BEE Team colonies die from parasite

March 22, 2013

From: The Daily Princetonian


By Paul Phillips


The two bee colonies maintained by the Princeton BEE Team died two weeks ago due to a parasite infestation in the hive.


The cause is most likely the Varroa mite, a parasite that sucks bees’ blood, Penn State researcher Elina Lastro Nino said after examining the hives.


The Varroa mite is by no means unique to the Princeton area, and is the number-one killer of bee colonies, BEE Team founder Michael Smith ’10 said. Lastro Nino explained that the Varroa mite poses an especially large danger to beehives because of its ability to transmit viruses and to lower the immune response in bees, making them vulnerable to disease.


She added that the club could also attribute the loss of its hives to a “little bit of tough luck” and that she was sure the club members “do everything they can to prepare their hives.”


Team officer Sarah Bluher ’13 mentioned that, unlike in previous years, the team did not prioritize the use of ApiGuard this year. ApiGuard is a chemical treatment used to control Varroa mite attacks on honeybee colonies. BEE Team president Ben Denzer ’15 said that while its use might have prevented the loss of the hives, there was a shortage of ApiGuard this year.


Even though the BEE Team had not lost a hive before this year, Smith said the loss of two hives is nothing unusual in beekeeping. Most beekeepers lose between 25 and 50 percent of their hives each year, Bluher noted.


Furthermore, most beekeepers have around 10 hives rather than two. The probability of losing all of one’s colonies increases dramatically when one has fewer of them, said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an entomology researcher at the University of Maryland who specializes in honeybee health.


The BEE Team began in 2009 as a “fledgling enterprise” that maintained one colony and offered beginner beekeeping classes, Smith said. Prior to the loss of its two colonies, the team also hosted several other events, including honey-making sessions and movie nights. The team still hosts such events.


The team hopes to rebuild its hives using a Bee Nuc, a set of three to five frames in which bees make their honeycombs, that is suitable for a smaller number of worker bees than a full hive, Denzer said.


Lastro Nino explained that beekeepers simply leave the Bee Nuc alone until the population in it increases, and then take three to five pollen grains from it and use them to start a new hive. A Bee Nuc can therefore be an effective tool in creating new hives from scratch.


The club also hopes to implement protections such as ApiGuard that it did not implement this year, Denzer said.


Furthermore, Bluher mentioned the possibility of club restructuring, noting that the team does not have a core set of management leaders and adjusting to new members every year is difficult. The team, she said, “needs a more solid group of consistent caretakers.”


If all goes well, Denzer said, the club will have its hives up and running by mid-April.

This article has been updated to reflect the fact that the BEE Team still hosts honey-making sessions and movie nights. 

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