Students learn about bees hands-on

While most students heard the drone of vuvuzelas during the World Cup this summer, a few on campus found buzzing from a more natural source.

For the first time in 30 years, the University offered a class in beekeeping — Integrated Biology 496: Introduction to Beekeeping.

Instructor Alex Wild, a postdoctoral researcher in Entomology, gained experience in beekeeping while stationed in Paraguay in the late 1990s with the Peace Corps, helping subsistence farmers.

“I had so much fun last time I was doing it,” Wild said.

The difference in climates between Paraguay and Illinois is noticeable for Wild.

“(In Paraguay,) they were all the Africanized bees, which were very defensive, so everything about beekeeping there was different,” Wild said.

The class includes undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and even a local resident interested in beekeeping.

“I’m doing some work with bee pathogens and I thought it would be neat to see how a hive really works, so I took beekeeping,” said Johnny Yu, graduate student in Entomology. “I learned a lot of practical behavioral things about bees like how many times a queen mates and when to collect honey and how to take care of a hive.”

The students spent time in the classroom learning the biology of honey bees but also spent time in the field, tending to beehives at the Perkins Road Apiary in northeast Urbana.

Last week, the class learned hands-on how to harvest honey and beeswax and how to divide and move colonies. In addition to learning in a non-traditional way, students are also allowed to take home the honey they harvested during class.

“We went to the beeyard and we saw which frames had the most capped honey; we brought those back,” said Jonathan Massey, sophomore in LAS. “You get a nice smooth blend of raw honey.”

Some students are looking to continue practicing beekeeping beyond their classroom experience.

“I am competent enough to start my own hive and I’m lucky I have Alex (Wild) in my lab, so if I have any questions I can ask him,” said Michelle Duennes, graduate student in Entomology.

The class will end this week, but Wild hopes the discipline will continue to be offered to students.

“I would like to see it as a regular spring class, partly because there are more students around so we’ll have even a more steady flow of people, and also because some of the most interesting things in bee biology happen in the late spring,” Wild said.