Home Internet of Things Aerospace Apparel Energy Defense Health Care Logistics Manufacturing Retail

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.
By Claire Swedberg
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.

Each bumblebee was tagged in order to study labor division among the hive.
Prior to the study, scientists did not know how the division of labor was established within a bumblebee hive. Did bees all collect both nectar and pollen, they wondered, or was there a pattern—and, if so, what did that pattern consist of? "There's been a ton of research on division of labor for insects," Russell says, though most of that research has been based on visual observations, either manually or with cameras, which can be limiting.

Avery Russell
By applying RFID technology to the study, the researchers were able to automatically collect data regarding the activity taking place. Based on the collected RFID data, Russell—the study's lead author, who was then a doctoral student in entomology and insects, in Professor Daniel Papaj's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology lab—was able to track those patterns.

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.

Login and post your comment!

Not a member?

Signup for an account now to access all of the features of RFIDJournal.com!

Case Studies Features Best Practices How-Tos
Live Events Virtual Events Webinars
Simply enter a question for our experts.
RFID Journal LIVE! RFID in Health Care LIVE! LatAm LIVE! Brasil LIVE! Europe RFID Connect Virtual Events RFID Journal Awards Webinars Presentations