Mar
17
2005

University of Minnesota professor Marla Spivak studies honeybees. She's fighting a parasite that has killed up to half of all North American bees in the last year.

Spivak leads a bee-breeding program that produces queen bees that remove larvae infested with Varroa sp. mites from their hives. (The mites suck blood from the bees, especially developing ones, weakening them and shortening their lifespan. Infested emerging bees may be missing wings and legs. And an untreated infestation can kill an entire honeybee colony.)

Humans used two chemicals against the mites for years, but the mites have recently become resistant to both and have made a big comeback, destroying honeybee colonies across the country. But beekeepers using Spivak's queen bees have experienced only minor losses.

Don't think humans depend on bees? Think again. Honeybees pollinate about a third of our diet and dozens of agricultural crops. The mite problem affects even the dairy industry, since the cattle feed crops alfalfa and clover are honeybee pollinated, not wind pollinated like most grasses.

Many, many "pest" species are developing resistance to the chemicals we use to control them. Do you worry about this trend? Do you see alternatives to chemical pest control? Would you be willing to pay more for food products that are chemical free?

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

LG's picture
LG says:

WOW THIS IS SO AMAZING!!! IT WILL ACTUALLY BE VERY NEAT IF THE SMM ACTUALLY HAS THE PARASITES UNDER A MICROSCOPE. WHERE DID THE PARASITE COME FROM, I WONDER. ARE THESE PARASITES FROND ON ANY OTHER MAMMALS OR INSECTS?(SINCE THESE PARASITES CONSUME BLOOD RIGHT? _( *-* )_

posted on Mon, 03/21/2005 - 4:52pm
bryan kennedy's picture

Hey LG,

As far as I can tell Varroa mites are parasites of the honeybee only. They were first recorded in 1908 in Southeast Asia, but since 1987 have spread all over the United States. Interestingly enough, these little parasites were named after Marcus Terentius Varro, the "Most Learned of all Romans," who lived from 116-29 BCE. Marcus Terentius Varro wrote extensively about the natural world and specifically about bees.

Bees are not of a solitary nature, as eagles are, but are like human beings... They have three tasks: food, dwelling, toil; and the food is not the same as the wax, nor the honey, nor the dwelling. Does not the chamber in the comb have six angles, the same number as the bee has feet? The geometricians prove that this hexagon inscribed in a circular figure encloses the greatest amount of space.

Marcus Terentius Varro
On Agriculture, III,XVI. 6. Loeb Classical Library.

-----------------------------
bryan kennedy
Science Buzz Site Admin

posted on Wed, 03/23/2005 - 10:55am
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Here's a New York Times article about the problem.

posted on Mon, 05/02/2005 - 4:52pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Researchers at Penn State think they've identified the combination of factors-including Varroa mites, a virus, and bacteria-that's causing the decline of bee colonies across the United States. Read the article or the published study in today's online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

posted on Tue, 05/17/2005 - 3:39pm
bryan kennedy's picture

I am suprised that I haven't seen much more about this in the news lately. I was expecting produce prices to rise because of the decline of the bee population. I wonder if we will see more of an impact next year.\r\n-----------------------------\r\nbryan kennedy\r\nScience Buzz Site Admin

posted on Tue, 05/17/2005 - 4:51pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Varroa mites are now threatening bees in Hawaii.

posted on Wed, 08/27/2008 - 10:25am

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