British beekeeper breeds bee that can protect itself from deadly mite that is wiping out colonies
A British beekeeper is breeding a strain of bee which can protect itself from a deadly parasitic mite that is wiping out colonies across the world.
Ron Hoskins, 79, lost tens of thousands of bees since the parasitic varroa mite entered Britain in 1992.
The mite poses a serious threat because the billions of bees it kills are needed to pollinate crops and plants which remove carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.
Now Mr Hoskins, who has carried out research on his colonies for 18 years, has isolated and is breeding a strain of bees which groom each other to remove the mites.
He is now taking sperm from these bees and artificially inseminating queens from other hives to allow the new breed to spread through Britain.
BEES UNDER THREAT
- Beekeepers worldwide have reported year on year losses of between 15 and 30 per cent since 2006 due to the varroa mite and other factors including colony collapse disorder (CCD) and the use of pesticides.
- Honeybee pollination is valued at £200m in the UK alone.
- The Government’s National Bee Unit denies the existence of CCD in Britain, despite honeybee losses of 20 per cent during the winter of 2008-09.
- It attributes the demise to the varroa mite and rainy summers that stop bees foraging for food.
- Varroa destructor is an external parasitic mite that attacks honey bees Apis cerana and Apis mellifera causing a disease called varroatosis.
- Varroa destructor can only replicate in a honey bee colony where it attaches at the body of the bee and weakens it by sucking hemolymph.
The British Beekeepers’ Association, which represents 18,000 beekeepers, yesterday described his work as ‘exciting’.
Former heating engineer Mr Hoskins, from Swindon, Wiltshire, described the situation as ‘serious’ and warned that ‘if the bees die, we die’.
He said: ‘What I want to do is redevelop the British bee so that it can protect itself against these varroa mites. If all the bees in the world die out then we die out – the situation is really that serious.
‘Humans are reliant on completely reliant on bees for pollinating crops and plants which produce oxygen.
‘We are hoping that drones from my ‘grooming’ bees will mate with wandering female virgin queens and spread the footprint across Britain.
‘This is not a short term solution and it will take a lot of work but it could be our only hope of saving the bee.’
The varroa mite entered Britain in 1992 and spread across the country – killing millions of bees.
A survey released in May 2010 by the British Beekeepers’ Association revealed that beekeepers lost 17 per cent of their colonies in the last year.
The mite lays eggs on bee larvae, which suck their blood and stunt the growth of their wings so they are unable to fly. The mites also attach to the necks of adult bees and sap their strength.
Ron used Pyrethroid to kill the mites but stopped using chemicals in 1999 after his bees began dying from the side effects.
He then noticed that one of his 80 hives had suffered far less mite deaths than the others.
Using a microscope he found tiny marks on the bees where the mites had been and realised they had begun to ‘groom’ one another and remove the parasite.
Ron artificially inseminated semen from his ‘grooming’ drones and the new ‘Swindon Honeybee’ breed is now present in all of his colonies.
Martin Smith, president of the British Beekeepers’ Association, said: ‘The varroa mite is probably the single most important factor that has caused the reduction in bee numbers worldwide.
‘It has now become resistant to chemicals we have used in the past so we are being forced to look into other methods.
‘Ron is a very experienced beekeeper and we are keen to do more research into the hygienic grooming behaviour of bees. This could be the solution to the problem and it is exciting to hear about his progress.’
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