Kurtz bees

Sioux City beekeeper Leonard Kurtz opens a hive populated with an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 bees in April 2012. Nebraska researchers are teaching high school students how to use radio tracking technology to learn about bumblebee queens.

Dave Dreeszen, Sioux City Journal file

LINCOLN | Professors with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Entomology Department are in the pilot stages of a program they think is the bee's knees.

They hope to teach high school students how to use radio tracking technology to learn about bumblebee queens.

The project, which started in May, is tentatively called "Bumble Boosters 2.0," a reboot of a project from 1999-2002.

Doug Golick, now an assistant professor in entomology, was a master's student working under Marion Ellis, an entomology professor, during the original "Bumble Boosters."

The project had high school students collect bees to track the different species in the Lincoln area. There are 20 bumblebee species in Nebraska.

"Around that time, I thought it would be really neat if we could track what bumble bees do," Golick said.

Now that the tracking technology is available, Golick and his colleagues have begun to experiment with the best method of attaching radio tracking devices to bumblebee queens.

The goal is to track newly emerged queens to see where they decide to start a nest and where they go during the time between emergence and finding a nest.

"They spend their first few weeks feeding before they establish a nest," Golick said.

Queen bumblebees eventually nest in abandoned rodent dens.

Bumblebees have a waxy substance that coats their bodies and makes it difficult to glue a device to them, Golick said.

The best method seems to be plucking hairs off of the bees and gluing the tracking device to the shaved area.

"We are working with stinging insects. We want to get it down right and make it safe for high school students to do," Golick said.

Each tracking device weighs about .2 grams and costs around $230, Golick said.

Golick and his colleagues are looking for funding to take the project into its next stage, involving area high schools.

"I’d like to have it be a relatively large project in dozens of schools," Golick said.

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