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6th graders are helping save bees from killer mites

Ann Arbor 6th graders and their mentor, Palani Palani-Appan.

Ever since they arrived in the United States in 1987, red, hairy varroa mites have been attacking honey bees. They get into a hive, and within a short time, all the bees are dead. Along with pesticides and viruses, the mites are behind the collapse of much of the U.S. population of wild and managed honey bees.

Enter sixth grade inventors from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who have patented a digitally connected alarm system to warn bee-keepers of mite infestation. Their invention inspects bees as they enter a hive, detects the tell-tale presence of a red spot -- the mite -- on bees, shoots a photo and emails an alert to the bee-keeper.

Between the lines: The students' alarm system, their entry in a Lego-sponsored invention competition, addresses one of the biggest problems in the bee crisis: a time gap in noticing a hive infestation. Since bee-keepers are alerted, they can act to attack the mites.