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Honey bee health

June 22, 21012 — Debbie Delaney has two million new best friends. That’s the number of honey bees buzzing about in the recently opened University of Delaware research apiary, which joins an existing 30-colony teaching apiary on the university’s Newark Farm.

Delaney, a UD assistant professor of entomology and wildlife ecology, has been researching honey bees for years but continues to be amazed at their abilities, ranging from the way they precisely maintain colony temperature to their figure-eight dances that tell hive mates where to find patches of flowers and water. She has a hunch that her insect friends have some undisclosed talents, too. For example, in her own backyard beekeeping, she has noticed that hives that swarm and split into separate colonies seem to have fewer mites than hives that don’t split up.

“Varroa mites are the single biggest threat to honey bee health. Most backyard beekeepers and commercial operations treat for mites,” says Delaney. “But I think mites can be reduced naturally by interrupting their brood cycle. Mites require bee brood for reproduction but the brood cycle is interrupted when colonies are split, thus slowing mite reproduction rates. This reduces the total number of mites in each new colony.”