Their study came about as a way to protect endangered species in South America and Central America, and the Everglades Agricultural Area is being used as a model.
The students were in Brazil in February installing about 30 specially treated bird houses in an attempt to protect nesting sites for endangered Amazon parrots.
The bird houses are treated with permethrin, an insecticide that usually is not hazardous to birds but can be toxic to bees.
Along with the treated bird houses, the students set swarm traps that are not treated with permethrin but have other features that they hope will attract the bees.
Exposure to permethrin would either repel a bee, kill it or make a scout bee kind of sluggish while it investigates the nest box as a potential relocation site, Efstathion said. When it returns to the colony, the scout bee performs what’s nicknamed a bee dance to communicate information about a potential new location, Efstathion explained. The idea is that the sluggish bee is going to be less persuasive in the dance than other bees who investigated an untreated trap in the same vicinity.
“We’re trying to give the bees (a site) that that they’d like better than the bird boxes,” Bardunias said.
Efstathion and Bardunias also treated other boxes in Feinstein’s yard, where several nesting boxes she had put in earlier were taken over by bees. In one of the boxes, a bee swarm descended on a nest occupied by baby mynah birds. Feinstein said she was about to pull down all the nest boxes, to avoid bees, until she heard about the students’ project.
In addition to protecting baby birds, the students’ bee-repelling approach also may useful for other areas that bees inhabit, such as irrigation boxes, water meter boxes and soffits.
Among the wild bees that are not managed by beekeepers, Africanized honey bees are more prevalent in South Florida than the gentler European honey bees, because they break off and establish other colonies more often, Kern said. “Because they tend to produce more swarms, they cause more interaction problems with human beings and more interaction with wildlife, and they out-compete some wildlife for nesting space,” he said.
Kern estimated 90 percent of the non-managed wild bees in South Florida are Africanized.