Those Dratted Mites
Those dratted mites.
UC Davis entomologist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor and a native bee pollinator specialist, sent us a BBC report linking a varroa mite infestation to a devastating honey production loss in the UK. It's the worst honey crisis ever to hit the UK.
In short: beekeepers are concerned that by Christmas, there may be no more domestically produced honey left on the supermarket shelves.
The mite infestation has already killed off an estimated quarter of the UK's honey bees, according to BBC correspondent Jeremy Cooke, who said about "one in three colonies has been wiped out."
The varroa mite, or the Varroa destructor, is a nasty pest. Now found in most countries (Australia is an exception), it's an external parasite initially discovered on the Asian honey bee, Apis cerana. Over the last few decades, however, it has spread to the Western honey bee (also known as the European honey bee), Apis mellifera.
The varroa mite entered the UK in 1992, reports show. It has since spread throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The blood-sucking parasite feeds on both adults and the brood (immature larvae). It weakens the bees, opening them up to all sorts of diseases. And eventually, if not controlled, it will destroy the colonies.
The bad news is that the varroa mite cannot be completely eradicated, but with proper control methods, the mite population can be kept at a low level.
When California State Secretary of Agriculture A. G. Kawamura visited the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis last month, bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey showed him dead mites on a hive floor. (See story on UC Davis Department of Entomology site.)
Kawamura is no stranger to bees or bee pests. As a youth, he reared bees--until the infectious bee disease, American foulbrood, upset his plans.
To control the mite, beekeepers usually use a combination of management methods. They use biotechnical methods and chemical controls. Unfortunately, in some areas, the varroa mite is developing resistance to miticides--another worry for beekeepers.
Said Cobey: "You need to reduce mite levels in colonies by late summer--August/September--to have healthy bees in spring."
Cooperative Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of UC Davis says that in California, the Department of Pesticide Regulation "is close to approving another chemical treatment" to help control the mite problem.
It may be ready by next spring.
The mites will be waiting.
Mite on Drone
Mites on Hive Floor