Sheddable Exoskeletons and the Ability to Change Course

A Reflection on the Ideal Bee Project

The exoskeleton

Bees in todays environment and culture face many challenges. One of the foremost of these is Varroa destructor, colloquially known as the varroa mite. The varroa mite is a parasitic organism that infiltrates honeybee hives and attaches itself to bees inside the hive. The varroa mite specifically targets the joints between the sections on the honeybee body, where the shell is weakest, in order to more easily puncture the bee exoskeleton. Once the mite has punctured into the bee, it liquifies the internal organs of the bee and sucks them out. Once the mite has gorged on the bee’s organs, and the bee has perished, the mite falls off and finds a new target. Our idea was to create an adaptation in the honeybee that would allow for the bee to combat the devastating effects of the varroa mite.

In our process of determining methods to solve this problem, we cycled through several ideas, including a mite-detection system that would alert the other bees of the presence of a mite in the hive and an impenetrable “tank” exoskeleton that would be able to resist the mite’s punctures. In the end, we settled on an additional, sheddable exoskeleton that the bee would be able to remove if it detected that a mite had attached itself. In addition, the bee would emit pheromones that would cause the hive to enter a mite removal mode where the primary function of hive activities would be removing all mites from the hive.

In order to create a model of our new bee, we utilized several technologies to create our ideal bee. At first, our goal was to cut the exoskeleton out of acrylic using the table saw. After a few hours working on this, we determined that the size of the saw combined with our skills and the time required to make a jig made it not worth our time for a probably inferior product anyway. After that disaster, we ended up going with the suggestion of the employees at the makerspace and created a vacuum mold for our exoskeleton. To do this, we created a 3D printed model and then sent it through the vacuum former. The result of this was an extremely clean exoskeleton. We then shaped the body of the bee (for visualization) out of foam and created the wings out of laser cut acrylic.

The process of creating the bee was a lesson in adaptivity and flexibility. In order to create the exoskeleton, at some point we just needed to abandon our previous strategy despite all of the time we put into it. This was a difficult decision, as we had invested a significant amount of time in it. I really learned the importance of basing decisions off how much effort would be saved in the future, not necessarily on how much effort has been put into the past. This is a really valuable lesson in my opinion, as it will help me make decisions in my professional career and beyond.