Australia’s national science agency CSIRO has glued computer chips to the backs of 15,000 bees in a bid to discover what is causing the collapse of the insects colonies.
The Honey Bee Health project is being carried out in conjunction with Intel in Australia and Brazil.
The chips are tiny radio frequency identification (RFID) tags which track bee movements as they enter hives and feeders.
Each tag is 2.5×2.5x4mm and weighs just 5.4 milligrams – a third of the weight that a bee can carry.
“It’s like you walking around the city with a backpack,” Professor Paulo de Souza, from CSIRO’s Digital Productivity Flagship told reporters.
The disappearance of bees is already causing problems with pollination around the world and could lead to a catastrophe if bees continue to disappear.
Professor de Souza said that the collapse of viable hives in China has led to pollination of some crops carried out solely by humans.
Researchers have not yet identified the key cause of what is named “colony collapse disorder”, but believe a range of factors including pesticides, parasites, air pollution, water contamination, a decrease in genetic diversity and more frequent extreme weather events could be responsible.
“In addition to those stresses we have the mismanagement of hives … caused by transport of hives around,” Professor de Souza said. “You go to a hive and you see 50,000 bees working happily on one day, the next day you go and all bees are gone or all bees are dead,” he told The Australian newspaper..
Scientists will use the chips to monitor different combinations of issues affecting bees.