How Do Varroa Mites Know When To Leave Honey Bee Hives?

Entomology Today    August 29, 2014

Although they are really tiny, the Varroa mite has the potential to bring large parts of western agriculture to its knees by infesting and destroying honey bee hives. Varroa mites are the “single most detrimental pest of honey bees,” according to the USDA National Honey Bee Health Stakeholder Conference Steering Committee. In addition to attaching to and feeding on the bees, Varroa mites can spread harmful viruses and reduce bee immunity.

The mites usually prefer to feed on bees that care for the youngsters in a hive because it gives them the opportunity to parasitize the honey bee larvae. However, these nurse bees generally stay within the hive, so the mites need to hitch rides on other bees in order to infect other hives.

So how do the mites know when to stay and when to go? After bringing a hive to the verge of collapse, the mites are confronted with a dilemma: stay put and perish, or get ready to infest another pristine hive.

Researchers in Italy think they have an answer to this question, and the results of their study are published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Rita Cervo and her colleagues from the Università degli Studi Firenze tested the mites’ preferences for feeding on hive-bound nurses or roving foragers, including robber bees from other colonies. They found that mites from hives with low rates of infection preferred to hop aboard nurses. However, as the rates of mite infestation in hives climbed, the mites became less choosy and seemed equally content to ride on foragers and nurses alike.

The team analyzed the blend of waxy substances coating the bees’ surfaces and found that in hives with low rates of mite infection, the wax on the nurses was very different from the wax of the foragers — which the mites are probably able to detect.

However, the wax mixtures on nurses and foragers from hives with high levels of Varroa mite infection were more similar, making it more difficult for the mites to distinguish between nurses and foragers. The presence of the mites had altered the foragers’ waxy coatings.

“When mite abundance increases within the colony, the lack of differences in chemical cues between nurses and foragers probably does not allow mites to discriminate between bees with different tasks and causes mites to ride on both of them,” they wrote.

By losing the ability to distinguish between nurses and foragers when infection rates are high, mites increase their chances of getting a lift from a forager that happens to be visiting from another hive, improving their chances of survival when their current hive faces extinction.

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Feral Colonies...Good or Bad?

This message brought to us by CATCH THE BUZZ: Kim Flottum,  Bee Culture, The Magazine Of American Beekeeping, published by the A.I. Root Company. Twitter.FacebookBee Culture’s Blog

Source:  PlosOne  Published August 15, 2014

Catherine E. Thompson, Jacobus C. Biesmeijer, Theodore R. Allnutt, Stéphane Pietravalle, Giles E. Budge

Parasite Pressures on Feral Honey Bees  Feral Colonies Are Pathogen Reservoirs. A PlosOne Publication.

Feral honey bee populations have been reported to be in decline due to the spread of Varroa destructor, an ectoparasitic mite that when left uncontrolled leads to virus build-up and colony death. While pests and diseases are known causes of large-scale managed honey bee colony losses, no studies to date have considered the wider pathogen burden in feral colonies, primarily due to the difficulty in locating and sampling colonies, which often nest in inaccessible locations such as church spires and tree tops. In addition, little is known about the provenance of feral colonies and whether they represent a reservoir of Varroa tolerant material that could be used in apiculture. Samples of forager bees were collected from paired feral and managed honey bee colonies and screened for the presence of ten honey bee pathogens and pests using qPCR. Prevalence and quantity was similar between the two groups for the majority of pathogens, however feral honey bees contained a significantly higher level of deformed wing virus than managed honey bee colonies. An assessment of the honey bee race was completed for each colony using three measures of wing venation. There were no apparent differences in wing morphometry between feral and managed colonies, suggesting feral colonies could simply be escapees from the managed population. Interestingly, managed honey bee colonies not treated for Varroa showed similar, potentially lethal levels of deformed wing virus to that of feral colonies. The potential for such findings to explain the large fall in the feral population and the wider context of the importance of feral colonies as potential pathogen reservoirs is discussed.

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Insecticides Similar to Nicotine Widespread in Midwest

USGS  July 24, 2014

Summary: Insecticides similar to nicotine, known as neonicotinoids, were found commonly in streams throughout the Midwest, according to a new USGS study

Insecticides similar to nicotine, known as neonicotinoids, were found commonly in streams throughout the Midwest, according to a new USGS study. This is the first broad-scale investigation of neonicotinoid insecticides in the Midwestern United States and one of the first conducted within the United States.

Effective in killing a broad range of insect pests, use of neonicotinoid insecticides has dramatically increased over the last decade across the United States, particularly in the Midwest.  The use of clothianidin, one of the chemicals studied, on corn in Iowa alone has almost doubled between 2011 and 2013.

