honeybee, research, usda

Research Being Done by Students Could Save Bee Colonies

When honeybees fly from one flower to the next, they are doing much more than collect nectar in order to make honey. According to UNCG professor of biology Dr. Olav Rueppell, in an article posted in UNCG.edu, the honey that bees produce is simply a bi-product of the insect’s most important job – helping to pollinate plants and sustaining many countries’ agriculture. Even though they play such an important role, 70 to 80 percent of beekeeper’s populations die due to a number of factors.

The first doctoral student from UNCG’s Biology Department, Kaira Wagoner, has discovered a new chemical that could help to increase the odds of the bee’s survival by assisting them with combatting parasites that invade their hives. Wagoner has been doing her research in Rueppell’s lab using his membership for the last four years as she began working on her PhD under the new environmental health science program the university has recently established.

Wagoner has received bachelor’s degrees in health science and biology from Guilford College and went on to earn her master’s degree in biology from UNCG. She studied the effects of malaria-carrying mosquitos during her master’s program and expressed that she wanted to investigate a “beneficial” insect for a change of pace. She went on to explain that the behaviors of social insects like the honeybee added to her intrigue to study them. Wagoner’s current research focuses on the varroa mite.

According to Wagoner, the varroa mite is “probably the single most problematic” parasite that the honeybees deal with. This parasite is not just a “physical burden to the honey bee” but also has the ability to transmit viruses to the honeybee and its hive. The research that Wagoner is currently conducting suggestions that this new chemical could become a tool in which to breed hygienic honeybee colonies that would be better suited for fighting off the viruses to which they are exposed.

It is believed that if the chemical is sprayed over the top layer of the hive, the nurse bees that reside inside will be more likely to uncap the cells and check inside, which will increase their chances of catching the virus and emptying the cell that containing the varroa mite. If the nurse bees uncap a cell that does not contain a virus or varroa mite, the cell will simply be recapped and the larvae inside will continue to develop as normal. “We think it will help reduce the parasite load of the colony,” Rueppell said.

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