Known for their role in cross pollination and production of honey, bees are at war with a virus that is decimating their colonies.
The parasitic mite Varroa destructor is the root to this nightmare. The mite is the carrier of the bee virus, Varroosis. It can be seen with the naked eye, and acts as an external parasite, while reproducing inside the bee.
Like other viruses, Varroosis also lives inside a living host and starts reproducing using cellular materials of the host.
During this reproduction process, the virus replicates numerous copies of itself, leading to destruction of the host cells. These new cells of the virus then invade a new cell or host organism.
Varroosis can have serious implications for bees, including wing deformation and a decrease in the immunity and life expectancy in bee colonies.
While the disease can be spread across an individual colony through food and reproduction, scientific research concluded that man’s trade and transportation of bees also contributes to the spreading of the disease.
The bee mites originated from the Asian bee population, spreading throughout Europe before being introduced in the U.S. in the mid-1980s.
The bee’s foraging distance is small compared to the distance between their originating and infected areas. Therefore, human commercialization of bees is a driving force in the perpetuation and spread of this virus.
While Varroosis is an impediment to bee colonies and their survival, it also poses a danger to agriculture.
Bees are amongst the greatest agents of plant pollination and are the most effective in ensuring healthy plant reproduction.
The reduction in bee colonies creates a domino effect that will affect agricultural turnover, agricultural diversity and mankind in the long run.
Already, U.S. beekeepers have lost a third of their bee colonies, and the rate of decline is only accelerating in recent years.
No vaccine has been found, however, advancements in technology have found ways to reverse the signs of this virus.
While this is a positive step forward, more needs to be done.
Strengthening bee transportation regulations, screenings and monitoring bee colonies for mite infections have all shown to be very effective in curbing the spread of this virus.
Existing checks on honeybee transport have not been enough. Beekeepers have certain tools to keep bee populations in check, but not all owners possess or are aware of such tools.
Growing the domestic bee population is currently an uphill battle, unless proper monitoring and regulations are put in place.
When bees are healthy, other wild pollinators are healthy as well, key to ensuring biodiversity, crop stability and a secure food system.