CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University recently received a half-million dollar grant, allowing them to develop a sensor to track bumblebees.
Entomologists say pet-owners put microchips in cats and dogs in case they get lost, and now, a similar idea will help them track bumblebees. The grant project is a partnership between entomologists and engineers at OSU.
“If we could put a little sensor – like a little chip – on the back of a bumblebee, and watch it and sort of track it, then that will give us that information,” said OSU Professor of Entomology Sujaya Rao. “Information such as where bees forage. Do they stick with their colonies? What differences are there among species?”
Rao says there are tons of different bumblebee species within the Willamette Valley alone. She says a third of the food humans consume is pollinated by insects – mainly bees. And in the Valley, she says there are many crops that need pollination.
“We have the colony collapse; different diseases in honey bees,” she said. “So we do need an alternative pollinator. And bumblebees are very good for that.”
Part of the sensor project is to create a sensor that is small and light enough so the bee is not harmed, and so it flies like it normally would.
“We can take a little glue, and glue the sensor on the back,” Rao said. “It will tell you where exactly the bee is. I mean, that’s pretty cool.”
Rao says if the project is successful, it could lead them to track other small insects as well.
“We get a lot of these invasive insects,” Rao said. “They come, they invade, they go into all these cropping systems – so wouldn’t it be great if we could track those as they’re spreading across Oregon?”
Researchers at OSU are now working on developing the sensor and expect the project to take at least a year.
The federal grant was given before the government shutdown, so researchers of the project will not be affected.