 “Neonicotinoid insecticides are receiving increased attention by scientists as we explore the possible links between pesticides, nutrition, infectious disease, and other stress factors in the environment possibly associated with honeybee dieoffs.” said USGS scientist Kathryn Kuivila, the research team leader.

Neonicotinoid insecticides dissolve easily in water, but do not break down quickly in the environment. This means they are likely to be transported away in runoff from the fields where they were first applied to nearby surface water and groundwater bodies.

In all, nine rivers and streams, including the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, were included in the study. The rivers studied drain most of Iowa, and parts of Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. These states have the highest use of neonicotinoid insecticides in the Nation, and the chemicals were found in all nine rivers and streams.

Of the three most often found chemicals, clothianidin was the most commonly detected, showing up in 75 percent of the sites and at the highest concentration. Thiamethoxam was found at 47 percent of the sites, and imidacloprid was found at 23 percent. Two, acetamiprid and dinotefuran, were only found once, and the sixth, thiacloprid, was never detected.

Instead of being sprayed on growing or full-grown crops, neonicotinoids can be applied to the seed before planting. The use of treated seeds in the United States has increased to the point where most corn and soybeans planted in the United States have a seed treatment (i.e., coating), many of which include neonicotinoid insecticides.

“We noticed higher levels of these insecticides after rain storms during crop planting, which is similar to the spring flushing of herbicides that has been documented in Midwestern U.S. rivers and streams,” said USGS scientist Michelle Hladik, the report’s lead author. “In fact, the insecticides also were detected prior to their first use during the growing season, which indicates that they can persist from applications in prior years.”

One of the chemicals, imidacloprid, is known to be toxic to aquatic organisms at 10-100 nanograms per liter if the aquatic organisms are exposed to it for an extended period of time. Clothianidin and thiamethoxam behave similarly to imidacloprid, and are therefore anticipated to have similar effect levels. Maximum concentrations of clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid measured in this study were 257, 185, and 42.7 nanograms per liter, respectively.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified all detected neonicotinoids as not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.

The paper, “Widespread occurrence of neonicotinoid insecticides in streams in a high corn and soybean producing region, USA” and has been published in Environmental Pollution. Learn more about the study and the long-term USGS effort to gather information on the environmental occurrence of new pesticides in different geographic, climatic, and use settings here. To learn more about USGS environmental health science, please visit the USGS Environmental Health website and sign up for our GeoHealth Newsletter.

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communications and Publishing
12201 Sunrise Valley Dr, MS 119
Reston, VA 20192

Alex Demas
Kathy Kuivila 

Insecticides Similar to Nicotine Widespread in Midwest

Project Apis m.: July Bee Husbandry

Project Apis m.   July Newsletter 

Honey Bee Husbandry
  • Inspect and monitor for Nosema.
  • Check often using a random sampling with microscopic examination.
  • Be aware that Nosema in the presence of high Varroa mite levels can compromise colony health.
  • Chemical control with Fumagillin. Practice judicious treatment. Follow proper prep, storage and application.
  • See Project Apis m. elearning module and  YouTube video on Nosema control. Click here, 
Project Apis m.

Parasite-Free Honey Bees Enable Study of Bee Health   By A'ndrea Elyse Messer   July 1, 2014

An international team of researchers has discovered honey bee colonies in Newfoundland, Canada, that are free of the invasive parasites that affect honey bees elsewhere in the world. The populations offer a unique opportunity to investigate honey bee health, both with and without interfering interactions from parasites.

"Invasive parasites—such as Nosema ceranae, a fungus, and Varroa destructor, a mite—have incurred heavy economic penalties on the honey bee industry via colony losses and reduced productivity of surviving colonies, and both parasites threaten global food security because of reduced pollination services to agriculture," said Nancy Ostiguy, associate professor of entomology, Penn State. "The extent to which these detriments are attributable to specific parasite species is difficult to assess, however, because of the occurrence of multiple parasites within honey bees. Studying the effects of these parasites is even more challenging because few areas in the world have western honey bee colonies that are free of invasive parasites."


How Varroa Amplifies Honey Bee Viral Infections

The following is brought to us by the American Bee Journal    June 26, 2014

Scientists have discovered how a bloodsucking parasite has transformed Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) into one of the biggest threats facing UK honeybees.

Honeybees are a key pollinating insect, adding around $40Bn globally to crop value. Over recent years the spread of parasites and the viruses they transmit has resulted in high overwintering colony losses.

New and emerging threats to insect pollinators are putting increasing pressure on the agricultural sector to meet the demands of a growing population.

