Honeybee colony offers important biological lessons
In September, 20,000 honeybees took up residence in the foyer of Murray Hall as part of a live exhibition in the School of Biology and Ecology.
“Biology is all about life,” says school director Eleanor Groden. “The bees are a representation of life that links people, food and health with the environment and the natural world. We wanted something that would really draw people in.”
Since the installation of the 2-foot by 5-foot sealed frames that pivot from the wall, the buzz hasn’t stopped in Murray. The exhibit has become a popular destination for visiting school groups. UMaine faculty and staff typically making beelines to their destinations now regularly pause to check on the hive, and students going to and from nearby classrooms, labs and lecture halls often swarm the glass panels to glimpse the goings-on.
There’s even a “beecam” installed near an opening in the wall that gives the bees access to the great outdoors. Fans can watch online as the bees move in and out of the hive, even in the winter.
And the queen of the hive? There was a naming contest that drew 78 entries. She has been dubbed Phoe-bee.
The colony will not be managed for honey production. Its value is in the daily glimpses it provides of life in a bee colony and the constant reminder of the importance of such insects to humans. Honeybees are responsible for pollinating approximately 80 percent of all fruit, vegetable and seed crops in the United States.
University of Maine entomologists have been conducting honeybee research for nearly two decades, maintaining up to four apiaries with upward of 60 colonies in any given year. Most recently, the research has focused on the effects of commonly used pesticides on honeybees, and the relationship between honeybees and native bees in pollinating Maine’s wild blueberry crop. Since 2009, UMaine also has been part of a seven-state study on the causes of colony collapse disorder that has brought a rapid decline of bees worldwide.