There's joy on the horizon for beekeepers battling that pesky Varroa mite.
They may soon have a "fool-proof" method to silence the parasite, considered the honey bee's worst enemy.
A research team led by Alan Bowman of the University of Aberdeen, United Kingdom, recently developed a genetic "knock-out" technique that could cause the blood-sucker to self-destruct.
The research could lead to an anti-Varroa medicine placed inside the hive, according to a BBC News article.
So common is the Varroa mite in a typical hive that it's considered the fourth member of the colony. Think queen bee, worker bees, drones, and Varroa mites. (Source: The newly published Storey's Guide to Keeping Honey Bees by Malcolm Sanford and the late Richard Bonney)
The Varroa mite, first detected in the United States in 1987, is a killer. It transmits viruses, suppresses the immune system, weakens colonies, and if left untreated, can decimate an entire colony. BBC science reporter Victoria Gill captured its destructiveness well when she quoted Giles Budge of the National Bee Unit, Yorkshire.
The human equivalent of varroa mite, Budge told her, would be "an organism on your back that's about the size of a dinner plate, which creates a hole through which it can feed and through which its family can feed."
The free-lunch bunch has met its match.
Is coconut oil effective in treating varroa mites, those nasty little mites that plague our honey bees?
The facts aren't in, and research is ongoing.
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty, will discuss his research, “Coconut Oil - Varroa Treatment or Food Ingredient?” at the California State Beekeepers' Association (CSBA) convention, set Nov. 16-17 in the Embassy Suites, San Luis Obipso.
He'll address the crowd on Tuesday, Nov. 16. (To read more about honey bees, check out his newsletter, from the UC Apiaries, and his Bee Briefs on his website.
Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey will address the conference on "Honey Bee Stock Improvement: Challenges and Options" on Thursday, Nov. 18.
In addition, she'll speak Nov. 16 at Cal Poly's Horticulture and Crop Science Department on “Mating is Risky Business and the Benefits Of Being Promiscuous." That talk is part of the Dow AgroSciences Seminar Series: “New Advancements in Biotechnology and Sustainability of Crop Science."
The CSBA is headed by Roger Everett of Porterville, who is also a member of the California State Apiary Board.
CSBA’s purpose is to “educate the public about the beneficial aspects of honey bees, advance research beneficial to beekeeping practices, provide a forum for cooperation among beekeepers and to support the economic and political viability of the beekeeping industry.”
Varroa mites, those blood-sucking little parasites that are major pests of honey bee colonies, can decimate and destroy a colony if left unchecked.
One way that beekeepers monitor their hives for mite infestation is "the sugar shake."
Basically, this involves a quart canning jar equipped with a mesh screen and a lid; and powdered sugar. Beekeepers brush bees from brood comb into a plastic tub or container--being careful, of course, not to brush the queen bee in there, too. They scoop a half of a cup of bees into the jar, add a couple tablespoons of powdered sugar, and then it's time to do "the sugar shake."
They shake the jar vigorously, invert it, and the mites come tumbling out through the mesh screen.
The result: sugar-coated bees and suffocated mites. And all's right with the world. Or "white" with the world.
Beekeepers then count the mites to determine the level of mite infestation and the kind of treatment, if any, that's needed.
Meanwhile, the bees return to their hive where their sisters quickly groom them ("Hey, what happened to you?").
The powdered sugar is harmless. A few minutes later, routine hive activity resumes as if The Great White Shake never happened.
For a brief moment in time, however, the test bees are the insect equivalent of Snow White.
Or the food equivalent of powdered sugar doughnuts or Mexican wedding cookies.
If you have a bee hive, you most likely have mites.
Varroa mites, those blood-sucking parasites that latch onto the brood and also thrive on the adult bees, can weaken and destroy a hive.
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty, frequently fields calls about varroa mites.
In his latest edition of from the UC apiaries, he points out that "obtaining fumigants for varroa mite control may be somewhat difficult at this time for beekeepers."
"I haven't checked on the Apiguard® situation recently, but shipments from Europe had been held up, apparently by U.S. customs," Mussen wrote. "The other desired fumigant, Mite Away II pads, are vanishing from the market quickly. They are out of production and soon will not be available. The reason behind this is because NOD Apiary Products, in Canada, has decided to stop producing the pads and instead offer a formic acid product in strip form."
Today we spotted a varroa mite on a foraging bee. The bee, a golden Italian, was nectaring lavender.
Unfortunately, a nasty little parasite was eating at her.
What's wrong with this photo?
A honey bee is nectaring a lavender, right?
But if you look closely, you'll see a Varroa mite--a parasite--attached to her.
Varroa mites, considered the No. 1 pest in the honey bee industry, are linked to colony collapse disorder, a mysterious phenomenon characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive, leaving behind food stores and the brood.
Varroa mites are so common that it's rare to find a hive without them.
Female mites reproduce inside brood cells in the hive. Mites suck the bee blood or hemolymph; in doing so, they spread viruses, stunt the growth and cause deformities.
Within two years, they can destroy a colony.
Not a pleasant sight.