Wild Bees Attacked by Mites, Women Who Fish and the National Tour of Solar Homes

This short series of reports includes news on wild bees attacked by mites, the women who fish newspaper and the National Tour of Solar Homes.

| October/November 1997

News briefs on wild bees attacked by mites and the threat of a decreased bee population, news on women who fish newsletter and information on the National Tour of Solar Homes. 

To Bee or Not to Bee

Imagine a world without bees. Now imagine that same world without flowers, without honey, without strawberry plants. What most of us don't realize and what beekeepers have been saying all along is that the fate of this tiny buzzing insect affects us in many inexplicable ways. Next time a bee advances annoyingly close to you, don't swat at it. The sad truth is: wild bees are in trouble.

The decrease in bee populations is in no way sudden. What has been an ongoing problem is the result of wild bees attacked by mites, there being two predominant types of mites: varroa mites (V. Jacobsoni) and tracheal mites (A. Woodi). While beekeepers have had some measured success in mite controls, it is the wild honeybees that are suffering the greatest loss.

The smallest of the two mites is the tracheal mite. It lives in the breathing tubes of adult honeybees and sucks their blood, causing adult bees to become disoriented and weak. The best known control for tracheal mites is a menthol treatment in the spring when the weather is warm and in late summer or fall of the year immediately following honey extraction. For a homemade treatment, enclose fifty grams (1.8 oz.) of crystalline menthol in a 7 inch by 7 inch plastic screen bag or equally porous material and place inside the colony for 20-25 days. If daytime temperature does not exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit, menthol should be placed on the top bars of the colony; during hot weather, it is better to place it on the bottom board. There should be no honey supers on the hive during the treatment, and the menthol should be taken out of a colony at least a month before any anticipated flow.

The varroa mite, originating in Asia, has spread to almost all parts of the world and is especially destructive to honeybee colonies. The adult female mites attach to the bee between the abdominal segments or body regions, and so are difficult to detect. The varroa mite attacks bees at their pupae, larvae, and adult stages, causing deformities like shortened abdomens, misshapen wings, and deformed legs, and eventually leading to death. Beekeepers are currently fighting the varroa mite with Apistan chemical strips placed in the hive at set times of the year.

What the toll of the mites means to consumers is the reduction of many valuable crops and a dramatic rise in honey prices. Honeybees pollinate some 90 different crops in the U.S. including melons, squash, broccoli, almonds, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries. An estimated one third of the world food supply depends on insect pollination, either directly or indirectly. As the bee population decreases, many fruits or vegetables might be of such poor quality or low quantity that they will disappear from supermarkets.

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