Honey bee treatment ‘applied in wrong way’

September 4, 2013

From: The Telegraph (UK)

Honey bee populations are being allowed to collapse because current treatments are being applied to hives in the wrong way, experts claim.

By Nick Collins, Science Correspondent

Bees have been in steep decline in Britain in recent decades due in part to   the varroa mite, which is widely blamed for the mysterious “colony collapse disorder” causing the decimation of entire hives around the world.

But a current treatment could kill up to 98 per cent of varroa mites in a hive without harming any of the bees inside if it is used correctly, and would offer a cheap and simple solution to the problem, experts claim.

Although oxalic acid is known to be deadly to the mite, it is often applied in quantities which are too low to be effective, or so high that it harms the bees as well as the parasite.

Now researchers have found that when applied as a vapour rather than a solution, and at a particular dosage, the treatment can remove virtually all traces of varroa from hives without any harmful outcomes for bees.

Because the treatment is simple and cheap, costing about 10p and taking 10 minutes to apply, it could present an effective and affordable solution to the crisis affecting Britain’s bees, it was claimed.

Honey bees are vital to Britain’s economy because of their role in pollinating crops, but a third of our colonies were reported to have died out last year, prompting calls for urgent action.

Researchers from Sussex University conducted a study of 110 hives, using oxalic acid in different quantities and application methods to determine whether it could effectively tackle the virus.

Results from the trials have not been officially published, but Prof Francis Ratnieks told the Telegraph that in the most effective format – a vapour at a particular concentration – the treatment was 97 to 98 per cent effective.

He said: “What we have found is that different methods do have different effects on the mites and the bees, but the best method does not harm the bees and is deadly to the mites.

“You would only have to use it once a year because if you knocked the mites down to a small proportion then they would take a long time to build back up again. It is very cheap, effective and easy to use.”

More drastic suggestions for solving the crisis have included crossbreeding European honey bees with “killer” African cousins, in the hope of transferring the African bees’ apparent immunity against varroa to our domestic species.

But Australian researchers attempting to produce a suitable hybrid must first work out how to give honey bees their African relatives’ resilience without inheriting their ferociousness.

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