History of the Bee Research Institute

First years

The Bee Research Institute Oberursel of the Polytechnische Gesellschaft Frankfurt a.M. was founded in 1937. As an epidemic disease killed a great part of bee populations in Germany, scientific research for its cause and therapies started with high pressure. On this background the Institute was build on the Siedlungslehrhof in Oberursel and the first of its kind in Hesse. While at its basement centrifugation and honey production was performed, the ground floor provided laboratories and the senior bee keeper lived on the attic. The building was finalized in 1938 and the first leader was Hugo Gontarski. From the very beginning on the goal was to support two topics: basic research and the support of beekeeping. The second World War interrupted activities and after the war the building was used by US barracks „Camp King“. In 1956 the Polytechnische Gesellschaft Frankfurt a.M. bought a house with a garden in Oberursel as a new research building.

Thanks to constant engagement and idealism of Hugo Gontarski it was possible to maintain research in this difficult years of a new start. Gontarski studied nosemosis, a gut disease of bees, and tryed to find therapies. He studied the chemistry of honey, nutritional physiology and anatomy of bees. Gontarski payed special attention to education about beekeeping and bee biology. The collaboration signed with University of Giessen ended with his death in 1963.

Collaboration with the University of Frankfurt on Main

A new and very succesful time started with Martin Lindauer in 1963 who was at that time director of the Zoological Institute at the University of Frankfurt. Due to his initiative there was a contract signed between the Polytechnische Gesellschaft Frankfurt a.M. and the University of Frankfurt. On Lindauers initiative Friedrich Ruttner, the director of the Bee Institute in Lunz/Austria, was engaged in 1964. Ruttner was called as a professor for zoology at the Goethe-University of Frankfurt at the same time. The contract between the Polytechnische Gesellschaft Frankfurt a.M. and the University ensured financial support for the Institue; at the same time labs and offices were urgently needed. The donation of Volkswagenwerk enabled additional real estate and a new building with more than 300 m² for use. Friedrich Ruttner is the founder of modern bee geography. His „Taxonomy and biogeography“ opened a new chapter for classification of honey bees and is still standard in bee biology. Very soon, in Oberursel the most prominent scientific collection of  bee species and subspecies could be found. Today the collection contains more than 3000 preparations. Ruttner was in close contact to scientists around the world. He founded with his French colleague Jean Louveaux the Journal Apidology in 1970, today the most valuable Journal in the field. Under the guidance of Ruttner the Institute became one of the worlds leading institutes for copulation, genetics, taxonomy and bio- as well as phylogeography of honey bees. The study of coupling of Queens and drones and especially artificial insemination were of major importance for bee keeping in Germany. Ruttner was always interested to use his research results in daily business: his book „Techniques for breeding and breeding selection of bees“ placed practical bee keeping on a scientific basis. When in 1976 the Varoa mite was discovered in Germany scientists from Oberursel developed first methods to fight the parasite.

Nikolaus Koeniger leaded the Institue from 1981 to 2007. Koeniger finished his PhD thesis with Ruttner. He was working on alarming and breeding pheromones. After his return from Canada where he was teaching bee biology and „Apiculture“ as a professor in the department of Environment of University Guelph, he concentrated all his attention to the Varoa mite and reduction of great losses of bee populations. Following the development of constant-release applications in Oberursel together with scientists from Poland the situation improved. Comparative studies on parasite mites in Asia resulted in discovery of a new mite species of the giant honey bee (Tropilaelaps koenigerum) which obviously can harm also our European honey bees. Together with colleagues from Asia Koeniger discovered and described a new species of honey bees (Apis nuluensis, Tingek, Koeniger and Koeniger 1996). He showed additional prove for more bees as separated honey bee species. Together with his wife he analyzed reproductive isolation of sympathric honey species.

New direction

The year 2007 lead to an additional turn in the research of the Institue. With additional financial support by the Polytechnische Gesellschaft Frankfurt a.M. a new contract was signed with Goethe University of Frankfurt and the scientific direction defined: brain research of honey bees starts at the Institute. In 2008 Bernd Grünewald was called as the new director of the Institute and at the same time he got first professorship of the foundation of Polytechnische gesellschaft Frankfurt a.M. at the Goethe University. Since that time, in Oberursel research is concentrating on functionality of the brain, learning of bees and effects of bee diseases and plant protection agents on physiology and behavior of honey bees. Traditionally the support of bee collection and development of new therapies against the Varoa parasite are still in the scope of the Institute in Oberursel.


Time table of Institutes history

Foundation of the Bee Research Institute by the Polytechnische Gesellschaft Frankfurt a.M.

Completion of the building at the Siedlungslehrhof, first director: Hugo Gontarski

Interruption of research during the second world war

US barracks „Camp King“ are established on the properties of the institute

Polytechnische Gesellschaft Frankfurt a.M. buys a new house; renovation

Close collaboration with University of Giessen

Death of Hugo Gontarski

First contract beween Polytechnische Gesellschaft Frankfurt a.M. and Goethe-University Frankfurt Main

Appointment of Prof. Dr. Friedrich Ruttner as director to Oberursel

Foundation of Journal „Apidology“ by Friedrich Ruttner and Jean Louveaux

Discovery of first Varoa mites in Germany by scientists from Oberursel

Appointment of Prof. Dr. Nikolaus Koeniger as director of the Institute

First description of bee species Apis nuluensis by Tingek, Koeniger and Koeniger

Polytechnische Gesellschaft Frankfurt a.M. sells Sparkasse 1822

New contract between Polytechnische Gesellschaft Frankfurt a.M. and Goethe-University

Prof. Dr. Bernd Grünewald appointed as director of Institute and endowed professor of the Polytechnische Gellschaft Frankfurt a.M.

Renovation of Institute, start of neurobiological research and teaching

Research in new labs at the Biologicum in Frankfurt begins

Celebration of 75th anniversary of the Bee Research institute of Oberursel