Varroa mites are the most serious pest of honeybee colonies around the world. Also called the varroa destructor, this parasite was first noticed in 1990 in North Carolina. Varroa mites are capable of wiping out honey bee colonies through transmission of bacteria and viruses, and up to this day, beekeepers continue to combat varroa infestations in their hives. Therefore, it is important to understand what the varroa mite is capable of and what are the ways in which they can be controlled.
In Idaho, Belliston Brothers Apiary is trying a new method in an attempt to protect their bees against varroa mites. Bees from the apiary are currently the subject of research being conducted by entomologist Brandon Hopkins of the Washington State University. According to Hopkins, varroa infestation can be apprehended by treating bees in a broodless colony.
How the Varroa Mite Attacks
Varroa mites parasitize larvae, which means they rely on the reproduction of bees so they can reproduce themselves. What’s disturbing aside from the aspect of parasitization is that the mites are technically protected from miticides because they are inside the larvae.
Years ago, researchers from Canada observed overwintering honeybee hives situated in cold areas. They found out that while there is an increase of carbon dioxide, this had no negative effect on bees. This was the idea used by Hopkins for his experiment.
Bees from the Belliston Brothers Apiary were put in an environment that stimulated winter. Because forage was absent and daylight had been reduced, the colony became broodless in order to save their energy. By becoming broodless, varroa mites were unable to “hide” due to the absence of bee larvae. With the mites exposed, beekeepers will only need to administer miticide treatment only once. Before, they had to do it multiple times before the mites were killed outside the brood cells.
Caring for Bees
A queen bee can lay around 1,000 eggs per day, and the efficacy of a miticide depends on the number of bees that are currently in the brood. Over the years, beekeepers have practiced treating the colony three times over the brood cycle. What Hopkins’ research aims to do is to achieve better mite control with one treatment. Hopkins’ current project is an extension of the study he conducted in Pullman last summer. The study achieved broodless colonies by keeping bees in a dark and refrigerated building for about three weeks, and the queen bees caged.
The results, according to Hopkins, was phenomenal. Bees kept in a winterized environment showed fewer mite count than bees that were left outside. The mount count for the former was 0.2 per 100 bees, while the latter had 5 per 100 bees.
In a commercial operation, caging queens can be a problem as it consumes a lot of time, but the same results can be achieved if bees are kept in winter storage for the hive to become broodless. Without larvae to parasitize, mites would eventually stop reproducing. More control over varroa infestation will result in healthier bees, which means more production of honey.
Hopkins’ experiment is among one of the many projects developed for the preservation of the bee population
worldwide. Both the U.S. and Europe are struggling over a crisis sweeping the population of honey bees due to
Colony Collapse Disorder.
Colony Collapse Disorder is caused by many factors, one of them being varroa mite infestation. Other factors include climate change and pesticide use. Organic farms have already started to provide forage as food for bees, and nutritional systems such as BeesVita Plus from makers Healthy Bees LLC are also pests that could disrupt beehives.
Honeybees and other pollinators are responsible for the world’s billions worth of crops, and without them, sustaining the modern food system would be difficult. Not only would it cause disaster on human beings — animal diet will be affected as well.