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Safe and efficient control of Varroa destructor bee parasite

Image credit: David Thomas Peck and Thomas Dyer Seeley

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Apr 12, 2021
Can we come up with a way to control the Varroa destructor bee parasite without negatively affecting the bees or quality of the honey?

Problem definition:

  1. The honey bee skin parasite Varroa destructor mite is considered a major threat to beekeeping and honeybees in general. The damage caused by Varroosis is thought to be the key cause for the periodical colony losses in Europe and the USA. Without regular Varroa treatments, beekeeping would not be possible in these areas.
  2. Various Varroa treatments leave a chemical trace in the honey itself, thereby making beekeepers weigh between honey quality or bee colony survival.
  3. Currently, beekeepers have to time the treatments so as to minimize the quanity of the chemicals getting into the honey.
Can we come up with an effective method to control Varroa without affecting the honey in any way?

[1]Rosenkranz P, Aumeier P, Ziegelmann B. Biology and control of Varroa destructor. J Invertebr Pathol. 2010 Jan;103 Suppl 1:S96-119. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jip.2009.07.016

[2]Traynor KS, Mondet F, de Miranda JR, Techer M, Kowallik V, Oddie MAY, Chantawannakul P, McAfee A. Varroa destructor: A Complex Parasite, Crippling Honey Bees Worldwide. Trends Parasitol. 2020 Jul;36(7):592-606. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pt.2020.04.004

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Creative contributions

Predatorial Hypoaspis mites for biological pest control

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Manel Lladó Santaeularia
Manel Lladó Santaeularia Apr 14, 2021
Hypoaspis mites are predatorial mites that eat fungus and other small soil insects, like other mites. They are used by farmers in order to keep in check other insects like parasitic mites. In this video, they are used to rid an ant colony from blood-sucking parasytic mites similar to the ones you describe. Introducing this kind of mites into the environment of the bees could be an effective and completely natural way to treat this problem. There are several species like Stratiolaelaps scimitus with similar characteristics, so maybe there could be another one who is more adapted for this particular purpose. This kind of natural remedy may not be the most efficient but is surely one of the cleanest. Maybe using this could allow using lower concentrations of anti-parasitic treatments, thus reducing the amout of honey contamination.

An interesting thing to consider would be whether these mites can coexist with bees and whether they are efficient in predating the parasytic mites, but simple experimentation could figure that out and it would definitely be worth a try.

Invest in Africa!

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Spook Louw
Spook Louw Apr 14, 2021
I noticed that Africa has the smallest presence of these mites in the world. Except for simply investing in beekeeping in Africa (in countries that desperately need the money) we could also check to see if the genetics of these African bees are not resistant to the infestations. If so they could be introduced to other countries or they can be used to find a way to prevent these mites from infesting colonies.

I also read that in Turkey, they have been experimenting with Walnut-Leaf smoke to control the mites to some success.

[1]https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/109539#todistribution

[2]https://projects.sare.org/sare_project/fne03-485/

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Manel Lladó Santaeularia
Manel Lladó Santaeulariaa month ago
Related to your point, Spook Louw , I found this article (1) in which they talk about honey production in Africa and its potential to become a profitable business with important conservation effects. In Kenya and other Sub-Saharan countries, the honey demand is pretty high and the price is too, while production is very low. Honey production in these countries could thus become very profitable.

Additionally, it is pointed out that beekeeping and honey production have important positive effects in the conservation and restoration of the natural environment. Since bees need quality forage for optimal honey production, trees are planted to improve their environment. This generates a positive loop, since the polynization activity of the bees helps plants reproduce and expand over the territory, leading to a significantly healthier environment.

An extra benefit they mention, which I would have never thought about but seems really interesting, is the fact that some communities are placing beehives in the outskirts of their territories to create a kind of beehive wall that isolates their territory from wild animals like elephants and predators, which will be kept out by the bees. This reduces animal-human interaction and thus potential dangerous encounters.

Thus, it seems the honey production business has a great potential to make a significant difference in some African countries. However it us important to point out that honey production in those countries should be limited to indigenous honey bee species in order to avoid ecosystem imbalances that could damage other species. It would be important to determine whether the quality and quantity of the obtained honey would be comparable to that produced by more typically used bee species. Additionally, the cost of producing honey in these countries and transport it to sell it in places like Europe should also be taken into consideration.

References
1) https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190507-honey-bees-africas-untapped-resource

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