Archive for Friday, September 8, 2000

Museum exhibit move reflects bee mutation

September 8, 2000

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As honeybees buzzed around him, Orley "Chip" Taylor slowly scooped up two bare handfuls of bees and placed them near the entrance to a glassed-in observation hive.

Those bees and about 20,000 others spent Thursday night in their new home on an upper floor inside Kansas University's Natural History Museum.

Kansas University professor of entomology Orley "Chip" Taylor,
left, and Tom Swearingen, director of exhibits at the KU Natural
History Museum, fill an observation case with a hive of honeybees.
The new hive was installed Thursday at the museum.

Kansas University professor of entomology Orley "Chip" Taylor, left, and Tom Swearingen, director of exhibits at the KU Natural History Museum, fill an observation case with a hive of honeybees. The new hive was installed Thursday at the museum.

Placed inside sections of the hive with the bees are plastic strips covered with fluvalonate, a form of pesticide that kills mites.

Mites are a growing problem among bee populations, according to Taylor, a KU professor of entomology. Bees in the hive previously on display in the museum became ill and their eggs hatched into mutant bees, museum officials said.

Those bees were weak and their wings, if they had any, were too small, officials said.

"The problem is mites are building resistance to the miticides that have been used to kill them," Taylor said. "It's not a good trend.

"The best idea would be to create bees that are resistant to the mites," he continued. "We're a long ways from that."

Ironically a common mite preying on bees in much of the world today came from Asian bees, according to Taylor. Because the mites co-evolved with their Asian bee hosts, the bees were not killed, he said.

Somehow, the mites were transported first to Europe and eventually to the United States and the Western Hemisphere, Taylor said.

There used to be about half a dozen wild colonies of bees at various locations on the KU campus, Taylor said. Now most, if not all, have disappeared. Mites, and other unidentified environmental problems may be the cause, he speculated.

In fact, four times during the past year bees in the museum hive display have had to be replaced for various problems. The most recent replacement prior to Thursday took place in May, Taylor said.

Taylor said he is confident the new miticide strips in the hive will kill the mites and not harm the bees.

Visitors to the museum can see the hive on display inside an open tree trunk. The hive is covered with a non-reflective glass. A tube connected to an opening in a nearby window allows to the bees access to the outside.

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