ASU bee lab attracts researchers from around the world — and you can win a tour through the free Sun Devil Rewards app
It’s a silent, sunny day on the farthest corner of Arizona State University’s Polytechnic campus. There are only two people at the Honey Bee Research Lab, and not a peep can be heard in its two metal buildings.
But inside the observation hive in a classroom, it’s anything but quiet. Bees fly in from an outside door, stride across a plexiglass-covered walkway into the hive, and then climb up the comb to deposit yellowish globs of pollen (two each on their backs) into the honeycomb cells.
The bees are, well, busy. They bustle up the crowded comb — darting around oncoming bees, and knots of bees, and dancing bees — drop their pollen packs and hurry back down. It resembles nothing so much as rush hour in Grand Central Station, without the Oyster Bar.
In all, there are about 50,000 bees in this observation hive, said School of Life Sciences Bee Lab project manager Osman Kaftanoglu. Studies underway at the many research hives at the Bee Lab include work on colony collapse disorder, artificial insemination of queen bees, long-term storage of bee semen and territorial pattern observation. The facility holds two-day workshops for beekeepers and hosts international scientists in the spring.
Kaftanoglu has been getting ready to show the lab off to the public Friday (details below), allowing everyday people to see bees perform interpretive dance and learn about raids from rival colonies and insect counterterrorism efforts. The life of bees is intense. Peace is not a given in the garden.
“This is one of the biggest (bee) laboratories, and the most efficient laboratory in the United States,” said Kaftanoglu, a research technologist. “We have a really good season here.”
Back in the observation hive, there’s a huge cluster of bees around the queen, who is in a hurry herself laying about 1,500 to 2,000 eggs per day. The eggs are tiny white grains; an estimate of 1/20th the size of a grain of rice would be overly generous.
Bees who have found pollen dance their findings to the rest of the hive. They wiggle like crazed puppies, turning right, then left. She (all workers are sterile females) is letting the others know she has found pollen.
She’s not vague about giving directions. If she dances up the hive, the pollen is in the direction of the sun. If she dances down the hive, the food is in the opposite direction from the sun. If she dances quickly, the food is closer. Slow dancing, the food is farther. They can travel 3 miles for pollen.
“They get so excited,” Kaftanoglu said. “The closer, the better.”
The lab was founded in 2006. There are labs, offices, meeting spaces and storage areas. Out back, the hives sit widely spaced apart. There’s a water trough full of rocks at one end of the yard, covered in thirsty bees. A mesmerizing buzz fills the air. It’s a warm, sunny day, so the bees are all out and about. If it was cold, they would cluster together in a clump inside the hive and eat honey, much like you would do the same with popcorn and Netflix on a damp, chilly day.
“These are very nice bees,” Kaftanoglu said. “Gentle bees. ... There’s nothing to worry about with bees, unless they are Africanized.”