This Little-Known Parasite Is Killing America’s Honeybees

HOMESTEAD, FL - APRIL 10: John Gentzel collects honey produced by the bees at the J & P Apiary and Gentzel's Bees, Honey and Pollination Company on April 10, 2013 in Homestead, Florida. Honey bee owners along with scientists continue to try to figure out what is causing bees to succumb to the colony collapse disorder which has devastated apiaries around the country. Reports indicate that the disorder which kills off thousands of bees at a time has resulted in the loss of some 30 percent of honey bee populations among beekeepers since 2007.
National Journal
Clare Foran
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Clare Foran
April 22, 2014, 10:15 a.m.

Hon­ey­bees are dis­ap­pear­ing at an alarm­ing rate — and a bloodthirsty para­site is at least par­tially to blame.

Var­roa de­struct­or — oth­er­wise known as the vam­pire mite — feeds on bees by drink­ing their blood. Its bite spreads in­fec­tion and leaves un­lucky pol­lin­at­ors the worse for wear. After an en­counter with the de­struct­or, hon­ey­bees are more likely to suc­cumb to ill­ness and dis­ease, and even­tu­ally death.

“[It’s] a mod­ern hon­ey­bee plague,” Jeff Pet­tis, a re­search­er at the Ag­ri­cul­ture De­part­ment’s Bee Re­search Labor­at­ory said Tues­day at a hear­ing con­vened by the House Sub­com­mit­tee on Hor­ti­cul­ture, Re­search, Bi­o­tech­no­logy, and For­eign Ag­ri­cul­ture.

The mite made its way to the U.S. in the late 1980s and has been a hon­ey­bee scourge ever since. It’s nat­ive to Asia, where hon­ey­bees have evolved to re­pel the mite with coun­ter­at­tacks of their own, but Amer­ic­an hon­ey­bees have so far been un­able to ad­apt.

As a res­ult, bees are dy­ing off in droves. Amer­ic­an bee­keep­ers wave good­bye to roughly one-third of the bee pop­u­la­tions they keep watch over each winter. Sea­son­al hon­ey­bee deaths are com­mon­place, but the rate at which they’ve ris­en is steep. A few dec­ades ago, bee­keep­ers saw losses of 10 to 15 per­cent of the total hon­ey­bee pop­u­la­tion each sea­son. Between roughly 1990 and the present day, deaths have doubled. Sci­ent­ists have been un­able to pin­point the ex­act cause of the de­cline, but they be­lieve the bite of the vam­pire mite is a lead­ing cause.

Sci­ent­ists say ad­di­tion­al re­search is needed to de­term­ine a last­ing solu­tion to the vam­pire mite men­ace — and Pres­id­ent Obama thinks he can help. The pres­id­ent’s budget for fisc­al 2015 would in­vest more than $71 mil­lion in USDA-led re­search ef­forts to bet­ter un­der­stand the pol­lin­at­or de­cline. But it’s un­clear wheth­er Con­gress will green­light the fund. Law­makers have already taken steps, however, to boost the flow of dol­lars in­to re­search. The latest it­er­a­tion of the farm bill — signed in­to law in Feb­ru­ary — set aside money to in­vest­ig­ate hon­ey­bee health and ways to pro­tect it.

Bug-zap­ping chem­ic­als are the most ef­fect­ive way to erad­ic­ate the mite. But the para­site isn’t eas­ily kept at bay. Pet­tis told mem­bers of the sub­com­mit­tee that the pests have ad­ap­ted to the chem­ic­al stock and are now on their way to be­com­ing en­tirely res­ist­ant.

All this is cause for con­cern. The coun­try’s food sup­ply de­pends on the health of hon­ey­bees. Farm­ers rely on in­sect pol­lin­a­tion for suc­cess­ful har­vests, with foods like al­monds, mac­ad­amia nuts, cher­ries, blue­ber­ries, and plums all lean­ing heav­ily on hon­ey­bees for their sur­viv­al. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the Con­gres­sion­al Re­search Ser­vice, U.S. in­sect pol­lin­a­tion adds $16 bil­lion in ag­ri­cul­tur­al value each year. And hon­ey­bees are re­spons­ible for the li­on’s share of this total — mak­ing up three-fourths of crop pro­duc­tion.

Hope­fully sci­ent­ists act soon. It’s un­likely that hon­ey­bees will dis­ap­pear al­to­geth­er, but sus­tained pop­u­la­tion loss could hit Amer­ic­ans where it hurts. “Ul­ti­mately if no long-term solu­tions are de­veloped to slow bee de­cline, con­sumers will pay more for the food they buy,” Pet­tis said.

What We're Following See More »
AFRAID HE’S TAKING SUPPORT FROM CLINTON
Democrats Taking Aim at Gary Johnson
4 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

"Democrats panicked by third-party candidates drawing support away from Hillary Clinton are ramping up their attacks against Gary Johnson and warning that a vote for a third party is a vote for Donald Trump. Liberal groups are passing around embarrassing videos of Johnson and running ads against him warning about his positions on issues like climate change that are important to young voters and independents."

Source:
RUSSIA DENIES
Dutch Investigators: MH17 Was Downed by Russian Launcher
7 minutes ago
THE LATEST

Russo-Western relations are getting thornier all the time. "Dutch-led criminal investigators said Wednesday they have solid evidence that a Malaysian jet was shot down by a Buk missile moved into eastern Ukraine from Russia. Wilbert Paulissen, head of the Central Crime Investigation department of the Dutch National Police, said communications intercepts showed that pro-Moscow rebels had called for deployment of the mobile surface-to-air weapon, and reported its arrival in rebel-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine." Russia, of course, is denying culpability.

Source:
FIRST DEMOCRAT ENDORSEMENT EVER
Arizona Republic Endorses Clinton
11 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

In its roughly 125-year history, the Arizona Republic has never endorsed a Democratic candidate for president. Until now. "The 2016 Republican candidate is not conservative and he is not qualified," the editors write, as they throw their support to Hillary Clinton.

Source:
TO BE INCLUDED IN SEPARATE BILL
Deal on Flint Aid Likely to Avert Shutdown
15 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have reached a deal which is likely to avert a government shutdown. The biggest impediment had been the GOP's refusal to include funding for Flint water system reconstruction in the continuing resolution, and this solution provides an alternative measure likely to appease both sides. The funding for Flint will be included in the Water Resources and Development Act as an amendment to the version passed by the House of Representatives, one which will be passed in the senate. It now appears likely that Congress will in fact be able to keep the government open.

Source:
GOP REFUSED VOTE ON FCC COMMISIONER
Reid Blocks Tech Bill Over “Broken Promise”
16 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Monday night's debate may have inspired some in Congress, as Senate Minority Leader has decided to take a stand of his own. Reid is declining to allow a vote on a "bipartisan bill that would bolster U.S. spectrum availability and the deployment of wireless broadband." Why? Because of a "broken promise" made a year ago by Republicans, who have refused to vote on confirmation for a Democratic commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission to a second term. Harry Reid then took it a step further, invoking another confirmation vote still outstanding, that of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

Source:
×