DWV is one of the most common viruses infecting European honeybees. Although present in almost all colonies, high levels of deformed wing disease – characterized by developmental deformities, reduced foraging ability and longevity – are only common when Varroa is also present.

Researchers at the University of Warwick have discovered how the disease is amplified in the presence of Varroa destructor, a tiny parasitic mite invading hives across the globe.

In colonies free from Varroa, DWV is present at very low levels and generally causes symptomless infections. However, the team found that when Varroa feeds on honeybee haemolymph ('blood'), specific virulent strains of the virus are transmitted and amplified, explaining why colonies infested with the mite suffer most severely.

The researchers also demonstrated that direct injection of a mixed DWV population in the absence of the mite, resulted in the same virulent strain being amplified – suggesting that this route of virus transmission bypasses the insect's anti-virus defense systems.

Professor David Evans, from the University of Warwick, who led the study explains: "We found that a harmful variant of the virus only multiplies rapidly if it is directly injected into honeybee haemolymph by Varroa. Once injected, the variant takes over. In mite-exposed bees, levels of this single virulent form can be 10,000 times higher than in the absence of Varroa."

"Although exposure to Varroa caused disruption to a number of genes involved in the bee's immune response, it is the route of transmission which has caused this severe strain of DWV to become widespread."

The introduction and global distribution of the mite has had a significant impact on the health and survival of honeybee colonies. The research, published today in the journal PLOS Pathogens could lead to informed breeding programs for Varroa and virus resistance.

Professor Evans added: "Our results strongly suggest that DWV is widespread in UK honeybees – even where Varroa is absent. However, the identification of a single virulent form of the virus is an important step in developing strategies to boost honeybee health, to prevent colony losses and to safeguard this important pollinator."

The project is part of the Insect Pollinators Initiative, jointly funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Defra, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Scottish Government and the Wellcome Trust under the auspices of the Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) partnership.

Professor Jackie Hunter, BBSRC Chief Executive commented: "This important study, part of the BBSRC-supported Insect Pollinators Initiative, provides important clues that could help to protect honeybee colonies. We rely on bees and other insects to pollinate food crops. We must sustain a healthy and diverse population of pollinating insects to ensure that we have enough food for the future."

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National Pollinator Week: Checking in on Colony Collapse Disorder

Food Safety News     By James Andrews    June 20, 2014

The week of July [June] 16 is being celebrated as National Pollinators Week in an effort to bring more awareness to the integral role that pollinators such as bees, birds, and the other flying creatures play in the life cycles of an estimated 75 percent of the world’s crop varieties and 35 percent of total crop production.

The occasion is also a time to reflect on the current understanding of colony collapse disorder (CCD), the phenomenon causing a spike in die-offs of honey bee populations around the world over the past decade.

One of the biggest developments in CCD research from the past year has been a study from the Harvard School of Public Health on the effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on bee populations. The study found that, while non-lethal doses of these pesticides would not seem to harm the bees during spring and summer, they had dramatic effects on the bees during winter.

Six out of 12 pesticide-treated bee colonies in the study abandoned their hives after winter and died off, while only one out of six of the non-pesticide colonies died off — and that was from a different disease that killed the bees inside their hive. One of the trademarks of CCD is a low number of dead bees left behind, with most abandoning the hive to die elsewhere.

While research is still being done to clearly define the cause of CCD, at this point believed to be the cumulative effect of numerous stressors on bees, the Harvard study’s authors concluded that their experiment singled out neonicotinoid pesticides as the leading cause of the problem.

At the same time, neonicotinoids are facing more legal scrutiny on both sides of the Atlantic.

Last August, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency introduced mandatory labels on neonicotinoid pesticides that warn users to be wary of harming pollinators and advising them not to spray under certain conditions during which pollinators are most likely to be present.

In December 2013, a two-year ban on neonicotinoids went into effect in Europe in order to study how well European bee populations fare in the absence of the pesticides. The U.S. EPA will be keeping a close eye on how that ban plays out.

“Based on currently available data, the EPA’s scientific conclusions are similar to those expressed in the EFSA [European] report with regard to the potential for acute effects and uncertainty about chronic risk,” EPA stated. “However, the EFSA report does not address risk management, which, under U.S. federal law, is a key component of the EPA’s pesticide regulatory scheme.”

Chemical companies fought the European ban, saying that it placed an unfair blame on pesticides when evidence suggested a number of other factors, such as viruses and parasites, played into CCD.

Bee experts aren’t all ready to place the blame squarely on pesticides, either. As more research time focuses on CCD, more researchers are coming to the conclusion that it’s caused by a complex synergy of factors, said Dr. Gene Robinson, director of the Institute for Genomic Biology and the Swanlund Chair of Entomology at the University of Illinois.

