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Looking for the Varroa Mite in Beehives
Experiential learning is the at the heart of a SUNY Potsdam education and that is no more clearly expressed than when seniors Ryan Shores, Sydney LaPan, Toni Wahl and Christina Cranwell recently donned bee suits to inspect local bee hives with university Instructional Specialist Ray Bowdish and Dwayne Belt from the Local Living Venture’s Bees & Beekeeping Group.
The four students ventured out to inspect local honey bee hives as they were looking for the presence of the Varroa Mite (Varroa destructor), a pest that regularly plagues Honey bee (Apis melifera) colonies—Causing the parasitic disease, varroosis that weakens bee hives and eventually causes the hive to die or “collapse.”
After a short drive from campus, students slipped into large, bulky white bee suits outside Will Trithart and Sarah Lister’s newly opened Big Spoon Kitchen in Potsdam. They hiked through the woods to Lister’s bee hives where they prepared for their work. They were learning a sugar shake technique to sample the hive for the presence of Varroa Mites. After carefully removing the honey comb from the hive, the students used the technique, shaking some of the bees into a glass jar and adding sugar to coat the flying insects. Then they placed a lid with holes on the jar, turn it upside down and shaking it lightly to cause any mites to slip off the bees. The sugar makes it difficult for the mites to continue clinging to the host bees and it also helps stimulate bee hygiene in the hive, increasing the chance that bees will remove mites from each other.
The students are all in internships facilitated by the Biology Department’s Wagner Institute for Sustainability and Ecological Research (WISER) Center and were supported with beekeeping equipment made possible through a grant from the Arconic (formally Alcoa) foundation. The group had been trained in basic techniques using hives established in Lehman Park earlier this summer that were also purchased using the Alcoa funds.