After a 250 mile journey south, two colonies of Italian bees arrived at St. Edward’s University. They didn’t fly here but they got here as fast as they could in I-35 traffic. Assistant Professor of Biology Matt Steffenson, drove the bees to their new home on the Hilltop.

Dr. Steffenson’s interest in bees began in 2006 when beekeepers began to notice that entire colonies were dying off. Over the past decade, beekeepers have lost 50-90% of their colonies in the US. The two new colonies on campus will help Dr. Steffenson and his team of student researchers quantify the immunology of bees as the colonies grow.

Throughout the summer, students are responsible for caring for the colonies by filling up their sugar water, providing probiotics and access to water, and collecting bee specimens from the two separate colonies to study their health. Over a period of six weeks, one undergraduate will study the specimens in research partially funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. Another student and McNair scholar, David Weier ’19, will spend 8 weeks studying the colonies in a separate research internship.

Bees have been buzzing on campus for a while. In 2018, two Biology undergraduate researchers, Kia Baeza ’20 and Priyanka Ranchod ’21, partnered with Dr. Steffenson to study the effects of four common pesticides on bee mortality. Anecdotally, Kia and Priyanka found that bees exposed to pesticides had higher mortality rates over time. Kia and Priyanka will continue their research this summer on the extracted samples. See their research here.

Photos and story by Alexandra Hill