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Honeybees that groom better may repel deadly mites better.

Posted by Beekeeper Mike on

Honeybees that groom better may repel deadly mites better, says researcher

Breeding more bees that groom, a better solution than relying on chemicals to kill mites

CBC News Posted: May 26, 2017 2:16 PM ET Last Updated: May 26, 2017 2:16 PM ET

Researchers says that honeybees that groom may be more resistant to varroa mites, and that might be a better long-term solution for bee health than chemicals to control the mites.

Researchers says that honeybees that groom may be more resistant to varroa mites, and that might be a better long-term solution for bee health than chemicals to control the mites. (Getty Images)

 

 

About 85 per cent of honeybee colonies have a problem with tiny insect vampires called mites, which can be deadly, but new research shows that there may be a solution: breeding bees that are naturally better groomers. 

Professor Ernesto Guzman at the University of Guelph joined researchers from Purdue University in Indiana on a study showing some honeybees may be better at fending off varroa mites simply by being good groomers. And apparently, it's all in their genes.

Their research was published in the May edition of the journal Behaviour Genetics.

"The varroa mites feed on the blood of honey bees and they reproduce on their larvae and pupae. And they feed on the bee blood in both larvae and adult bees. They pierce the soft tissues of the bee and suck their blood," Guzman told CBC News.

"In addition to that, they transmit viruses to the bees, and these viruses end up killing the bees. There are two types of damage here. One, the bee is debilitated because she looses blood and two, the bee's infected with deadly viruses. So it's a very damaging creature to the bee," he explained.

Bee Plan

Two new reports say neonicotinoids can be harmful to honeybees when used on certain crops. (Andy Duback/The Associated Press)

But varroa mites are extremely common, and flourish around the world. Guzman says that at least 85 per cent of bee colonies in any given country are expected to have the mites, no matter if the bees are domestic or feral. 

"So the idea of eradicating, that is completely eliminating, the mite population, it's nearly impossible. It's like the idea of eradicating or eliminating ticks, they exist because there are many hosts and it is difficult to eradicate them all," he said.

Many beekeepers may use miticides, or chemcials, designed to kill the mites. However, the mite populations eventually develop resistance to the miticides, said Guzman, and there are also questions about whether those chemicals can contaminate honey or beeswax. 

One alternative solution is breeding bees that are resistant to the mite – and to do that, you need to figure out which mechanisms provide resistance to the bees, said Guzman.

The grooming behaviour looks promising at reducing the number and impact of mites in a hive, he said. 

The researchers will conduct more studies with the Ontario Bee Breeders association, according to Guzman.


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