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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Building A Better Honeybee

Terry Shanor, a beekeeper from Butler County in western Pennsylvania. A co-op of beekeepers in the region are trying to breed tougher honeybees that can survive cold winters and fight back against parasitic mites. (Lou Blouin)

Terry Shanor, a beekeeper from Butler County in western Pennsylvania. A co-op of beekeepers in the region are trying to breed tougher honeybees that can survive cold winters and fight back against parasitic mites. (Lou Blouin)

Honeybees have almost become an annual crop. In fact, honey bee die-offs are so common now that beekeepers generally just order more bees in the spring when they lose a hive over the winter.

This has put a lot of pressure on bee breeders to raise more and more bees. And that is only bringing the quality of bees down. But researchers and backyard beekeepers are now teaming up to build better honeybees that are real survivors. And not through genetic engineering—through good old-fashioned selection.

Lou Blouin from the Allegheny Front at WESA in Pittsburgh has the story.

Maryann Frazier, a researcher at Penn State's Center for Pollinator Research, checks on one of her experimental honeybee hives. Frazier is testing the effects of pesticides on honeybee colonies. (Lou Blouin)

Maryann Frazier, a researcher at Penn State’s Center for Pollinator Research, checks on one of her experimental honeybee hives. Frazier is testing the effects of pesticides on honeybee colonies. (Lou Blouin)

Maryann Frazier, a researcher at Penn State's Center for Pollinator Research, checks on one of her experimental honeybee hives. Frazier is testing the effects of pesticides on honeybee colonies. (Lou Blouin)

Maryann Frazier, a researcher at Penn State’s Center for Pollinator Research, checks on one of her experimental honeybee hives. Frazier is testing the effects of pesticides on honeybee colonies. (Lou Blouin)

Typically, beekeepers insert rectangular wooden frames into bee hives so that bees will store honeycomb neatly inside the box. As urban beekeeper Steve Repasky found out, this is what happens when you forget the frames: The bees will build a free-form comb inside the empty box, much like they would do in the wild in hollow trees. (Lou Blouin)

Typically, beekeepers insert rectangular wooden frames into bee hives so that bees will store honeycomb neatly inside the box. As urban beekeeper Steve Repasky found out, this is what happens when you forget the frames: The bees will build a free-form comb inside the empty box, much like they would do in the wild in hollow trees. (Lou Blouin)

Bucking the paradigm in the beekeeping world, beekeeper and breeder Jeff Berta doesn't use pesticides to control mites on his honeybee colonies near Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. Instead, he breeds bees that have natural grooming behaviors that keep colonies free of mites. (Lou Blouin)

Bucking the paradigm in the beekeeping world, beekeeper and breeder Jeff Berta doesn’t use pesticides to control mites on his honeybee colonies near Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. Instead, he breeds bees that have natural grooming behaviors that keep colonies free of mites. (Lou Blouin)

Reporter

  • Lou Blouin, reporter for the radio program The Allegheny Front, based at WESA in Pittsburgh.

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