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Tiny sensors monitor honey bee behaviour

Thousands of honey bees in Australia are being fitted with tiny sensors as part of a world-first research program to monitor the insects and their environment using a technique known as ‘swarm sensing’.


Up to 5,000 sensors, measuring 2.5mm x 2.5mm are being fitted to the backs of the bees in Hobart, Tasmania, before being released into the wild. It’s the first time such large numbers of insects have been used for environmental monitoring. The research aims to improve honey bee pollination and productivity as well as help understand the drivers of bee Colony Collapse Disorder, a condition decimating honey bee populations worldwide.

Paulo de Souza of the CSIRO, said: “While Australian bees were in “pretty good shape” and are often exported overseas for pollination purposes, they still face looming threats. We don’t know how long they will stay in this condition for – pesticides are one risk as well as monocultures of pollen that bees don’t do well in. We are doing some things that might contribute to a future collapse, so it’s important we study this area.

We want to go smaller, maybe to 100 micrometres, although it can be hard to manipulate the sensors at that stage. The bees are amazing – they learn very quickly how to fly with the extra weight. They are very focused on their work. Fruit flies take a little longer.”