According to an article in Science Daily, scientists have developed a weapon to fight Colony Collapse. The really neat part of this is that the weapon is bees. That’s right. The mite-fighting bees have been specially bred to search out Varroa mites and remove them from the nest.
Varroa mites, aka “vampire mites” are thought to be a significant contributing factor in Colony Collapse, which threatens bee populations around the world – and thus the human food supply also. The tiny mite establishes itself in the cells that nourish bee pupa, then reproduces inside the sealed cell, so it’s hard for the bees to find it and remove it.
The little blood-suckers then feed on the bees’ lymph fluid and blood and, once established, are very hard to get rid of. The sealed chambers, which are designed to protect the baby bees, also protect the baby mites until they’re large enough to do a lot of damage. One-fifth of Britain’s bee population was wiped out by this little invader last year. Around the world, bees died by the millions and science seemed unable to do anything about it.
Now, though, with the discovery that bees have a gene for hygiene which is more strongly expressed in some bees than others – a clean gene, if you will – they can be bred to be more aggressive about mite-removal. The new breed of bee actually chews through the wax seal and removes the mite-infested pupa, thus killing the baby mites before they can reproduce. And when Mama Mite makes more mini-mites, the cleaner bees come back and wipe them out also.
This can cut down on the mites enough to let the colony survive. While the mites aren’t the only factor in Colony Collapse – pesticides, fungicides and other pathogens may be be factors also – reducing their damage should go a long way toward helping bee populations survive while researchers work to find an answer to the problem.