We all know how dangerous pesticides are to our honey bee friends and we also know how challenging this past winter has been to them. There is a third problem for the honey bee that does not seem to be going away anytime soon, and that is the Varroa mite. This, however, is something beekeepers are hoping to change in the future by breeding a Varroa-resistant strain of bees. The thought process is that if they can partially eliminate this one threat, the honey bee stands a much better chance against these other threats.
The honey bee becoming extinct is not something most people have ever even considered. The last few years, however, have changed that outlook rather dramatically. This past winter was particularly rough on the honey bee, but there were significant problems before that. The most notable of which is the Varroa mite.
Washington State University bee breeding expert Susan Cobey was asked what she believes the top three threats to the existence of the honey bee to be and she replied, “Varroa, Varroa, Varroa. Pesticides and various techniques have been used to battle the Varroa mite, but it continues to thrive. There is a very strong likelihood the Varroa mite is simply building up a resistance to the pesticides. Dennis VanEngelsdorp, a researcher at the University of Maryland discussed the continued losses of bees due to the Varroa mite and stated that “In part because the products that are used to control them aren’t working as well, and also the viruses that they transmit are becoming more virulent.
Understanding the Defending the Varroa Mite
One of the problems as to why Varroa has been so successful attacking honey bees is scientists may have goofed when they originally dissected the mite. It was previously believed these mites existed on the surface of honey bees as bloodsuckers that injected diseases into the honey bees, but recent studies show that may be completely wrong. New research shows the Varroa mite actually consumes the fat body tissue of the bee, which is responsible for the bees’ immune system.
As is turns out, though, the Varroa mite is not the only threat of this nature for honey bees. Asian beekeepers are currently dealing with another mite called Tropilaelaps. Researchers believe if this mite makes its way into the United States honey bee supply, it could completely decimate it, hence the need to breed a more resistant bee rather than depend on miticides to fend off the attacks.
It is also worth noting that losses in managed hives appear to be more significant than wild hives. We have discussed this before and that is attributed to the fact managed hives are far different than wild hives, creating a colder and less humid environment that allows the mite to thrive.
So, what is the answer? There are a growing number of beekeepers that are taking a more “Darwinian” approach and simply allowing nature to take its course. With recent losses being so bad, some beekeepers are willing to risk the majority of their hives to have a few hives survive that are naturally Varroa resistant, just as it would happen in the wild. Ultimately, they believe that is their best defense against this particular obstacle.
Source: Scientific American