Infestation of Tiny Mite Damages Honeybee Population
A tiny mite is threatening New York State’s honeybee population by attacking the insect’s colonies and wreaking havoc on the agriculture industry.
The parasite known as varroa mite unleashes its destructive onslaught by feeding on bee fat stores, and transmitting viruses across the colony. This in turn weakens the honeybee colonies. In addition, the notorious parasite brings viruses into the colony in particular the wing virus, causing misshapen wing growth in infected bees. This in turn is bad news for the state’s agricultural production.
With the rise of a sick population in the insect’s colonies, the study projected an agricultural loss of $500 million annually.
Varroa Mite Infesting Honeybee Colonies in NYS
In an effort to know the extent of infestation of the varroa mite, Cornell University scientists teamed up with the state’s beekeepers, now called the New York Beekeeper Tech Team, and tested samples from 70 apiaries.
The results alarmed the beekeeper team:
The team found that out of 309 honeybee colonies that were tested, 216 were found to be infested with varroa mites. This makes up 90 percent of the total number of colonies being tested. In addition, the team discovered that 96 percent of the colonies has been infected with deformed wing virus. These findings have significant impact on the honeybee colonies.
Emma Mullen, honeybee extension associate and senior lead of the beekeeper team, explained, “When colonies have high levels of deformed wing virus, the affected bees are unable to fly and die at a young age.”
Mullen added, “It can be quite detrimental – varroa mites and their associated viruses are a leading cause of death for honeybee colonies.”
Even worse, the team found that 78 percent of operations had varroa mite levels that exceeded the economic threshold of 3 mites per 100 bees. This is an indicator that the colony will die within one to two years or experience reduced honey production.
Committed Honeybee Scientists and Beekeepers
Mullen and Scott McArt, assistant professor in the Department of Entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, are coordinating and working with beekeepers throughout the state to save honeybee colonies from the infestation of the tiny mite.
The team considered the collaboration crucial to keep the honeybee colonies healthy. The collaboration included extending assistance to the state’s beekeepers through a survey of parasites, pathogens and pesticides. Integrated pest management is also part of the advocacy to prevent colony losses.
McArt said, “We are committed to helping beekeepers maintain their business and help our farmers in the process.”