“The simple fact of the matter is that no single factor can explain the occurrence, distribution and severity of colony collapse disorder,” Robinson said.

Researchers are increasingly designing studies that account for multiple stressors on bees — not a simple feat to achieve in a controlled study environment. Measuring one effect really well is difficult enough, Robinson noted.

At this point, Robinson said he viewed insecticides as receiving too much of the blame. He cautioned against focusing solely on chemicals when pathogens, parasites and environmental changes have shown to have a significant effect on CCD.

“Colony collapse disorder can be regarded as a warning sign for all of our interactions with the environment and the species that are important to us,” Robinson said. “There are a variety of different factors in different combinations that can all have serious effects.”

And, while conducting research is expensive and public attention may wane until the next dire news of massive die-offs emerges, Robinson said it’s incredibly important to continue understanding CCD and what it could mean for our environmental interactions on a bigger scale.

“Using honey bees as canaries in the coal mine, what does this say about other species?” he asked.

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Australia-wide Survey to Ascertain Health of Bees   By Rosemary Grant     June 11, 2014

Australia's honey bee population and their hives have been booked in for a thorough health assessment.

Australia remains free of many major honey bee pests, such as the Varroa mite, that are present in other countries.

But speculation in the USA that a virus, potentially imported from Australia, may contribute to colony collapse disorder in honey bee populations across north America, has halted Australia's live bee exports to the US.

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USDA Focus on Honey Bee Health

CATCH THE BUZZ   By Kim Flottum   May 21, 2014

Statement of Jeff Pettis, Research Leader USDA - Agricultural Research Service

Testimony before the House Committee on Agriculture, Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture - April 29, 2014 

Chairman Scott, Ranking Member Schrader and members of the subcommittee, I am Dr. Jeff Pettis, Research Leader of the Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, a research laboratory dedicated to honey bee health and part of the USDA Agricultural Research Service. I am pleased to appear before you to discuss a serious threat to the honey bee and thus our food security in the United States.

Ultimately, if no long-term solutions are developed to slow bee decline, consumers will pay more for the food they buy. The foods that bees are responsible for pollinating tend to be the foods that add vital nutrients, flavor and diversity to our diet: the fruits, nuts and vegetables that maintain health. Bees pollinate more than 90 crops and are responsible for $15 billion in added crop value. Over half the nation’s bees are needed to pollinate almonds alone, a $3 billion crop with increasing acreage. 

One of the biggest problems facing honey bees and beekeepers today is the varroa mite. The varroa mite’s full name is Varroa destructor, and it is...


The above brought to us by CATCH THE BUZZ: Kim Flottom,  Bee Culture, The Magazine Of American Beekeeping, published by the A.I. Root Company. Twitter.FacebookBee Culture’s Blog.

How Could the Honey Bee Shortage Affect You?

KWQXNews6 By Akilah Davis    May 18, 2014

Experts say honey bees are more vital than we all realize and the shortage could affect you in ways you might not imagine. The average life span of a worker bee in the summer is six weeks, but that could mean big problems if their life spans are cut short. Without bees pollinating our crops, a lot of them would die off. 

"Honey bees are important to the ecosystem because they pollinate about a third of the crops of the food we eat," said Ronald Fischer, a bee keeper from Illinois.

Fischer has been bee-keeping for over 40 years and says he knows enough to know that if the honey bee shortage continues, it could result in a food desert. 

"Without honey bee pollination you won't get the almonds, apples, citrus. It would be like a food desert out there because you won't be able to get lots of your fruits and vegetables and some of the other products," said Fischer. 

The shortage is the outcome of what's called colony collapse disorder and a lot of factors contribute to it.

"The varroa mite is a mite that sucks on the bees blood and it also brings various viruses with it," said Fischer. "So we've got the varroa mite and viruses, you also have the increase use in pesticides, the neo-nicotine."

That means the weed killer you use to stop them from growing in your yard also stops busy bees from buzzing around.

"None of which is bad by itself, but combine all of them you have an unhealthy hive. When you have an unhealthy hive its susceptible to all these various problems that we have," Fischer explained. 

The shortage is also causing bee keepers like Fischer to take a hit in the wallet and its causing them to pay more for replacement bees. 

"It's about $100 for a three-pound package where you get three pounds of bees and one queen," said Fischer.

That very package used to cost $60.

Our expert says the best way to reverse the trend is plant a bee-friendly garden so bees can pollinate--and cut back on weed pesticides.

