Titans buzzing about Bee Shield

Megan Behnke, Writer

Three UW Oshkosh business administration students will soon be testing a product that could help prevent honeybees from dying during the winter months.

Last winter, beekeepers lost a record 40% of their honeybee colonies, according to NPR. These losses could be attributed to a number of factors including pesticides, lack of diversity in crops, habitat loss, poor beekeeping practices and more.

Appleton beekeeper Bob Smead said a lot of the winter losses of honeybee colonies are related to Varroa mite populations.
Varroa mites attach to honeybees, sucking their blood and body fat tissue, which weakens bees and can lead to death. They also act as a vector for viral illnesses such as acute paralysis and deformed wing viruses.

“It’s a factor for a lot of different viral infections that seems to be a big contributing factor to colony loss,” Smead said.

Smead said the combination of viral illnesses, long winters and the potential for food shortages kills the bees off.
“Straight-up cold will not normally kill off the colonies, but frequent, significant temperature changes over winter will weaken them too,” he said.

Smead said maintaining a constant, slightly higher temperature in beehives could help prevent colony loss.

“If they come up with something to help keep the temperature of the hives a little more warmer and a little more steady, I think that will go a long way,” Smead said.

Students Jessica Tarter, Parker Schmidt and alumnus Macall Hill hope to have a solution to that very problem.

The students have been working with the Alta Resources Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and WiSys to market the “Bee Shield,” a product invented by UW-Superior Biology Professor and Apiary Manager Edward Burkett and colleague Kenn Raihala.

The product attaches to a beehive, preventing wind from entering the hive and helping it retain heat. The Bee Shield is also modified to allow condensation to escape. Burkett told UW Oshkosh Today he developed the Bee Shield after all the hives in the UWS bee apiary died during the winter months.

The three students have been working with an engineering team at UWO to modify the design of the product, and they have 3D printed the product, which took 70 hours.

The students have also been working to find a manufacturer for the Bee Shield and have developed a company called Hive Central to market the product.

Schmidt said none of the students knew each other when they got picked to be on the CEI team, but they all wanted to get involved in entrepreneurship.

“We were thrown into a room together and they said, ‘Here are some intellectual properties,’ and eventually we picked the Bee Shield,” Schmidt said. “Not only did it have the most market opportunity, but it also had the most appeal to us from the standpoint of millennial/Gen. Z/college students.”

Tarter said the idea of starting your own company sounds scary but can also be an exciting opportunity.
“Don’t be afraid to dive into it,” Tarter said. “It’s the best part of it, just the chaoticness of it.”
Tarter said the team is focused on reaching out to as many beekeepers as possible this coming winter to get the prototypes of the Bee Shield out on the hives to help increase the bees’ survival rates.

“We are doing a lot of data testing and control groups,” she said. “That’s our really big focus right now. Just getting data to beekeepers because through our research, that’s the No. 1 thing they want right now is proof that it actually works.”