When beekeepers check the colonies of bees, they also check for mites in the hives. Keepers particularly look for the varroa mite, a red parasite that is about the size of a deer tick.
Number 1 Enemy Of Bee Colonies
The presence of these mites apparently pose dangers to the pollinating insects. While there are a range of other factors that influence the declining population of bees in the country, these mites are being considered as the number one enemy of bee colonies.
The varroa mites bite into the honeybee larvae, pupa, worker bees, and adult drones, they transmit viruses that can kill honeybee colonies.
A 2017 Winter Loss Survey conducted by the Pennsylvania State Beekeepers Association, which involved 831 beekeepers, revealed that only 2,593 colonies of the 5,443 colonies alive in November 2016, managed to thrive in April this year, which is equivalent to 52 percent colony loss.
Of the colonies that were lost, the beekeepers said that more than a quarter were due to mites while 62 percent of the lost colonies were of unknown causes that may also been possibly linked to these parasites.
"Absolutely mites may have played a role," said Steve Repasky, who has been a beekeeper for 30 years. "It's agreed nationwide that varroa mites are the number one enemy for bee loss."
Transmits 25 Diseases And Viruses
Repasky said that keepers had healthy bees before the arrival of the mites, which transmit 25 different diseases and viruses. Loss of bee colonies because of mites started about three decades ago when the varroa mite first appeared in the United States.
Over the next decade, the parasite, along with a range of other factors such as viruses, use of pesticides, nutritional deficiencies and habitat loss resulted in a massive decline of wild bee colonies in the country, a problem that poses threat to food supply and comes with economic implications.
An assessment of bee colony parasites and diseases published in Apidologie in April 2016 showed an unprecedented increase in the number of varroa mites. The study likewise revealed that small-scale beekeepers with less than 50 colonies tend to be the ones affected by the parasites.
While the number of colonies and beekeepers appear to make a comeback and a new survey showed that U.S beekeepers only saw a 30 percent drop in bee population in 2016, the varroa mite remains a main concern.
Saving The Bees From The Varroa Mite
Fortunately, there appear to be ways to fight the problem. Bees, for instance, are evolving to better fight the threat. In 1997, entomologists discovered that about 3 percent of bees attack the mites and chew the parasites' legs off, which kill the mites. Bee breeding programs managed to boost the prevalence of this behavior by up to 80 percent.
West Central Ohio Beekeepers Association President Dwight Wells said that beekeepers in Ohio are currently working with researchers to build a critical number for the chewing bees that are also called the "Purdue anklebiters." Related studies are also being conducted to produce bees that are resistant to these virus and disease-carrying mites.