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London bee tracking project - save London bees

Hundreds of bees with individual coloured number tags have been released from our rooftops for a project that hopes to uncover the secret lives of London’s bees. Biologists from the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences have attached weather-resistant number tags on the backs of bees, and encourage the public to identify them and take photos for a competition.

4 July 2016

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Prizes of £100 Amazon gift vouchers will be awarded for the best photo of a QMUL-tagged bee on a flower, for the highest number of QMUL-tagged bees spotted and for the best photo of a London bee-friendly garden (as judged by the research team).

The London Pollinator Project aims to understand the bees’ preferred patches in London, in particular their favourite flowers, which reward them with nectar and pollen.   Five hundred bees were released in June, and several hundred more are being released each week over the coming month as bee colonies mature.

Project leader Professor Lars Chittka, from the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, said: "The fact that the bees have individual 'license plates' will allow anyone interested to develop their own science project, and ask scientific questions about the behaviour of bees.

“For example, citizen scientists might be intrigued to see the same bee return to their balcony and might record when during the day, 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 particular colour flowers.”

The project has already encouraged Londoners to plant flowers that are rich in nectar and pollen, like English lavender, viper’s bugloss, or spiked speedwell. Now the bees have been released, researchers will be able to see how successful urban gardening efforts have been.

Professor Chittka added: "We hope that the observation of number-tagged bees in people's gardens will raise an appreciation of insects as individuals - with individual memories of a particular flower patch, and with individual preferences for certain flowers that differ from those of other bees.

“And once you view animals as individuals rather than anonymous entities, you develop a connection with them, and a deeper understanding of why it's important to assist with the conservation of threatened animals."

The London Pollinator Project is funded by QMUL's Centre of Public Engagement and School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.

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