• Barcode Ireland Team

Barcode bee’s knees!

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

Beneficial to bees barcodes.

Bee barcode resemblance. Bee with yellow and black stripes.

It may be of interest to the some 3,500 members within beekeeping associations in Ireland to learn that, at a time, the smallest barcode ever invented, 23mm x 13mm, was used to study the pollination patterns of the popular Italian honeybee, Apis mellifera ligustica!

In the late 1980’s, 36 year old entomologist Stephen L Buchmann of Arizona's Carl Hayden Bee Research Center was having trouble tracking bees as one bee looks pretty much like another! Buchmann’s idea of using barcodes to track bees came from visiting grocery stores. He reasoned if barcodes could keep track of thousands of products in retail inventory it could surely track a hundred bees at a time. His challenge then was to make a barcode that was smaller than the width of a bees back.

For a solution he turned to Intermec Technologies Corp. of Everett, Washington, one of the world leaders in barcode technology. Researcher Sprague Ackley invented a new bar code just for the bees, one so tiny it could be placed on a bee's back without disturbing its aerodynamics or to ability to gather nectar/pollen. This was achieved by reducing the number of lines on the barcode from potentially 55 to 9 - a standard barcode can differentiate more than a million items.

To apply the barcodes, Buchmann firstly anaesthetised the bees with carbon dioxide, then, “under a microscope, we pick up the pre cut bars in forceps, dip them in shellac and align them on the thorax, where they can’t reach around with their legs to pull them off.”

The paper barcode and glue weighed one twentieth as much as the pollen and nectar carried on the bees on their foraging trips so the bees behaved as normal, unaware of the few extra stripes on their backs. The barcodes eventually fell off but by then they had served their purpose.

Buchmann had previously tried many methods to monitor bees such as dyes and paints that wore off and a method of painting a white dot on their backs numbered with ink when the paint dried. Not only were these methods tedious and cumbersome but they required a lot of handling of the bees upsetting their behaviour patterns and produced flawed results.

Dr Buchmann designed a special entrance to the hive so that the bees were forced to display their barcode to the laser reader. “It’s like the bees are punching a time clock for us, and we know when they come in and when they go out and, indirectly, how long they live,” said Buchmann, “The more we know about bees, the more we can use them to our advantage, in terms of cross-pollination or telling beekeepers where to put their hives”.

The system enabled Buchmann to monitor the amount of pollen/nectar collected on their forays away from the nest, the number of trips made and length of time spent foraging. It also monitored how pest resistant the bees were. The data from each tagged bee could now be collated on a computer leading to easier analysis. Importantly, it enabled the selection of healthier and more productive bees as the progenitors of future generations.

“The bar codes give me the real nitty-gritty. It’s like Bee 54, where are you?”

Beekeepers, to get barcodes for your honey, simply go to our Buy page www.barcodeireland.ie/buy, or contact us on info@barcodeireland.ie or through the contact form on our website www.barcodeireland.ie/contact and let Barcode Ireland help you.




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