Putting Numbers on Bees

I don't know about you, but I can't tell one bumblebee from another. They all look just about alike to me. It reminds me of my first job in high school at Chick-Fil-A, when a few of my coworkers informed me that all white people look alike. That was actually a fun job with some pretty funny people. But I digress. The next best thing to name tags for the bees is numbers.

They (people who sell beekeeping supplies) sell these little colored tags with numbers on them for marking honeybee queens. They come in five colors, numbered from 1 to 99, and you can fix them to a bee using super glue (what else?). It is a fun little process and my mother claims the bees come out looking like they're wearing sweaters. Or maybe ice hockey jerseys.

Once my two colonies of bees came in, I spent the next two full days supergluing tags on each little bee (except for the queen, who is rather huge, and couldn't ever be confused with her smaller daughters).

How do you superglue a tag to a bee? Very, very carefully. Actually its pretty easy. You grab a bee with a giant set of tweezers. The bee gets angry. Then you stick the bee into a tube. The bee gets angrier and starts buzzing in a rather menacing fashion. Then you take a plunger and squeeze the bee towards the end of the tube. At this point the bee is thoroughly provoked but can't buzz anymore because its wings are pressed to the mesh covering the end of the tube. I don't know why, but I find this hilarious. Ok, before anyone starts thinking I'm evil, please know that this is all done gently and no harm comes to the bee!

Once the bee is immobilized, you grab a tiny amount of superglue, put it on the bee (away from the wings!), and stick on the tag. This little bee is Orange 14, from my colony #1.

After repeating this process over, and over, and over again, you get a colony of bees that all have numbers. At this point you can have some fun and collect data about individuals to your heart's content. To the right are some individuals with green tags, busy at work tending to new sisters and such. I say "and such" because I'm merely a casual observer of colony maintenance and reproduction. I'm really only interested in the foragers: the ones that leave the nest in search of food for everyone. Foragers will, conveniently enough for me, go all sorts of distances in their task... they will travel through yards of tubing and brave the wilds of the plexiglas mazes.


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