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Research Funding Essential to Keep Honey Bees Abuzz

Western Farm Press    By Cary Blake   April 20, 2014
  • More funding is needed to support expanded research for the U.S. honey bee industry.
  • Honey bees pollinate about 140 crops - one out of every three bites of food we consume.
  • From the hive destroying varroa mite to a new honey bee pest threat found in Asia, research is critical to keep honey bees - and our food supply - safe from pests, diseases, and other threats.

What is in this article?:

One of the top ways to create a healthier U.S. honey bee industry - which in turn can lead to successful crop pollination and honey production - is additional funding for expanded apiculture (beekeeping) research.

More dollars are needed to improve the honey bee industry which can benefit agriculture as a whole.

“Beekeeping has never had the needed research dollars or inputs to study its problems as other sectors of agriculture have had,” says entomologist Dick Rogers who has 35 years in the bee business as an entomologist.

Rogers is the bee research manager at the new Bayer Bee Care Center for North America located in Research Triangle Park, N.C. which opened to the public April 15.

“Beekeeping has always worked on a shoestring (budget) basically,” the veteran bug man said. “There are new research dollars coming along which will definitely help things progress.”

Honey bees pollinate one-third of the world’s food supply – in other words, one-out-of-three bites of food the consumer eats. About 140 crops are pollinated by bees.

The largest demand for honey bee pollination is the California almond industry. This spring, 1.6 million honey bee colonies pollinated California’s 840,000 bearing acres of almonds.

Almond pollination is the largest pollination event in the world. Without honey bees, the $4.3 billion California almond industry would almost cease to exist.

Bees and the crop production engine

“Honey bees are the spark that starts the crop production engine,” Rogers said. “If you can’t start your car without a spark you won’t go very far. The same is true of honey bees.”

Rogers and other honey bee specialists discussed the U.S. honey bee business – its successes and challenges - during the Southwest Ag Summit held in Yuma, Ariz. this spring.

Other speakers included beekeepers Thomas “Rick” Smith of Yuma and Bret Adee of Bruce, S.D., plus Christi Heinz of the bee research organization Project Apis m.



Webinar: Varroa Mites May 13, 2014

The USDA Carl Hayden Bee Research Center is Holding a Webinar on Varroa Mites

Dr. Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman will discuss Varroa mite population growth in honey bee colonies and provide the latest info on her research. The webinar will be onTue., May 13th, 9:00 a.m. PST.

To prepare in advance, click here. To connect on the 13th, click here. To connect via phone, 888-844-9904. When prompted, enter the Access Code: 7215210#

East African Honeybees Safe from Invasive Pests...for now

Science Daily     Source: Penn State    4/17/14

Several parasites and pathogens that devastate honeybees in Europe, Asia and the United States are spreading across East Africa, but do not appear to be impacting native honeybee populations at this time, according to an international team of researchers.

The invasive pests include including Nosema microsporidia and Varroa mites.

"Our East African honeybees appear to be resilient to these invasive pests, which suggests to us that the chemicals used to control pests in Europe, Asia and the United States currently are not necessary in East Africa," said Elliud Muli, senior lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences, South Eastern Kenya University, and researcher at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, Kenya.

The team first discovered Varroa mites in Kenya in 2009. This new study also provides baseline data for future analyses of possible threats to African honeybee populations.

"Kenyan beekeepers believe that bee populations have been experiencing declines in recent years, but our results suggest that the common causes for colony losses in the United States and Europe -- parasites, pathogens and pesticides -- do not seem to be affecting Kenyan bees, at least not yet...


PLOS ONE: Evaluation of the Distribution and Impacts of Parasites, Pathogens, and Pesticides on Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) Populations in East Africa

A World Without Honey Bees Would Not Be a World at All      3/27/14

AUSTRALIA: IT’S an initiative which has the support of Nicole Trunfio, Pete Evans, Jodi Gordon, Ruby Rose, Shannan Ponton and Michelle Bridges, and it’s something we should all be concerned about.

BEES. You may not realise it, but they’re crucial for our way of life. And they’re in serious danger of becoming extinct. 

 Our bees are dying at a rapid rate.

Charles Darwin once said that “The life of man would be made extremely difficult if the bee disappeared.”

So it’s safe to say that Darwin, if he was still alive, would be more than a little concerned to know that over fifty per cent of the world’s honey bee population have died.

Why should you care? Because bees are responsible for pollinating 70 per cent of the world’s horticulture and agricultural crops, so without them we simply would not have fresh fruit and vegetables — in fact, we would all starve within five years, because nothing could be pollinated.

