For almost two years, the honeybees that support almost all human agriculture have fought a plague right out of a sci-fi movie. Varroa mites, a deadly parasite, have hid in the labyrinthine combs of beehives, feeding off the juices of still-living insects, and causing the the problem we know as Colony Collapse Disorder.
To help our bee allies fend off the alien invaders, the Agriculture Research Service division of the Department of Agriculture has created a new breed of super-vigilant bees that will take the fight to the mites.
Regular honeybees conduct routine sweeps of their hives for the varroa mite, throwing any mites or infected bees they find out of the hive on contact. But these cursory checks often miss the parasites. The mites hide in the capped eggs seen in the picture above, out of sight of patrols and with access to the defenseless larvae.
To combat the mite problem, the Agricultural Research Service took that natural hive cleaning instinct and bred it into overdrive. The newly bred bees show a increased aggression in their mite hunts, team up with each other to bite through the egg caps, and rooted out and eradicated the mites where ever they hid.
In a test of 40 hives, hives populated by the extra-vigilant bees showed a significantly lower rate of collapse than the regular hives. Even more interesting, hybrid hives containing bees breed to have a less active form of hunting than the fully modified bees also showed less mite-infection than the regular hives.
With this new bee breed on the loose, and the Department of Agriculture's instructions for easy ways for bee keepers to breed their own mite-hunting bees, the mites that cause Colony Collapse have gone from hunter to hunted.
[via Science Daily]
Thank God they have made a breakthrough with this huge issue. We are dangerously close to traditional agricultural collapse.
This is great news. However, let's keep in mind that pesticide use and, in the case of native bees, habitat destruction also are serious issues that we can address both individually and collectively.
Thanks for this article, which helps raise awareness.
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CCD has predominately been affecting mobile hives. Stationary hives had have more success resisting the effects. A mass increase in stable apiaries would likely fix the problem, though most industrial farmers would prefer not to have to return to the old days of beekeeping. I, however, would welcome a reduction in honey costs.
Both those bred to hunt mites more and less BOTH saw a decrease in CCD. Is it not possible that resistance to CCD was being bred in with the behaviors?
So much for hoping that the collapse of agriculture would help clean up the water-ways, reduce deforestation for agriculture, and engender more food co-ops based on organic methods...
"Is it not possible that resistance to CCD was being bred in with the behaviors?"
I would like to know this too. Are the less-vigilant bees' possible overexposure to the parasite inducing some other kind of parasite resistance? If so, this might be more effective than breeding more-vigilant bees, or crossing the two hybrids might even further increase parasite resistance.
How do you induce resistance to being masticated and dissolved by digestive juices?
I am a small beekeeper. I do not use chemicals but haven't seen any mites for two years yet still lose 30% of hives each of the last two years. Ultra-hygienic bees have been around for several years - one strain bred from Louisiana bees was released by LSU a couple of years ago. Along the Gulf Coast the African Small hive beetle is a major problem. Bees can't bite or sting through the shell and the larva spoil the honey and interfere with the brood. A strong hive can herd all of the beetles into a corner, but when a weak hive loses control it goes downhill fast. I noticed that while there are dead bees outside of the hive, the major part of the hive simple absconds - I never find a queen in the final stages of collapse.
Regarding the breeding of resistance, you're misreading the article a bit...
Think of it as this...
extra-vigilant (the less than hyper vigilant they mention)
normal-vigilant (still less than the extra vigilant)
So, yes, both hyper and extra vigilant had less infection than normal bees, though I get the impression that hyper vigilant bees still had even less trouble than the extra vigilant.