Greg Hunt, a professor of entomology, is not afraid of bees. In fact, he is fascinated by them. Hunt has been researching and working with honey bees since 1995, and he has become quite the expert. He currently works in the Purdue entomology department researching different species of European bees.
Hunt said he finds the honey bees incredibly fascinating because of their incredible organization and complexity. Unfortunately, the honey bee population has recently been facing a drastic decrease.
Hunt has been doing a large amount of research on this alarming bee die-off that has been threatening not only the species of the honey bees themselves, but also many plants that reproduce through the pollination of these bees.
“Indiana lost about 29 percent of the colonies last winter and 65 percent of the colonies the winter before,” said Hunt.
This drastic die-out is partially due to many changing environmental conditions. However, what is affecting the health and longevity of these bees most is the varroa mite.
“The varroa mite is the biggest mortality for the bee colony,” Hunt said.
These mites have the ability to latch onto the bee and cause them a lot of harm, even death. Researchers like Hunt and his research assistant, Krispn Given, are currently working on grooming bees that are “mite biters;” in other words, bees that have the ability to fight off the life-threatening mites.
“One of our main focuses is breeding bees that chew or groom these mites,” said Given. “It’s kind of an evolution of understanding.”
According to Hunt, there have been huge strides towards saving the honey bee population during this year alone.
“In the beginning, we had an average of three percent chewed mites. Now we have 44 percent,” Hunt said.
These numbers are incredibly encouraging to all members of the entomology department, as well as agriculturalists. Hunt and Given are making great progress towards eliminating the danger of the varroa mites altogether.
So if you’re ever pondering what life would be like without the bees buzzing in the air or without honey on your morning toast, take a moment to appreciate people like Hunt and Given. They certainly deserve it.