“European honey bees are our main pollinator of our commercial crops,” explains bee pathologist Dr Denis Anderson. “If you took the bee out of our agricultural system, we just could not compensate for the pollination that bees do for our crops, particularly fruit and vegetable crops. Stone fruits, cherries, plums, peaches …. they just wouldn’t be pollinated. Watermelon, rockmelon, cucumbers — all those sorts of crops require pollination. We’d have to come up with other systems of pollinations, but we are so dependent on honey bees for this role, we wouldn’t be able to do it quickly enough.”

Dr Anderson found international acclaim in the year 2000, when he discovered the deadly Varroa destructor mite. The mite is single-handedly responsible for killing off over 50 per cent of the world’s bee population.

“The mite is an external parasite. It’s rather large and you can easily see it with your eye — it would be about 5mm in size. It lives on the outside of the bee, and it sucks its blood.,” says Dr Anderson.

“Being a mite it doesn’t have eyes, so it gets itself around by recognising chemicals which float in the air. It knows where it is just from the smell of things. At the moment, the mite gets a chemical signal from the bee that it responds to in some way — it will either ignore it, or it will know instinctively that it can start laying eggs. And so, the mite reproduces,” he explains.

The plight of the honey bees is something Dr Anderson has devoted his life to - and it’s also something more and more Australians are realising the importance of. For example, Western Australia shoe company honeybees are donating $2 for every pair of shoes sold to raise money for further research into the European honey bee and the Varroa mite - this is the initiative that has the support of model Nicole Trunfio, chef Pete Evans, actress Jodi Gordon, presenter Ruby Rose and health gurus Shannan Ponton and Michelle Bridges.

“Jump on board,” says Evans. “We’re trying to raise a million dollars to save the honey bees — and being a chef, where will the world be without the bees? They’re responsible for a third of the food we have on our plates.”

Makes you think differently about the little guys, right?

History of the honey bee

Australia’s honey bees are currently healthy, but according to Dr Anderson, this has more to do with luck than good management. Bees travel in swarms, and it only takes one bee carrying one Varroa mite to land on a boat that docks on Australian shores for a colony to be infected - and history is our deadliest example.

In America prior to 1988 there were five million hived colonies. The mite arrived in 1998, and by 1993 that number had diminished to 2.5 million — and it’s been falling ever since.

Mites have been in Europe since the late 1970s, and the country’s feral bee population is now believed to be extinct. They have also lost about 40 per cent of their hived colonies.

Our neighbours in New Zealand became infected by the Varroa mite in 2000, and it is estimated that 30-35 per cent of hived colonies have been eradicated because of it.

“Most countries get that initial shock when the mite first arrives,” says Dr Anderson. “It has this ability to spread very quickly, and all of a sudden your feral bee population disappears, you notice your hives are not going as well as they should, and you realise it’s the mites.”

At the moment, the mite can be controlled by chemicals, but chemicals only work to a certain extent — and they’re no good if you’re trying to sell organic honey or organic fruit and vegetables.

“The mites gradually develop resistance against whatever chemical formula you come up with, and you get on this chemical treadmill,” says Dr Anderson. “So even though we’re using chemicals, the mites are still winning the race. In addition, there’s just no way we can get these chemicals to the feral bee colonies. So, we want to develop a bee that is totally resistant to the mite.”

Considering what we already know about the Varroa mite, developing a strain of bees that is resistant to it is not as impossible as it seems.

“The mite was originally a parasite of the Asian honey bee, which is closely related to the European honey bee,” explains Dr Anderson. “During the middle of last century humans introduced the European honey bee into Asia, because it is a much better honey hoarder and it’s a better pollinator.

“For some time European honey bees were invisible to the Varroa mite. But then, one female mite got lucky and registered some kind of chemical signal that she liked on a European honey bee.

“The mite then spread from this one bee onto the other bees, and when the colony was shipped, the mite travelled out of Asia with it. And so, we’re trying to figure out what that initial signal was that the mite recognised. Once we can figure that out, there’s a good chance we can adjust the signal to make the mite blind to it. We can then produce a bee which has a modified form of that signal.”

“The big thing that’s missing with bee research around the world is what we call strategic research,” Dr Anderson says. “We have lots of practical and applied research — using chemicals and finding other chemicals when resistance is developed — but what is fundamentally missing is the long-term research into the mite.

“We’re trying to overcome the problem that we’re stuck with. And if we want to eat, if we want to survive, we have to come up with a long-term solution.”


To support this research, visit


Bees Live in a Toxic World   By Melissa Hansen   3/19/14

Planting more flowers would help solve honeybee decline.


Neonicotinoids are under international focus for their impact on honeybees, but not all the blame for declining bee populations can be placed on that pesticide class.

