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 PRESS REVIEW / REVUE DE PRESSE

  Invention covers bees with sugar to get rid of pests
03/11/02 -
MICHAEL ROSE - http://news.statesmanjournal.com

Imagine you’re a honeybee.

It’s another day at the hive, when suddenly you’re hurled into a vat of powdered sugar. Next, a chute opens and you tumble into an abyss. You land on a vibrating screen, looking like Frosty the Snowman.

The good news: You haven’t been turned into an exotic confection — and your blood-sucking parasites are gone.

Harry Vanderpool says a couple pounds of powdered sugar and his invention — a machine he calls the Mitey-Victor — could help beekeepers get the upper hand against the deadly Varroa mite.

Scientists trying to stop the Varroa mite, an imported pest from Asia that can wipe out hives, have long known that powdered sugar will cause the mites to release their grip on honeybees.

But Vanderpool’s mechanical extractor is something new, and it has the world of apiculture buzzing with speculation.

It’s a big deal because the part-time beekeeper’s invention could provide an alternative to the chemical warfare that has been waged on Varroa mites for the past 15 years.

Vanderpool’s concept showed enough promise that the Oregon Department of Agriculture saw fit to award him nearly $12,000 from a federal grant to develop a prototype.

“This isn’t rocket science whatsoever,” Vanderpool said.

The machine essentially is a two-level vibrating screener that is powered by a 12-volt battery. Made of stainless steel, the prototype is built on a two-wheeled trailer chassis.

Bees and powdered sugar go in a hopper at the top. Mites and leftover sugar fall into separate drawers at the bottom. The Varroa mites desiccate and die in less than an hour. Most of the bees fly out of the machine, and others are temporarily dazed by the experience and fall onto a conveyor that deposits them on the ground.

Ken Kite, a Stayton resident who keeps beehives as a hobby, let Vanderpool test his machine on his bees. He was impressed, as well as amused: “It just bounced these sugar-coated bees out into a pile.” Powdered sugar is routinely used to deliver antibiotics to bees because the insects will eagerly consume it. Kite’s bees were unharmed after their journey through the Mitey-Victor, he said, and subsequent tests indicated that few mites remained in the hives. Inventor Vanderpool, who keeps 50 hives on his property south of Salem, says his bees have passed through the Mitey-Victor with no ill effects. There was an embarrassing incident during a test run on a neighbor’s hives, when Vanderpool accidentally stepped on some bees that were grooming themselves after the sugar treatment. Similar screening devices are used in industries ranging from commercial bakeries to rock-crushing operations. But the Mitey-Victor has patentable features and Vanderpool has been granted a provisional patent, which gives him a year to get a full-fledged patent. Varroa mites have spread across the nation since they were first detected here in 1987. Only Hawaii has escaped their onslaught. They have devastated wild honeybee colonies and become an expensive nuisance for the estimated 200,000 beekeepers in the United States. Industry experts agree that chemicals, which were the first line of defense against the mites, have become less and less effective. “You’re breeding super-mites that can tolerate the treatment,” Vanderpool said.

Removing mites mechanically makes economic sense too, he said. A small version of the mite extractor for hobbyist use could sell for a few hundred dollars, and a model for large-scale commercial operations could cost about $8,000 — a bargain compared to the cost of pesticides.

Taking care of bees is an expensive proposition in the best of circumstances.

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