Will Robinson

Will Robinson points to a bivouac made by giant honey bees in Mae Hong Son, Thailand. His discovery of the bees stopping to eat and rest for a few days along their migration route was the first of its kind. He will give a talk about his research Thursday at the AMK Ranch in Grand Teton National Park.

Turns out humans aren’t the only ones that use emergency bivvys from time to time.

On Thursday, Will Robinson, a biology instructor at Casper College, will kick off this summer’s Harlow Summer Seminar Series, the annual season of talks at the University of Wyoming’s research station in Grand Teton National Park. His talk, “The Bees Just Keep Coming! Adventures with the Giant Migrating Honey Bees of Thailand,” starts at 6:30 p.m. at AMK Ranch near Leeks Marina.

Over three seasons in northwest Thailand, Robinson observed a pattern of migrating giant honey bees stopping at a mango orchard along the Pai River near Mae Hong Son. Hives of that species of honey bee sometimes migrate up to 150 miles, so scientists believed it was possible that the bees paused along their migration route. Still, no one had ever actually seen one of those bee bivouacs until Robinson discovered them in 2009.

“I really stumbled upon these giant honey bees doing something that nobody’s ever seen before,” Robinson said.

In 2009, Casper College was developing a sister-school relationship with a community college in Mae Hong Son, so Robinson and his wife went to Thailand to meet people at the school.

“I leapt at the chance to go over there on a sabbatical just to sort of cement relationships between our schools,” he said.

Robinson had long been intrigued by studying the giant honey bees of Southeast Asia and was biking around the Thai countryside looking for a research project when he found the bee stopover site.

But discovering the bivuoacs was more than a unique development in giant honey bee research. It also suggested important implications for bee conservation. Though research on the bees is limited, anecdotally their populations have been crashing for a number of years. Habitat loss is believed to be the biggest factor in their decline.

“That is really the crux,” Robinson said. “I mean, it’s important finding [the bivouacs], but I think really its implications for conservation of these bees are really, really important.”

Each year Robinson was in Thailand he observed different groups of bees gathering in similar locations at similar times of year to eat and rest before moving on.

“It’s really interesting, because it ties in so nicely with what people are studying in Wyoming right now with these migrating ungulates — the deer and the elk and the pronghorn,” Robinson said.

“What they’re discovering is that these things really depend on stopover sites. It’s not the destination of the migration or the beginning point of the migration. All along the way it’s important what these creatures are finding to eat.

“It seems to be true of these giant bees, too,” he said.

To protect the bees and these stopover sites, scientists first need to find more of them, Robinson said. Research projects should dedicate themselves to locating these important sites so conservation measures can be implemented.

The Harlow series runs until Thursday, July 11. The AMK Ranch will close to the public on July 15 for construction on its wastewater facilities. It will reopen next May. 

Get in contact with Frederica Kolwey via 732-7062 or entertainment@jhnewsandguide.com.

Contact Frederica Kolwey via 732-7062 or entertainment@jhnewsandguide.com.

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