Detecting the arbitrary movements of fast-moving insects under field conditions is notoriously difficult because existing technologies are limited by issues of size, weight, range and cost. Here, we establish proof-of-concept for a prototype long-range, passive radio frequency identification (RFID) tagging system for detecting bumblebees and similar sized insects. The prototype tags, weighing 81 mg (49% of mean bee body weight), were flown by bumblebees in a glasshouse and detected at a distance of 1.5 m from a 2 W UHF reader with two aerials. This detection distance is two orders of magnitude greater than existing RFID tags that can be flown by medium-sized bees and, thus, is a significant breakthrough for insect tracking that could be applied to plant conservation and restoration efforts in fragmented landscapes.
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