total of 111 individual worker bees, based on high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz RFID tags, compliant with the ISO 15693 standard, attached to their backs, and readers at the egress to two chambers. The study found, for the first time, that most worker bumblebees specialize in either pollen or nectar collection, and then switch that specialization throughout their one- to four-week lifespan. The tags and readers were provided by Microsensys.
A typical bumblebee colony contains up to 75 workers, approximately 40 to 50 of which regularly leave the hive to forage on flowers for nectar and pollen, which they bring back to the hive. To create a controlled environment that could represent a natural one, the researchers installed two chambers by the hive filled with artificial flowersm which presented either pollen or a sucrose solution nectar analogue.
With the system, researchers (in this case, Russell himself) attached the RFID tags to each of 111 bumblebees throughout the six-week period of the study. The tags were adhered to the bees' backs with superglue. Russell immobilized the bees under a piece of mesh to gain free access to their backs. Then, while their stingers were out of reach, he glued a tag onto each one. While 111 bees were tagged altogether, between 20 and 50 bees were typically foraging and using the tags at any given time. Each bee's tag had a unique ID number encoded on it.
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