Bees as Biosensors: Chemosensory Ability, Honey Bee Monitoring Systems, and Emergent Sensor Technologies Derived from the Pollinator Syndrome

Biosensors (Basel). 2015 Oct 30;5(4):678-711. doi: 10.3390/bios5040678.


This review focuses on critical milestones in the development path for the use of bees, mainly honey bees and bumble bees, as sentinels and biosensors. These keystone species comprise the most abundant pollinators of agro-ecosystems. Pollinating 70%-80% of flowering terrestrial plants, bees and other insects propel the reproduction and survival of plants and themselves, as well as improve the quantity and quality of seeds, nuts, and fruits that feed birds, wildlife, and us. Flowers provide insects with energy, nutrients, and shelter, while pollinators are essential to global ecosystem productivity and stability. A rich and diverse milieu of chemical signals establishes and maintains this intimate partnership. Observations of bee odor search behavior extend back to Aristotle. In the past two decades great strides have been made in methods and instrumentation for the study and exploitation of bee search behavior and for examining intra-organismal chemical communication signals. In particular, bees can be trained to search for and localize sources for a variety of chemicals, which when coupled with emerging tracking and mapping technologies create novel potential for research, as well as bee and crop management.

Keywords: LIDAR; RFID; bee counters; biosensors; honey bees; infra-red imaging; proboscis extension reflex; scale hives; scent.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / instrumentation
  • Agriculture / methods*
  • Animal Communication
  • Animals
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Biosensing Techniques / instrumentation
  • Biosensing Techniques / methods*
  • Environmental Monitoring / instrumentation
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Equipment Design
  • Flowers / physiology
  • Odorants / analysis
  • Pollination*
  • Spectrophotometry, Infrared / instrumentation
  • Spectrophotometry, Infrared / methods