2.3. Marking individual bees

Several systems for individually marking honey bees have been developed. Karl von Frisch used a complex paint-dot system where paint-colour and location represented numeral value (1, 2, 3, etc.) as well as positional notation (ones place, tens place, hundreds place; von Frisch, 1950). Today, numbered, coloured plastic discs are available that can be glued to the thorax, and make individual tagging of bees much simpler to conduct and easier to read (Honig Müngersdorff; Fig. 1). Additionally, a paint-dot can be placed on the tag when marking a very large number of bees. Seeley and Kolmes found that an additional paint mark on the tip of the abdomen is essential for avoiding data bias due to the inability to see the thorax tag of a bee with its head and thorax concealed in a comb cell (Seeley and Kolmes, 1991).

To tag newly emerged bees (< 24-hour-old adults) using plastic tags:

1. Remove all adult bees from combs of mature pupae.

2. Place the combs in individual sealed cages in an incubator (34.5ºC, 60-70 % relative humidity) overnight (see the BEEBOOK paper on Standard methods for maintaining adult Apis mellifera in cages under    in vitro laboratory conditions (Williams et al., 2013) for more details).

3. After 12-24 hours, shake all adult bees found on the combs into plastic bins with a thin layer of petroleum jelly applied around the upper edge of the bin (at this age, most workers are unable to fly or sting; petroleum jelly will keep them in the bin).

4. Paint-mark bees near the tip of the abdomen using enamel paint applied with a small brush, stick, or dropper (do not glue down the wings or glue shut the anus with the paint).

5. Gently pick up individuals using soft forceps or fingers, and glue a numbered tag to the centre of the thorax (Fig. 1) using fine forceps or a small-moistened stick.

6. Wood-glue (Elmer’s Glue) and shellac (Honig Müngersdorff) are appropriate glues for bees.

7. Do not impede neck or wing movement with the tag.

8. Do not damage the bee while handling; the abdomen is particularly delicate at this age.

9. Orient tags in the same direction.

When tagging older workers, it is easier to work if bees are narcotized briefly prior to tagging to inhibit movement. Alternatively, place an individual bee in a tube with a grid at one end, through which the tag is glued on the thorax (see also section 10; Figure. After receiving tags, bees can be temporarily stored in cups with a thin layer of petroleum jelly around the edges (one-day-old bees) or a ventilated cover (older bees). A sugar cube in the bottom prevents the bees from starvation. A section on marking honey bee queens can be found in the BEEBOOK paper on miscellaneous methods (Human et al., 2013).

Fig. 1. Workers tagged on the thorax with numbered coloured disks. Paint mark on disc increases number of unique tags available. Note that these bees do not have an abdomen paint mark. Photo: A J Siegel.

1293PN revised Fig 1