Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Radio frequency ID tags on honey bees reveal hive dynamics


Scientists attached radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to hundreds of individual honey bees and tracked them for several weeks. The effort yielded two discoveries: Some foraging bees are much busier than others; and if those busy bees disappear, others will take their place.

The findings are reported in the journal Animal Behaviour.

The radio frequency identification tag allowed researchers to determine that some foraging bees are much more active than others.

Credit: Tom Newman, Robinson Bee Laboratory

Tagging the bees revealed that about 20 percent of the foraging bees in a hive brought home more than half of the nectar and pollen gathered to feed the hive.

"We found that some bees are working very, very hard – as we would have expected," said University of Illinois Institute for Genomic Biology director Gene E. Robinson, who led the research. "But then we found some other bees that were not working as hard as the others."

Citizen scientist Paul Tenczar developed the technique for attaching RFID tags to bees and tracking their flight activity with monitors. He and Neuroscience Program graduate student Claudia Lutz measured the foraging activities of bees in several locations, including some in hives in a controlled foraging environment. (Watch a video about this work.)

Vikyath Rao, a graduate student in the laboratory of U. of I. physics professor Nigel Goldenfeld, analyzed the data using a computer model Rao and Goldenfeld developed.

Previous studies, primarily in ants, have found that some social insects work much harder than others in the same colony, Robinson said.

"The assumption has always been that these 'elite' individuals are in some way intrinsically better, that they were born that way," he said.

While it is well known that genetic differences underlie differences in many types of behavior, the new findings show that "sometimes it is important to give individuals a chance in a different situation to truly find out how different they are from each other," Robinson said.

Removal of the elite bees "was associated with an almost five-fold increase in activity level in previously low-activity foragers," the researchers wrote. The change occurred within 24 hours, Tenczar said. This demonstrates that other individuals within the hive also have the capacity to become elites when necessary, Robinson said.

"It is still possible that there truly are elite bees that have some differential abilities to work harder than others, but it's a larger group than first estimated," Robinson said. "Or it could be that all bees are capable of working at this level and there's some kind of colony-level regulation that has some of them working really, really hard, making many trips while others make fewer trips."

Perhaps the less-busy bees function as a kind of reserve force that can kick into high gear if something happens to the super-foragers, Robinson said.

"Our observation is that the colony bounces back to a situation where some bees are very active and some are less active," he said. "Why is that? We don't know. Do all bees have that capability? We still don't know."


The National Science Foundation and the Christopher Family Foundation supported this research.

Editor's notes: To reach Gene Robinson, call 217-265-0309; email

The paper, "Automated Monitoring Reveals Extreme Inter-Individual Variation and Plasticity in Honey Bee Foraging Activity Levels," is available online or from the U. of I. News Bureau .

Diana Yates | University of Illinois

Further reports about: RFID Radio-frequency identification activity colony honey bees individuals physics

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>