A TINY, SOLAR-POWERED TRANSMITTER GLUED TO THE BACKS OF SO-CALLED KILLER BEES MAY HELP SCIENTISTS TRACK AND BETTER CONTROL THEIR INVASION.

THE DEVICE IS UNDER DEVELOPMENT AT OAK RIDGE NATIONAL LABORATORY AND MAY BE WIDELY AVAILABLE TO RESEARCHERS NEXT YEAR. WEIGHING LESS THAN 35 MILLIGRAMS, IT PRODUCES BURSTS OF INFRARED LIGHT.

ENGINEER HOWARD KERR SAID THE TRACKING DEVICE SHOULD HELP SCIENTISTS BETTER UNDERSTAND THE AIRBORNE MATING HABITS OF BEE QUEENS AND DRONES.

"THIS INSTRUMENT IS GOING TO BE PRIMARILY A RESEARCH TOOL TO BETTER UNDERSTAND MATING SO (EGULATORS) CAN DEVELOP GOOD CONTROL POLICIES," KERR SAID. "IT IS PROBABLY GOING TO BE EXTREMELY IMPORTANT IN THE EVENTUAL CONTROL OF THE BEES."

SWARMS OF THE AFRICANIZED BEES ARE EXPECTED TO ENTER THE UNITED STATES FROM MEXICO LATE THIS YEAR OR EARLY 1989. WHEREVER THEY HAVE MIGRATED, THE BEES _ KNOWN FOR THEIR AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR _ HAVE MATED WITH DOMESTIC EUROPEAN HONEYBEES AND BECOME THE DOMINANT STRAIN.

"THEY HAVE A MATING ADVANTAGE OVER THE EUROPEANS THAT LEADS TO TOTAL DISPLACEMENT," KERR SAID. "EVERYBODY'S RECOGNIZING THAT ANY KIND OF LONG-TERM MANAGEMENT PROGRAM WILL HAVE TO UNDERSTAND MATING BEHAVIOR AND ALSO MONITOR THE BEES' FORAGING ACTIVITIES."

THE MICROCIRCUITRY AND OTHER ELEMENTS OF THE TRACKING DEVICE _ ABOUT THE SIZE OF A HALF-CARAT DIAMOND _ REQUIRE "SUPER HIGH TECHNOLOGY," HE SAID. "WE'RE FAR AHEAD OF WHERE WE THOUGHT WE'D BE AT THIS TIME."

TINY SOLAR COLLECTORS ARE USED TO CHARGE THE TRANSMITTER BECAUSE BATTERIES WOULD BE TOO HEAVY, KERR SAID. THE COLLECTORS ARE USED TO POWER "LASING LIGHT-EMITTING DIODES," WHICH WILL SEND INFRARED SIGNALS TO A GROUND-BASED SENSOR THAT READS THE LIGHT PULSES INVISIBLE TO THE HUMAN EYE. THE TRANSMITTER HAS A RANGE OF ABOUT A MILE.

ORNL, WHICH IS MANAGED BY MARTIN MARIETTA ENERGY SYSTEMS, HAS CONTRACTED WITH A PRIVATE COMPANY TO BUILD A PROTOTYPE DEVICE THAT WILL BE TESTED IN THE SPRING, KERR SAID.

OAK RIDGE SCIENTISTS HAVE ALREADY GLUED A MOCK DEVICE ON EUROPEAN BEES IN ORDER TO SEE IF IT AFFECTED THEIR ABILITY TO FLY. THE RESULTS WERE PROMISING, KERR SAID, BUT IT IS STILL UNCERTAIN WHETHER THE ELECTRONIC DEVICE WILL INTERFERE WITH A BEE'S MATING.

THE IDEA FOR THE TRANSMITTER CAME AFTER DISCUSSIONS WITH DR. ORLEY TAYLOR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS. TAYLOR, A BEE EXPERT WHOSE RESEARCH FOCUSES ON MATING PATTERNS, SAID HIS MOST IMPORTANT NEED WAS A WAY TO TRACK BEES IN FLIGHT.

KEN VALENTINE, AN ORNL ENGINEER WHO RECENTLY TOOK A NEW JOB ON THE WEST COAST, CAME UP WITH THE CONCEPT. DIEDRE FALTER, A STAFF MEMBER IN THE LAB'S INSTRUMENTATION AND CONTROLS DIVISION, NOW DIRECTS THE PROJECT.