Inspecting a honey bee colony isn’t what most students spend their time doing, but honey bee club members buzz with excitement.
Faced with bacterial diseases, viruses and parasites, inspections within the colonies are needed for these important pollinators.
Associate professor of biology Jason Williams, who also goes by Jake, and two Honey Bee Club members inspected a honey bee colony to make sure the hive was healthy on Thursday, Sept. 27.
Williams used a smoker to subdue the bees and keep them from attacking while the hive was taken apart for inspection.
“Beekeepers use smoke because it interferes with their chemical communication and one of the things that they communicate with chemically is their defensive pheromones,” Williams said. “So it prevents defensive pheromones from being receptive.”
Williams said the colony they worked on had small hive beetles, which are invasive pests in bee hives that need to be removed.
“I brought a bottom board that we are going to put oil into and place it at the bottom of the colony,” Williams said. “What will happen is the bees chase the beetles around and as they chase them, the beetles want to get away, so they’ll come down in [the board] to try to get away but they’ll get caught in the oil.”
Williams said that the frequency of inspections depends on the desired effect.
“Because we are using these as teaching tools and there are a whole bunch of students who want to learn, we inspect more frequently. So once a week to every other week we inspect them,” Williams said.
Rachel Oxenfeld, a junior pre-nursing student from Dittmer, Missouri, said it was her first time working with honey bees. She joined the club to learn about bees because she plans to have her own colony one day.
“I live on a farm, so I plan on having colonies at some point,” Oxenfeld said. “I didn’t know they were becoming endangered, so I definitely want to learn more about them.”
Maria Collins, a first-year graduate speech pathology student from Auburn, Illinois, said it was also her first time and she joined to learn about honey bees and overcome her fear of them.
“I’ve always been scared of bees, and my friend asked me to join the Honey Bee Club and I saw this as an opportunity to learn about them,” Collins said.
There are a few problems that can arise and, according to Williams, it’s why inspecting has to be done.
“There’s a whole bunch of diseases and different parasites that can invade a colony and basically take it down, so we’re just looking to make sure they are healthy and that there is a queen,” Williams said. “There should be only one queen in the colony and sometimes she goes missing.”
Honey bee colonies consist of a single queen, hundreds of male drones and 20,000 to 80,000 female worker bees.
Queen bees are important to a colony because they are adult, mated females and the only bees who can lay and fertilize eggs.
Williams said it is important to inspect colonies to stay ahead of any problems that may arise.
“You go to your doctor for yearly physicals to find things before they get out of control, so if you can see a problem early, it’s much easier to correct,” Williams said.