Claire Cohen / Daily Mail | June 27, 2008

 

It is a remarkably hairy close-up.

But this tiny microchip attached to a bee’s back will hopefully explain why so many honeybees are dying from disease.

Professor Juergen Tautz and his team at the University of Wurzburg in Germany are studying the health of more than 150,000 bees, in the hope of halting the apparently inexorable decline in their worldwide population.

Bees have always been tricky to study individually.

Each colony has around 50,000 members, all interacting simultaneously and making it near-impossible to observe them.

Previously, each bee would be painted with a different-coloured
dot on its back and scientists would video the colony — watching the tape endlessly, to try to work out the behaviour in each insect.

But a revolutionary technology enables the study of bees at close quarters. As soon as a bee hatches, a tiny radio frequency identification (RFID) microchip is stuck to its back using a lacquer.

This allows scientists to study its behaviour throughout its life.

The bee will be unaware of the chip as it weighs only 2mg — a typical bee weighing in at 70mg can carry its own body weight.

Once it has been chipped, each bee has a serial number, and a scanner on the outside of the hive (like a supermarket one) registers its movement every time it leaves or enters.

The data allows scientists to determine the health of every bee — how many trips it is taking, how soon after hatching it collects pollen and how much food it gathers.

The scientists also hope to discover why some bees live for just four weeks and others up to ten months.

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