ROBERT CONNOUR, professor of biology at Owens Community College, checks on the campus’ newly installed bee colonies in 2018. The school has won a library grant with the intention of inspiring a new generation of beekeepers to protect the dwindling honeybee population. (Photo by Randy Roberts / The Courier file photo)

By LOU WILIN

STAFF WRITER

Owens Community College, already the honeybee’s ally in its struggle against pesticides and killer mites, has won a library grant to spark a new generation of beekeepers.

At stake is the survival of the honeybee, which is dwindling in numbers. Much also is at stake for the rest of us.

“A huge amount of the food that humans rely on is pollinated by bees,” said Robert Connour, professor of biology at Owens Community College.

“Bees will pollinate somewhere between 30 to 50 percent of the food that we eat. If it wasn’t for the honeybees, the grasses wouldn’t get pollinated that the cows graze on,” said Sonny Ward, a beekeeper from Forest. “All of your fruit trees, all of your vegetables. None of that stuff would be pollinated without the honeybees.”

Ward, a volunteer for the Ohio State Beekeepers Association, helped Owens Community College win the grant from the association for 12 beekeeping-related books, a video and subscriptions to two beekeeping periodicals.

Owens nearly two years ago became the first Bee Campus USA affiliate in Ohio. It has five beehives at its campus and offers educational programs on bees, pollinators and their importance.

Igniting interest in beekeeping among the younger generation and awareness of the honeybee’s decline are vital, Ward said.

Many “old school” beekeepers, who did not have to deal with the Varroa mite before its arrival from Asia in the late 1980s, have underestimated the threat, Ward said.

“That’s the intention: to try to get younger people involved in beekeeping,” he said. “Then as the older ones get out of it, we have a newer, younger generation coming up with all of the information that the older school people don’t have or don’t want to do.”

A honeybee will fly up to five miles from its hive to forage for the colony. Along the way are many dangers, like pesticides and Varroa mites. As the honeybee approaches flowers, it comes near other bees, some of which have the mites attached to them, Ward said. The Varroa mite has hook-like legs that it uses to attach itself to one bee, and then eventually another, Ward said. The bee will carry the mite with it back to the colony, and the mite will start reproducing there, he said. The reproduction of mites and their spreading to other bees in the colony, followed by more reproduction becomes “a continuous cycle.”

“Unless you get treatments in and you keep your Varroa mite count down or zeroed out, the Varroa mite will just explode into your colonies and you’ll end up with absolutely nothing left but dead bees,” he said.

The Varroa mite attaches itself to the bee’s underside, where it eats the bee’s fat bodies, draining it of strength. The mites also carry viruses. One of them is deformed wing virus, which renders the bee unable to fly. This means the bee is not out foraging and bringing back pollen and nectar to the colony.

“That Varroa will know when that bee is about done, is drained. That’s when they will hold their hook out, and they will wait for something else to come out and they will hook onto it,” Ward said. “And then they’ll start feeding on that one.”

A significant mite infestation can kill the entire colony.

“The honeybee is currently not on an endangered species list, but it would not take much and it would be right there,” Ward said.

Wilin: 419-427-8413 Send an E-mail to Lou Wilin

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