Wasps Can be Tracked Like Stolen Cars Using Microdot Technology

Posted on October 13, 2011

Wasp on a PinheadScientists at The Australian National University have found a new way to track wasps. Wasps can be tracked in the same way as stolen cars using microdot technology. The Research School of Biology researchers published a paper in the latest edition of Agricultural and Forest Entomology outlining the new tracking technique, which allows them to study insects that were previously too small to track individually.

Lead researcher Michael Whitehead was working with the parasitoid thynnine wasp to investigate its role in orchid pollination, but he found available tracking methods impractical. Bee tags were too big to track the wasps.

Whitehead says, "Bee tags were previously used to keep track of small animals, but they were too big in this case, and the electronic devices we could find weren’t going to work. So my brother and I came up with the idea to test out microdots as a tracking system.”

Microdots were developed by the Australian company DataDot Technology, as a way of tracking stolen property. The plastic microdots are half a millimetre in diameter and contain a personalised code which can be read under a magnifier.

To test microdots the researchers captured wasps around Black Mountain in Canberra and attached coded microdots to their backs with liquid paper or nail polish before releasing them. The researchers found that 84% of the tagged wasps retained a legible microdot after being captured.

Whitehead says, "When you're able to individually mark the wasps you can get data on population size, movement and longevity. The method also opens the door to a whole range of applications beyond research, ranging from tracing oysters stolen from oyster farms to tracking elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns to combat poaching."

Photo: Michael Whitehead