Honeybee decline is real and is a major concern, says Dr. Timothy Lawrence, Washington State University extension educator. Since 2006, European and U.S. beekeepers have reported dramatic declines in honeybee colonies, a phenomenon that’s gained international attention.

The cause of the decline, named colony collapse disorder, has been the subject of numerous studies. Of late, researchers have been looking for a connection between chronic exposure of bees to neonicotinoids in nectar and pollen and plant water picked up by foraging bees and brought back to hives.

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The Weaker Sex: Male Honey Bees More Succeptible Than Females to Widespread Intestinal Parasite

Science Daily    1/18/14

Gender differences in nature are common, including in humans. A research team from Bern, Switzerland has found that male European honey bees, or drones, are much more susceptible than female European honey bees, known as workers, to a fungal intestinal parasite called Nosema ceranae. Originally from Asia, Nosema ceranae has rapidly spread throughout the world in recent years, and may contribute to the high number of colony deaths now observed in many regions of the northern hemisphere. These findings demonstrate the delicate nature of male honey bees, which are important to honey bee colony reproduction, to a well-distributed parasite.

Honey bees are complex social organisms that demonstrate haploid-diploidy. The two female castes, workers and queens, are diploid like humans. They contain two copies of each chromosome. Male honey bees, known as drones, on the other hand are haploid and contain only one chromosome set. The haploid susceptibility hypothesis predicts that haploid males are more prone to disease compared to their diploid female counterparts because dominant genes on one chromosome copy have the op- portunity to mask mutated genes on the other copy in diploid organisms.

A research team from the Vetsuisse Faculty of the University of Bern recently demonstrated in an article in the open-access journal PLOS ONE that male honey bees are significantly more susceptible (they die sooner and have poor body condition) to an exotic fungal intestinal parasite called Nosema ceranae compared to female worker honey bees. The parasite, originally from Asia, has recently spread to possess a near global-distribution during a period of high honey bee colony losses in many global regions. Because of its recent detection in honey bees outside of Asia, researchers are scrambling to understand the parasite.

Male honey bees: lazy, but important

The observation that male drone honey bees die much sooner and have a poorer body condition compared to female worker honey bees when infected with the parasite Nosema ceranae is particularly worrisome, say's doctoral student Gina Tanner: 'Although drones do not perform important colony maintenance functions like cleaning and feeding like the workers, they are responsible for mating with queens so that the next generation of honey bees can be produced within a colony. Without strong, fit drones, the chance of successful matings with queens could be severely compromised.' Recent studies, mainly coming out of the United States, suggest that queen failure is a major cause of colony death. Early death of queens could be the result of queens not obtaining sufficient quantity and quality of sperm from drones during mating.

Honey and pollination

Honey bees, as all insect pollinators, provide crucial ecosystem and economic service which is relevant for our food security. Annually in Europe, more than 24 million honey bee colonies contribute to the production of 130,000 tons of honey and to the pollination of a range of agricultural crops -- from carrots to almonds to oilseed rape -- that is valued at €4 billion.

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by University of Bern.

Accused of Harming Bees, Bayer Researches a Different Culprit

The New York Times   By Danny Hakim   12/11/13

MONHEIM, Germany - Bayer cares about bees. 

Or at least that’s what they tell you at the company’s Bee Care Center on its sprawling campus here between Düsseldorf and Cologne. Outside the cozy two-story building that houses the center is a whimsical yellow sculpture of a bee. Inside, the same image is fashioned into paper clips, or printed on napkins and mugs.

“Bayer is strictly committed to bee health,” said Gillian Mansfield, an official specializing in strategic messaging at the company’s Bayer CropScience division. She was sitting at the center’s semicircular coffee bar, which has a formidable espresso maker and, if you ask, homegrown Bayer honey. On the surrounding walls, bee fun facts are written in English, like “A bee can fly at roughly 16 miles an hour” or, it takes “nectar from some two million flowers in order to produce a pound of honey.” Next year, Bayer will open another Bee Care Center in Raleigh, N.C., and has not ruled out more in other parts of the world.

There is, of course, a slight caveat to all this buzzy good will.

Bayer is one of the major producers of a type of pesticide that the European Union has linked to the large-scale die-offs of honey bee populations in North America and Western Europe. They are known as neonicotinoids, a relatively new nicotine-derived class of pesticide. The pesticide was banned this year for use on many flowering crops in Europe that attract honey bees.

Bayer and two competitors, Syngenta and BASF, have disagreed vociferously with the ban, and are fighting in the European courts to overturn it...


