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UNC Scientists Develop Spray to Help Honey Bees Fight Against Varroa Mites

May 08, 2020

Exciting new study may have produced a spray that can help honey bees fight off the deadly varroa mite.

Honey Bees

It has been a while since we talked about the Varroa mite, but it is still out there and it is still one of the biggest threats against honey bees today. Over the years, the Varroa mite has decimated hives around the globe and it continues to do so. There are a variety of contributing factors, such as manmade hives and weather that all come into play, but as of yet, we have not seen an effective treatment that can be used to rid hives of this danger… until now.

New Hope for Honey Bees

For more than a decade, the researchers at the University of North Carolina Greensboro have been trying to address this problem. Now, they may finally have something. The problem of the Varroa mite is twofold. First, it is a dangerous parasite that kills honey bees. Second, it also spreads a virus within the hives that possibly do more damage than the mite itself.

In North Carolina, a typical loss for a beekeeper is about 30 percent. Over the last six decades, hive strength throughout the country has decreased by about 50 percent, with there being only 2.7 million colonies in 2015 compared to 5.9 million in 1947. The biggest contributing factor for that decline is believed to be the Varroa mite.

To address this problem, the researchers developed a spray made from a mixture of hydrocarbon bee pheromones. These specific pheromones increase the bee's awareness of sick bees within the hive. When these sick bees are found in the hive, they are removed. Dr. Olav Rueppell stated, ”The spray helps breed bees particularly good at picking up these chemical signals.” Dr. Kaira Wagoner added, “It’s a way to help the bees help themselves.” Wagoner earned her master's degree while studying mosquitos but realized she would rather work with an insect she can help rather than one she is “trying to kill.”

Overall, as a beekeeping community, pesticides are generally the way pests like the Varroa mite are being treated, which is exactly why this research is so important. If their spray is found to be effective and can be introduced to fight off the Varroa mite, there will be one less thing for which insecticides are needed.

The researchers likened their spray to teaching a hound dog. Dr. Wagoner stated, “In the same way we breed a hound dog for smelling, we can breed bees better at sniffing out the mites and removing them from the hive.” For the sake of the honey bee, we hope their new spray works!

Source: Horti Daily

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