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Device Reveals Bees' Attack Strategies

By Marcia Wood
August 17, 1998

A newly updated Data Logging Temper Tester from the Agricultural Research Service could provide new clues about attack strategies of bees and the overall temperament of the hive.

The new tester provides a more detailed and useful record of bee attacks than the previous model. The device logs bees' attempts to sting a black, plastic egg-shaped target. Attacking bees don't sting the target but "ping" or strike it with their bodies.

In one experiment, a hive of 40,000 honey bees pinged the target more than 700 times in 5 minutes. The attack, profiled at 10-second intervals, showed a peak of 80 stings in 10 seconds, or 8 per second. For that test, scientists deliberately provoked the colony.

Studies with the device could lead to new and better tactics to prevent or lessen the intensity of bee attacks. Bees of greatest concern are the Africanized strain in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas. Highly defensive, they sting readily in great numbers with little or no provocation. They also invade colonies of mild-tempered European honey bees crucial for crop pollination and supplying honey and beeswax.

The temper tester measures attacks by agitated bees on the target until they calm down and return to the hive. It also reveals how far bees fly from their hive to attack. The information is more accurate than analyzing videotaped attacks or interviewing sting victims and witnesses.

Hayward G. Spangler and David J. Sprenkle of the ARS in Tucson, Ariz., designed and built the latest Data Logging Temper Tester. Outfitted with memory and microcontroller chips, it's the newest generation of a model patented in 1991 by Spangler and Eric H. Erickson of the Tucson lab.

The target is slightly larger than twice the size of a chicken egg. Suspended outside the hive or up to 900 feet away, it holds a tiny microphone. The mike picks up the "pings" and routes them to a data logger. A personal computer can then profile the attack.

Scientific contact: Hayward G. Spangler, USDA-ARS Carl Hayden Bee Research Center, Tucson, Ariz., phone (520) 670-6380, ext. 124, fax (520) 670-6493, e-mail

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