‘Killer bees’ could solve population crisis

August 19, 2013

From: The Telegraph (UK)

Honey bees are being cross bred with their more aggressive African cousins to produce a hybrid which is hardier and more resistant to parasites.

By Nick Collins, Science Correspondent

Bee populations in Britain, Europe and America are being decimated by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a term for the sudden disappearance of entire colonies which has left up to a quarter of hives in some countries empty.

The main culprit behind CCD in the northern hemisphere is thought to be a mite known as Varroa destructor, which leaves bees vulnerable to deformed wing virus.

But African bees, which are much more aggressive and likely to swarm than their European cousins, appear to be more tolerant to the parasite.

Now Australian scientists are trying to produce a cross breed of African and European honeybees which has the hardiness to resist the mite but is still “human-friendly”.

Cross-breeds found in America have earned the nickname “killer bees” because although they are no more venomous than a European bee, their aggression makes them dangerous.

Prof Boris Baer, of the Centre for Integrative Bee Research at the University of Western Australia, told the Telegraph Magazine: “Killer bees have a better immune system – but we can’t have wolves living among us.

“We need to live side by side with the bees. We have no choice but to look for a compromise between killer bees and bees currently being bred, so we can live in harmony.”

British bee experts, however, said it was unlikely that such a hybrid would be introduced in the UK or Europe, where African bee genes have never been introduced to domestic populations.

A Defra spokesperson said: “We haven’t seen this research, but bee health is of paramount importance, and our scientists regularly review studies from across the world in our efforts to combat bee decline. Any introduction of a non-native species would involve stringent testing to ensure that British wildlife is protected.”

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