Honeybees in jeopardy

By Ryan Wallace (Last updated: 08/28/09 5:49pm) Almost 100 percent of the wild honeybees in America have been eliminated, causing a huge effect on many farms across the nation that use the bees to pollinate crops.

Apples, peaches, cherries and blueberries are among those crops that receive pollination from honeybees.

The culprits of the bee termination are two mites, the varroa and tracheal, that attack the bees within colonies.

To ward off the mites, MSU entomology Professor Zachary Huang created a device called the Spartan Mitezapper, which will help beekeepers control the amount of varroa mites that get into the larvae of drone honeybees.

“Basically, it’s a non-chemical way to kill the mites,” Huang said. “There is a chemical pesticide, Apistan, that is federally regulated, but it has lost its effectiveness.”

The Spartan Mitezapper uses two-way electrical terminals from a 12-volt battery to heat up and kill the mites and the drone pupae. The temperature can be altered to keep the pupae alive.

“We call it a zapper, but really its just a burner,” he said.

Huang said the mites are attracted to drone bees because their cells are larger than worker bee cells. Once the mites are inside the drone larvae, they lay eggs and spread bacteria throughout the colony.

Huang said he started working on the zapper in 1997 while studying how to create a device that could help farmers who use pollination.

Because of the lack of honeybees available, farmers are renting honeybees from beekeepers to keep their crops growing.

Barbara Witte, who runs the Witte Orchard in Dimondale, Mich., says she too has experienced the wrath of mites.

Witte uses her own bees to pollinate her apple orchard and said the honeybees are intelligent insects whose pollen is needed.

“That’s their job,” she said. “They take their pollen and propagate it to the new fruits.”

She said she started with two hives five years ago and has had trouble keeping them going because of the mites and harsh winters.

Witte has not heard of Huang’s invention, but she agrees it’s important to keep the honeybees alive.

For now, she has her own method.

“I use medical strips that I put in the hive and take them off 45 days later and that kills the mite,” Witte said.


Author: Zachary Huang

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