Virtual Reality and Radio-Frequency ID Chips Used to Research Honey Bee Deaths

July 19, 2018 - 1:52pm

Research being conducted at Creighton University is using advanced technology to observe and model honey bee behavior to understand what happens when they are infected with a virus. With an increasing toll in bee deaths each year, especially in the Midwest, the project is focused on the phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD.

CCD is when bees leave the hive to die once they realize they’ve become sick. Unfortunately, it’s often too late and other members of the hive are infected and follow course.

Dr. Carol Fassbinder-Orth, director of the project, decided to monitor the bees’ movement, behavior and physiological levels with radio frequency identification chips. The chips collect data on how the bees react once they realize they’re infected.

“What we have found so far, is that these viral infections cause the bees’ hormone levels to become drastically impaired so that they age more quickly,” Fassbinder-Orth said. “This induces them to leave the colony quicker than normal… That association between an infection and the behavior that causes them to age may reflect what happens with colony collapse disorder.”

These findings are then compared to the normal rates of bee aging and deaths throughout a colony. The physiological aspects are then studied to see why the bees are becoming infected and aging more quickly.

Virtual Reality is used in the research as well. Fassbinder-Orth says virtual reality is a great tool to share the research.

“The Virtual Reality part that we are also working with, and that’s through the RaD lab here at Creighton, is a way to make our honey bee research accessible to many people in the public. So the idea with that is more of a platform for communication,” Fassbinder-Orth said. “Where we are modeling the inside of a beehive, the different parts of a beehive, but also being able to incorporate information, so that say you’re in a virtual reality inside of a beehive. You can click on a bee and can pull up these stats about its health…The more you are going to great heights to put cameras inside of hives and do time lapse, I learn a lot more.”

Fassbinder-Orth and her students hope this technology will allow their research to pinpoint why the bees are becoming infected and how they can potentially slow down the effects of colony collapse disorder.



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