North Central College continued doing its part Saturday to help bees thrive and do their jobs, as volunteers enlarged a prairie on the Naperville campus and added flowering plants to attract pollinator bees.
"There's no such thing as a prairie that's too small," associate biology professor Gregory Ruthig told them as he explained the project, which began last year. Eventually, the prairie will be about 131 yards long and more than 20 yards wide. It is adjacent to a path that is between the DuPage River and Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium.
Saturday's event was small, with students and a few professors pulling weeds and putting in about 50 flowering plants along the edge of an area that was planted last year. Plant choices included showy goldenrod, cardinal flower and purple coneflower.
The next step is for the college's maintenance department to kill some lawn and weeds so students can plant seeds on the rest of the area.
The event marked National Honey Bee Day and featured a hive display by Ed Bell of Oswego, aka "Dr. Bee." He spoke about honeybees' social structure, habits, reproduction and more.
"I'm definitely going to try on that beekeeper outfit," senior Cat Kent of Elmhurst told a soccer teammate as she chipped at the dry ground to make a hole for a plant.
Bayer CropScience's Feed a Bee campaign has given the college $5,000 for the prairie.
"It (bee health) is a really big deal for our farmer customers," company spokesman Jeff Donald said.
"Not everybody has the time and resources to be a beekeeper. Pollinator plantings is something everybody can do."
The use of some pesticides, including ones made by Bayer, have been blamed for an increase in deaths of pollinator bees.
"One of the big things everyone can agree on is the need for diverse forage and nutrition for bees," Donald said.
Bell said that local beekeepers he knows have experienced die-offs of 60 to 90 percent of their bees over the winters. That compares with 1 to 10 percent reported in the early 1900s. Nationally, including commercial beekeepers, the percentage is about 35 percent, he said.
Illinois' bees have been hit especially hard by a mite infestation, he said. The mites make holes in the bees' exoskeletons, allowing viruses in. Some pesticides are also suspected of reducing bees' immunity to viruses, he said.
According to a report in Science magazine this spring, a study paid for by Bayer and another agribusiness indicated that some of their pesticides may interfere with bees' reproductive capacity. The European Union is considering a ban on the use of such pesticides.
The college will use $1,500 of the grant to buy seed for the rest of the prairie plot.
Ruthig said deep-rooted prairie plants absorb nutrients from fertilizer runoff, keeping it from getting in to the river.