We probably all know about the wide-spread epidemic slowly killing off the world’s bee populations. If you haven’t seen the issue in the news, you probably know of it from the first David Tennant Doctor Who episode. Regardless of where you know of it, scientists might have finally figured out its source. According to a nation-wide team, the spread of the bee killing virus originated in Europe.
The Deformed Wing Virus and Varroa mite
First of all, to get over the elephant in the room – no, the virus wasn’t man-made despite what other article titles claim. The virus is natural, carried by a species of bees in the form of a species of mite that infects other bees. Only the spread of the virus was caused by man mishandling the infected bees.
A team of researchers from the Universities of Berkeley, California, and Exeter discovered the carriers of the disease, as well as the cause of the spread. Generally caused by careless transportation and commercialization of the bees, the virus would have otherwise been confined to a few contries surrounding its country of origin.
Apis mellifera – the European honeybees – are the main carriers. Well, to be fair, it’s not actually the bees themselves, but a species of mite that eats the bees’ larvae and then catches rides on the insects. These mites, the Varroa mites, don’t just eat the larvae, but they also infect the adult bees with the Deformed Wing Virus.
This is a sort of one-two punch approach, as the mites eat the larvae, causing the colony to lose its offspring, and then they infect the adult bees, killing off the entire colony. But that’s not all, as the infected bees now become carriers, spreading the mite to other colonies.
This has led to incredibly huge losses in the ranks of bees over the past decades, so many, actually, that scientists are actually concerned about a total bee wipe-out.
Measures of prevention
The experts warn that if international beekeepers don’t pay more attention to the diseased bees, we might actually soon be talking about extinction. The fact that the naturally occurring phenomenon has spread way beyond its usual reach despite simple tactics being available for containing the mites speaks volumes about the nature of humanity.
Not selling your bees when you know they are infected, following the basic rules of transporting the insects, and taking care of the Varroa mite issue in the hive, before it spreads, is all you have to do to stop the spread of the disease.
Image source: Wikimedia