Safeguarding Honey Bees

Colony Collapse Disorder is a phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker Bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a Queen. This poses a major threat to populations of Honey Bees. now, Researchers at the University of North Carolina Greensboro are working on innovative ways to safeguard Honey Bees.

TRANSCRIPT

Colony collapse disorder is a phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen.

This poses a major threat to populations of honeybees.

Now researchers at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, are working on innovative ways to safeguard honeybees.

Here's the story.

Ralph Carter's family has been farming blueberries on this patch of Bladen County Farm in White Lake for generations.

From that road there to about where that little clump of trees is right there is what we started at, my parents started.

Things have changed a lot through the years.

More acres were added.

There's more machinery and technology to process the produce.

And there's one other change.

There are fewer bees to pollinate all those blueberries.

Carter says bees make everything happen.

Every one of those berries that's on the bush, the bee has to go to each one of them, and we'd like for him to at least hit it at least half a dozen times.

And it's the same story nationwide.

Almost half of the bee colonies in the United States have been wiped out by a combination of habitat loss, pesticides, climate change, and disease.

So Carter rents thousands of bees from out of state for a few weeks in the spring to pollinate the bushes.

What we try to do is an average of at least two to two and a half hives per acre is what we try to get.

And the reason you want that many -- number one, you got to look at all the blossoms, but also every day is not a good working day.

You have some cloudy days, some cool days, rainy days.

So the more bees that you have, those moments that conditions is right, the more bees you have in the fields.

You know, 1/3 of all the food that ends up on our table depends on honeybee pollination.

And that means just, you know, fertilizing the flowers so that they can actually fruit.

[ Bees buzzing ]

This is what the inside of a healthy honeybee hive looks like.

In this mass of activity, there is a single queen; hundreds of male drones, whose main function is reproduction; and more than 20,000 female worker bees, who forage for food, build combs, and store honey for the winter.

And so, somewhere in the middle of all of this is one single queen.

And she lays all the eggs.

Basically, she can lay up to 2,000 eggs per day.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, hope to find in their beehives, tucked away in a corner of campus, a way to save the honeybee.

Queen has a green dot on her, basically, so she's walking here right where my finger is.

And so she is basically just inspecting all the cells and making sure that they are all filled with brood.

And if she finds an empty cell, she'll lay an egg.

They're looking for a practical, cost-effective, nontoxic approach to fighting infestation of Varroa mites.

It's a tiny parasite that is the primary cause of the crash of honeybee colonies worldwide.

We're one group that is trying to harvest the natural defenses that honeybees have to improve those defenses and combat the mite that way.

Those red dots are Varroa mites.

It's not just a physical burden to the bee.

Mites transmit viruses that can wipe out entire colonies.

A Varroa mite will go into a honeybee cell just before that cell is capped, and about two weeks later, the Varroa will emerge with about five fertile offspring as that developed honeybee emerges as an adult.

That exponential reproduction rate explains why just a few Varroa mites can quickly wipe out a honeybee colony.

But researchers believe what happens when the mites lay their eggs in the cells could be the key to saving the honeybee.

So, right there is an adult bee coming out right now.

Right. So this is an adult bee emerging.

She is fully developed.

And if this cell had been infested with a Varroa --

There, just came out.

Right. If this cell had been infested with a Varroa, she would be emerging not with one Varroa that was originally there but with as many as four or five adult Varroa ready to repeat the cycle.

It turns out the honeybee larvae give off a chemical signal that alerts nurse honeybees to the presence of mites.

The nurse bees uncap the wax covering of the cell and remove the mites if they are found.

It's called hygienic behavior.

Where's the...?

There he is.

Or she.

She won't breed fast on your fingers.

That's the Varroa mite?

Mm-hmm.

Yep.

UNCG researchers want to understand the chemical signal that triggers hygienic behavior.

My research, I'm looking to see if the visitation rate, so these nurse bees' continually visiting cells to feed the larva, is what's really bringing in these mites into the cells.

And by developing a way to increase hygienic behavior, nurse bees could be encouraged to inspect cells more often and remove mite-infected larvae.

The team is also researching whether that chemical trigger could be used to breed more disease-resistant hives.

And that means that bees can detect Varroa mites that are inside these wax cells with the young bees and parasitizing these young bees.

They can uncap those cells and interrupt the mite life cycle.

The goal is to develop a way to help honeybees help themselves.