Buzz over London as Queen Mary University boffins release 500 bees in the air

Tabbed bee spotted on red flower [photos: Joseph Woodgate]

Tabbed bee spotted on red flower [photos: Joseph Woodgate] - Credit: Queen Mary's University

Hundreds of bees with their own ‘number plates’ have been released into the air above east London today as part of a unique research experiment by scientists.

Bee-having... taking nectar from a white flower

Bee-having... taking nectar from a white flower - Credit: Queen Mary's University

The boffins were buzzing with excitement as they released 500 busy little bees from the rooftop at Queen Mary University’s Mile End campus—700 more will be told to “buzz off” over the coming months.

It’s all part of a experiment that hopes to uncover the secret lives of London’s bees.

Biologists from the university’s School of Biological & Chemical Sciences attached weather-resistant number tags on the tiny creatures’ backs top find out where they go.

“The bees having individual ‘license plates’ allows anyone to take part who’s interested about the behaviour of bees,” Prof Lars Chittka explains. “Citizen scientists might be intrigued to see the same bee return to their balcony or garden and might record the time, how many times and which flowers they prefer. They may be curious about what these regular visits tell us about a bee’s memory for places and why certain bees prefer a particular colour and flower.”

Making a bee-line for a bloomin' lovely yellow flower

Making a bee-line for a bloomin' lovely yellow flower - Credit: Queen Mary's University


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The scientists want the public to help identify where the bees land and what flowers they take nectar from—so they’re offering gift vouchers for photographic evidence.

They’re giving £100 prizes for the best photo of a tagged bee on a flower, for the highest number of tagged bees spotted and for the best snapshot of a ‘bee friendly’ garden as judged by the research team.

The London Pollinator project has already encouraged householders to plant flowers rich in nectar and pollen, like English lavender, viper’s bugloss and spiked speedwell.

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The boffins at Queen Mary’s hope that observing number-tagged bees in gardens can raise public appreciation of these cute insects as “individuals” which have their own memories of a particular flower patch and with their own preferences for particular flowers that differ from those of their fellow-bees. This helps develop a connection with bees, they point out, and a deeper understanding of the need to help conservation of threatened species.

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