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Summer Science: Where Have All The Honeybees Gone? UD 'Bee Guy' Asks Why--From,,America To The Amazon

If the backyard isn't buzzing this summer, blame it on deadly mites and the diseases they carry, says Dewey Caron, the University of Delaware's resident 'bee guy,' who braves apiaries from America to the Amazon, and most recently joined a team investigating startling honeybee losses in the northeastern United States.

Golden honeybees are essential for pollinating wild plants, as well as up to 90 percent of all U.S. crops, says Caron, a professor of entomology and applied ecology at UD and chairperson of the Eastern Apicultural Society (EAS). Unfortunately, pests such as the tracheal mite and the varroa mite are wiping out entire bee colonies, according to Caron and his colleagues, Maryann Frazier and Scott Camazine of Pennsylvania State University.

During the winter of 1995-96, beekeepers reported die-offs ranging from 40 percent in Delaware and 53 percent in Pennsylvania to 80 percent in Maine, says Camazine, an assistant professor of entomology at Penn State. Both tracheal mites and varroa mites feed on bee blood, he explains. Tracheal mites infect the breathing tubes of bees, while varroa mites-resembling light brown poppyseeds-camp on their victims' backs, often bringing diseases with them.

In the wild, "only 10 percent of all feral honeybee colonies remain within the northeastern United States," says Caron, who works in UD's 50-year-old apiary or bee farm, "so much biodiversity has been lost."

With a Fund for Rural America grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and directed by Penn State, Caron will join beekeepers and researchers with the USDA's Beltsville, Md., beekeeping lab, as well as state departments of agriculture from Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey to develop new strategies for fighting mites. Those efforts and other bee-related topics-from killer bees to honey prices-will be discussed July 13-17 during an EAS conference near Somerset, Pa.

For fruit and vegetable farmers, bees are "the only man
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Contact: Ginger Pinholster
gingpin@udel.edu
302-831-6408
University of Delaware
1-Jul-1998


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