Honey Bees

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Honey Bee

PharmaSeq’s innovative system for tagging insects features ultra-small, durable, low-cost ID tags called p-Chips. A major advantage of the p-Chip system is in the tags’ size and weight: only 500 x 500 x 100 μm and 85 μg. This allows an individual insect, such as a honey bee or ant, to carry a p-Chip placed on its back without harm or interference. When an individual passes under the laser light of PharmaSeq’s reader, the p-Chip is activated and its ID is read.

Researchers have been using p-Chip systems to tag and track hundreds of individual bees within a colony. For example, Paul Tenczar working in Gene Robinson’s group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign outfitted several colonies of honey bees with p-Chips in order to monitor the flight activity of the colony’s worker bees. The researchers reported their unexpected findings in the journal Animal Behaviour (2014). View the video below to see this work in action:

Andy Zink’s group at San Francisco State University used p-Chips to track the movements of individual parasitized “zombie” bees. The researchers had previously found that parasitized bees leave the hive at night and move erratically prior to dying. Using the p-Chip system, the scientists sought to uncover additional information about the bees’ behavior. To learn more, view the video below (the p-Chip system is featured at 3:31):

The p-Chip tagging system can also be used to answer questions about other bee behaviors, including colony collapse disorder (CCD), an ongoing massive loss of hives that was first reported in the winter of 2005-06. Recent research points to certain pesticides as a probable cause of CCD, but much remains to be investigated, including the mechanisms of hive collapse and the behavior of individual bees. This type of work has significant implications for ensuring sustainable agriculture and food supplies.

The cost of implementing a basic p-Chip system is surprisingly affordable. Please click here for pricing details or contact us for a quote at or (732) 355-0100. We will be happy to discuss your specific needs and provide an estimate.

Key Points

  • The primary advantage of using p-Chips for tagging bees is their exceptionally small size and weight.
  • Each p-Chip carries a unique ID that cannot be replicated.
  • The p-Chip tagging system eliminates the need to visually monitor bee behavior and is functional 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
  • The system also eliminates the potential for human data entry and transcription errors.
  • The system can also be implemented in other insects, including ants, fleas, spiders, and fruit flies, as well as in small animals, including mice and zebrafish.

Tagging Protocol and ID Readout System

Bees are tagged while anesthetized with carbon dioxide (or by keeping them over ice). To tag a bee, simply place an individual on aluminum foil under CO2 (or over a container with ordinary shaved ice), apply a small amount of glue to the thorax and position a p-Chip onto the adhesive using microdissection forceps or a similar tool. Let dry for approximately one minute. The entire process takes only a few minutes.

p-Chips are detected when the bee walks along a clear plastic tube attached to the entrance of the hive. Either one or two readers can be attached to the walkway. Placing two readers in sequence along the walkway allows researchers to infer the bee’s direction of travel from the time stamp provided by the software. More than one p-Chip can be attached to each individual for a greater chance of detection.



  1. Tenczar P, Lutz CC, Rao VD, Goldenfeld N, and Robinson GE (2014) Automated monitoring reveals extreme interindividual variation and plasticity in honeybee foraging activity levels. Anim Behav 95:41-48.
  2. Quock CD (2013) Use of RFID tracking to detect effects of parasitism by Apocephalus borealis on the European honey bee, Apis mellifera. Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA, January 2013.