Parasites, Pesticides and Pollination

Bug Squad - Happenings in the Insect World   By Kathy Keatley Garvey   10/15/13

What are the indirect effects of parasites and pesticides on pollination service?

Ecologist Sandra Gillespie, a postdoctoral researcher in the Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will present the results of her research at a departmental seminar from 12:10 to 1 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 16 in 122 Briggs Hall. It will be recorded for later posting on UCTV.

“Whether in natural or...


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Monsanto Announces Clinton Global Initiative Commitment on Honey Bee Health

The following is brought to us by CATCH THE BUZZ (Kim Flottum) Bee Culture, The Magazine of American Beekeeping, published by A.I. Root Company.    10/14/13

Ivestment Launches Coalition to Research the Challenges Facing Honey Bees

Monsanto recently announced its commitment to honey bee health at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting with support from the Keystone Center, The American Honey Producers Association, The American Beekeeping Federation, The World Wildlife Fund, and Project Apis m. (PAm), plus several commodity groups.

A significant decline in the honey bee population is posing a threat to agricultural sustainability and food security, as well as to ecosystem health and biodiversity, thus the coalition will have four priority areas of focus: 1) improving honey bee nutrition; 2) providing research investment in novel technology for varroa and virus control; 3) understanding science-based approaches to studying pesticide impacts on honey bees and increasing awareness of pesticide best management practices among growers and beekeepers; and 4) enabling economic empowerment of beekeepers.

Monsanto has been involved with bee research since 2011 when it acquired Beeologics, an organization focused on researching and testing biological products to provide targeted control of pests and diseases in order to provide safe, effective ways to protect the honey bee. Monsanto also has collaborated with PAm to assist in forage projects in order to provide more nutritious food for bees, and is doing extensive research on the varroa mite, which may be one factor in the decline of honey bee health. 

By Jerry Hayes

"My goal in life and work is continuous improvement. And, it has happened here since coming to Monsanto with lots of help from like-minded people who have really engaged and seen the vision of what Monsanto can offer to honey bee health.

I’m a firm believer that everything should build on the previous effort. Back in June, we were able to sponsor a first-of-its-kind Honey Bee Health Summit, hosted by Project Apis m. (PAm) and Monsanto’s Honey Bee Advisory Council. The leaders in the world of honey bee health were here and shared how we could help them reenergize this industry. The presentations are available at the site. After most meetings, workshops and conferences, everybody leaves with optimism and excitement and then nothing happens. Well, after this meeting, building to the next goal was to get honey bees positioned in front of global leaders that create and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. One of the only places where you can do that and stand in front of the world is at the Clinton Global Initiative. We did it."


Seminar: All About Honey Bee Health and Disease Resistance

Bug Squad - Happenings in the Insect World   By Kathy Keatley Garvey

It's a topic we've all been waiting for: "Honey Bee Health and Disease Resistance."

Jay Evans, a research entomologist with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) Beltsville Bee Research Laboratory for the past 14 years, will discuss "Bee Disease Resistance and Colony Health" on Wednesday, Oct. 2  to  open the fall seminar series hosted by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

His lecture, open to all interested persons, is from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in Room 122 of Briggs Hall, located on Kleiber Hall Drive, UC Davis campus.

"Honey bees are vulnerable to poor nutrition, parasites and pathogens, and exposure to chemicals," Evans said. "These threats can occur in batches and little is known about the impacts of multiple challenges to honey bee health, and about the abilities of bees to fend off these threats. I will present recent work aimed at determining the impacts of multiple parasites on bee health. I will also discuss the impacts Varroa mites, chemicals, and bacterial symbionts on bee health and colony losses."

As a research entomologist, Evans has focused his projects on a range of bee pests including bacteria, fungi, viruses andmites, and beetles. He is especially interested in the immune defenses of bees toward these threats. 

Evans was an early proponent of the Honey Bee Genome Project and helped recruit and organize scientists interested in applied genomics for bees.  He has improved and applied genetic screens for possible causes of colony collapse disorder and is now heading a consortium to sequence the genome of the Varroa mite in order to develop novel control methods for this key pest.

Evans holds a bachelor's degree in biology from Princeton and a doctorate in biology from the University of Utah.

The fall seminars, coordinated by faculty members Joanna Chiu and Brian Johnson, will be held every Wednesday noon through Dec. 11 in 122 Briggs Hall, except for Nov. 27, Thanksgiving Week, when no seminar will be held.

Under the coordination of professor James R. Carey, all seminars are to be videotaped and posted at a later date on UCTV.

Anyone with a computer can view the seminars, and yes, they're free.

Bug Squad - Happenings in the Insect World   By Kathy Keatley Garvey

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