Think a Parasite that Kills Bees Doesn’t Affect you? Think Again.

Varroa Mites on a Bee Larvae

Varroa Mites on a Bee Larvae

Bees are a fantastic source of delicious golden honey. That wonderful sweet syrup that brightens up your tea and livens up your oatmeal. And that’s about all they’re good for…right?

Well no. Bees actually provide us with an extremely important service that has a massive impact on all Australians. They may just be the insect that has the most significant effect on our lives.

So what is so special about bees? In short, they pollinate plants.

Doesn’t sound that important? Many Australian fruit, nut and oil industries depend on bee pollination for most of their production.

Need more info? The pollination provided by bees is estimated to account for $1.7 billion worth of crop yield in Australia per year.

Still not convinced? Let’s put it this way. Approximately one in every three mouthfuls of food consumed in this country comes from the aid of pollination by bees.

A Bee Helping to Pollinate a Flower

A Bee Helping to Pollinate a Flower

Yet this vital insect that plays such an important role in agriculture is under serious threat. Since its discovery in the 1950s in Asia, a parasite known as the Varroa Destructor has been devastating beehives as it has spread to nearly every continent. The parasite attaches itself to bees, impairing their cognitive abilities, while making them more susceptible to diseases and ultimately shortening their lifespan.

Although the Varroa has not yet arrived on Australian shores, it seems only a matter of time (the parasite has appeared in Papua New Guinea and New Zealand in the last 10 years). A solution to the Varroa problem would not only provide a safeguard to Australia’s many industries that rely on the pollination provided by bees, but also to the other countries that are already affected by this troublesome parasite.

There have been many attempts to deal with the Varroa Destructor through the use of chemicals, beehive devices and even genetic engineering. But none have been particularly effective in the long-term battle against it. However, new research done by a team of Canadian and Israeli scientists may provide an effective method of destroying the Destructor!

In the study, the parasites were exposed to various chemical compounds and their behaviours monitored. Some of these chemicals showed promising results as they caused the Varroa to be much less likely to attach themselves to bees. One compound in particular caused the parasite to totally reverse its behaviour from preferring nurse bees (those that look after the larvae) to forager bees (those that go out and search for pollen). This is quite significant as forager bees are much more able to effectively deal with the Varroa.

This research provides an exciting new possibility of solving the worldwide threat of the Varroa Destructor. It is important that new studies like these be taken notice of and funded in order to protect our bees and their vital role in providing many of the world’s food products.

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