Mike Hood: Honey Bees

Interview with Mike Hood, PhD, Professor of Entomology

Everything from almonds to apples to avacados depends on the insect I’m holding in my hand. Apis mellifera. You might call it the domesticated honey bee. Trouble is, this one’s dead and thousands others are dying and disappearing all over the world. Since the 1950s bees have been on the decline. Scientists don’t know why. Mike Hood is a professor of entomology who’s been following colony collapse since 2007.

What do we know?

Well Peter there’s a lot that we have discovered that we don’t know. A lot more questions than we have answers for. When bees fly from a colony they can work a very large area, we’re talking about square miles. So you can’t go out and collect these dead bees and do an autopsy on them. You have to deal with what is left behind in the colony which is sometimes, you know you don’t have a whole lot to work with.

Despite the problems inherent in studying bees researchers like Dr. Hood are committed to finding answers, but will it be soon enough. Since 2006 some commercial beekeepers have lost 90% of their colonies and that’s only the beginning of the story.

Many people think of honey bees they think of the value of the honey, but really the value of the honey bee, our most beneficial insect, is their pollination. Now in South Carolina we grow crops like watermelons, cantaloupes, squash, apples, cucumbers. All those crops are heavily dependent on honey bees for pollination. Without them we couldn’t produce anywhere near the amount that we do.

One solution Dr. Hood has developed is a trap that helps control the small hive beetle, a common predator.

It’s a simple little device where it’s got three compartments and has a lid, and what we do is we just attach the lid to the box. We load this with cider vinegar. Cider vinegar is an attractant to the small hive beetle or they’re attracted to it. Now also in the side compartments we put mineral oil, food grade mineral oil, which when the beetle’s go into the box they’re attracted to the vinegar, they also get the oil on there little feet and they can’t escape out the entrance.

The trap I can see working for beekeepers and the people in the business. Is there anything people can do at home in their yards to help encourage bee recovery? Through development, urban spread, urban development, we have eliminated a lot of the honey bees natural habitat or foraging area. And due to that they have a shortage of food many times. So you’re, when you have that you’re going to have a shortage of bees in the area, anything that you can do to improve the availability of food for bees, such as trees which bloom, or provide pollen for the bees, forage, clover, other plants, are very good for the bees. Anytime you buy a pesticide, before you use it read the directions, it has instructions on there. If it is harmful to honey bees it will have a protection statement, honey bee protection statement, right there, right before you. The problem is most people do not read directions. They will use a product without reading all the directions.

Another thing regular folks can do to help replenish the bee supply is to become an amateur beekeeper.

We have developed a South Carolina master beekeeper program. And this is a program which is made to teach people how to keep bees and it’s offered to the public through Clemson University, and is also hosted by the South Carolina beekeeper’s association. But we will take someone who has never been around honey bees and wecan make a hobby beekeeper out of them within about eight weeks.

Mike thanks for giving us a tour of the hive and for bringing us up-to-date about what’s going on with bees. Absolutely Peter, honey bees are very important and we need to do whatever we can to protect them and I certainly enjoyed your visit. Well thanks, I hope to be back. It truly is amazing; such a small animal plays such a large part in our lives. This is Peter Kent for Science in Society.