Tiny Trackers May Help Prevent Honey Bee Extinction

An illustration of a bee on a honey comb.

Image: Shutterstock

An international group of scientists and bee experts have attached tiny sensors to the backs of 10,000 healthy honey bees to help us understand why bees are dying in such huge numbers—and to find out how we can help prevent further loss.

The small sensors transmit information about the comings and goings of the bees to readers strategically placed in hives. The project’s researchers compare the sensor to “an adult carrying a backpack, weighing about a third of what a honey bee can carry,” according to the BBC. The difference is that these little bee backpacks will remain with the insects for the rest of their lives.

The sensors will record any deviations from the otherwise generally predictable activities of the bees to help identify what’s stressing the bees out and how they react to that stress. And if you’re a bee, there’s a lot to be stressed about: increasing loss of habitat, disease, pesticides, air pollution, problems with water, and weather changes. U.S. beekeepers lost 42.1% of their colonies between April 2014 and April 2015, says CNN. Over the last seventy years or so, bee populations have declined by the actual millions.

Without bees, many of the things we enjoy in life would no longer be available, and lovely flowers are the least of the problem. Lots of produce, including staples like apples and avocados, would be gone, as well as many other things; honey bees are responsible for $30 billion a year in produce, sustaining over 7 billion people. Without the produce bees provide, a world with that many people just may not be sustainable.

With the help of these tiny trackers, we may be a few steps closer to limiting declines in bee population and preventing their extinction. The world will be in a serious pickle—another item we won’t have in our grocery stores—if bees disappear.

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