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Recent study highlights major threat to honey bee population


The world’s honey bee population is under attack by a deadly virus, according to a recent study.

“It is a constant assault” said Julia Common, a Delta beekeeper with more than 40 years of experience. “It used to be that you were thinking about mites maybe once or twice a year, but really it’s all the time now.”

The tiny, yet deadly Varroa Destructor Mite is infiltrating honey bee colonies in B.C. and around the world, feasting on bee tissue and spreading the highly transmissible Deformed Wing Virus (DWV).

“Many of the bees will start to appear to have shrunken, misshapen, or in some cases, non-existent wings,” Said Leonard Foster, a professor and bee researcher at UBC.

Common says last year she lost approximately 90 to 95 per cent of her colonies from the virus, which meant millions of bees were killed in just a matter of months.

“The damage the mites are doing now seems to be more severe than in the past,” said Common, who adds that mite control is now her biggest priority.

DWV isn’t new. However, the study indicates a variant called DWV-B has since become the dominant strain over the past 20 years. Although research is ongoing, studies appear to show the variant as more deadly and transmissible, even causing fertility issues with drones and the queen.

“The queen, in particular the queen, her ovaries are very underdeveloped compared to un-infected queens and that seems to be the cause of the fertility issues.”

It’s unclear how other bee species are impacted by the mite and virus, but a decline in honey bees has a potentially costly ripple effect, specifically on food production.

“Blueberries, apples, all of the fruits, many of the vegetables,” said Common, describing what the impact could be.

The B.C. government estimates bees and other pollinators contribute approximately $250- to 300- million dollars a year to the economy via food production.

“Beekeepers need to be even more vigilant,” said Foster.

Since losing most her bees last year to the virus, Common made monitoring mites and treating her bees her number one priority. She uses a variety of pest-control chemicals and techniques and even has to sacrifice a few hundred bees on occasion in order to analyze if there are a high percentage of mites in her colonies. So far, she says her bees are in good health this season.

“My hope for the future is to keep my bees alive.”

Meanwhile, with bee populations already facing threats including climate change and habitat destruction, Foster says the science community continues searching for a solution to the disturbing discovery.

“It’s a race that we’ll never win but we also have to keep trying to figure out different ways to control mites or superbugs or whatever that case will be.” Top Stories

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