UT Study May Help State Beekeepers (285)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A University of Tennessee study could help make a potential weapon against bee mites safer and more effective.

 Dr. John Skinner, UT entomologist, said tests by UT’s Agricultural Extension Service are assessing formic acid as a way to control mites that are killing Tennessee honey bees.

 Researchers hope to measure how well the acid controls the mites and develop methods for safe use of the acid, which is toxic to humans and highly corrosive, Skinner said.

 The trachea and varroa mites killed about one-half the state’s bee population last winter. Continued losses would mean higher fruit and vegetable prices and crop failure due to lack of pollinating bees, Skinner said.

 State beekeepers have criticized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for not approving formic acid, which is illegal in the United States.

 Skinner said initial tests at UT Ag Extension sites in Dyersburg, Greeneville and the Sequatchie Valley near Chattanooga show the acid is effective.

 More tests are needed, however, to make it safer to use, he said.

 “We are trying to develop a way to use formic acid more safely. The bottom line is to try to avoid exposure of the material to the beekeeper,” Skinner said. “We are currently studying methods of putting it in the beehive where the beekeeper doesn’t have to handle it as much.”

 Skinner said UT researchers also seek to develop a system that will make the formic acid more effective.

 “My assessment of formic acid is that it could be made more effective. We need to improve the method of putting the chemical into the bee colony and come up with a system which will allow the formic acid to fumigate over a longer period of time,” Skinner said.

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 Contact: Dr. John Skinner (423-974-7138)