The Princeton BEE Team’s two hives are now up and running after the club lost both of them last winter to what an expert said might have been a parasite called the Varroa mite.
With help from faculty adviser Bob Harris, a visiting civil and environmental engineering lecturer, the club installed its new hives on April 1, BEE Team president Ben Denzer ’15 said.
Denzer explained that the queen was stored in her own box separate from the other bees because the other bees might attack and kill her before coming to accept her as their queen. The queen was released out of her box on April 4, and a visit on Monday established that the queen is well and laying eggs.
“The bees may not be at 100 percent yet,” he said, “but they’re healthy and they’re growing.
To reduce the possibility of future hive loss, the club will medicate its bees to prevent the growth of parasites, BEE Team administrator Nadirah Mansour ’14 said. Chemical treatments like ApiGuard are used to control Varroa mite populations in honeybee colonies.
The die-off of the BEE Team’s hives occurred after an especially bad year for American beekeepers. In 2012, it is estimated that hive losses, which normally strike about 5 to 10 percent of the total number of bees kept nationally, eliminated nearly one third of the total bee population kept in American hives.
The BEE Team’s losses could be a part of this national trend, but may not be exactly the same, according to Penn State entomologist Elina Lastro Nino, who visited the BEE Team’s hives in late February. During her visit, she determined that the Varroa mite may have caused the die-off.
“It’s really not well understood what’s going on,” Nino said of the possible reasons for the heavy losses beekeepers sustained in 2012. “Honeybees face so many issues that it could be any one of them, or, what is most likely, a combination of all of them.”
Mansour said she believed that the BEE Team’s losses were likely due to factors specific to the Princeton area, rather than to any national die-off trend. These factors included mites, which she said were problematic this year, as well as a shortage of medication. Mansour added that the club had not lost a hive prior to this year and that it is normal for a beekeeper to lose hives.
“We’ve taken good care of them for a while,” she said, referring to the bees, “and it’s sort of natural for them to die off.”
Both Denzer and Mansour said that the die-off has not significantly impacted the activities hosted by the club. As the club members do not wish to harm the bees by exposing them to the cold, they said, the club does not usually take people around the hives during winter.
However, Mansour said that the club will not be harvesting any honey this year. This year’s harvest will instead be used to feed the young hive, she added.
The BEE Team is a student-run organization that was founded in 2009 with one colony and has since expanded to include two colonies. In addition to hive visits, the club organizes events such as honey-making sessions and movie nights.
Even though the club lost both of its hives this year, Denzer said that the die-off has, in a way, been beneficial to the club. He explained that prior to the die-off few members of the team had experience with building a hive.
Furthermore, the die-off has helped spread awareness of the club and its activities, he said.
“That’s really what this club is all about,” Denzer explained. “Giving students an opportunity to learn about bees as an interesting insect that is integral to our lives and to give them hands-on beekeeping experience that they can use in the future.”