Tiny radio tags reveal the lives of Neotropical stingless bees

These bees are small, but the tags are smaller

a backlit bee on a delicate purple flower

Photo by Denise Johnson on Unsplash  

Scientists have struggled for years with ways to understand bee movement and foraging behavior. Following bees around from flower to flower is tedious, and netting bees to identify species visiting different types of flowers only tells us so much about their behavior over a large area. Where bees are foraging, and what they're eating, will give insight into their health and survival in the face of changes to their habitat and climate. 

In a recent paper from Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, researchers attached radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to the backs of a Neotropical stingless bee, Melipona fasciculata, to monitor their behavior. Similar to the little tags attached to some clothing that beep loudly when you bring them past the doors of a store, RFID tags can be used to track movement using microcomputers. Researchers found that 64.1 percent of tagged M. fasciculata individuals would drift between nesting boxes to other colonies of bees. Their peak activity occurred at 9 am, and pollen foragers lived longer than nectar foragers.

This amazing research establishes a new system for understanding bees using RFID tag technology, and increases our understanding of Neotropical stingless bees.