we commonly call honeybees in the
United States are really
descendants of the European bees brought to this continent by
the early settlers. Over the centuries, some of them escaped
to form the "wild" colonies that inhabit hollow trees in the
European honeybee is also the critter that bee keepers raise
for production of honey and as a source of pollinators for
many crops. Over 90 crops including apples,
and others depend heavily on honeybees to carry the pollen
from male flowers to the pistils of the female flowers.
Most of us think that honeybees work by
carrying pollen from plant to plant in
those sacks on their
legs. In reality, the pollination they do is totally by
accident. Honeybees are fuzzy creatures. As they crawl around
in the flowers, pollen dust accumulates on the "hairs" on the
bee’s body. When it moves to another flower, some of the
pollen rubs off on the
pistil of that flower and starts the
process of pollination.
Ever get a cucumber that was misshapen with
tiny, undeveloped seeds inside? This was probably due to poor
pollination. It is estimated that bees must visit each female
cucumber flower at least ten times for proper pollination to
occur. This will result in a properly shaped cucumber fruit.
In recent years two tiny
spider mites and
mite-related diseases have led to the death of most wild
honeybees. Estimates for this loss range as high as 95 to 97%
of the wild bees. Hobby beekeepers routinely lose up to half
or more of their hives every year.
Commercial bee hives have also been attacked
but beekeepers have had been able to counteract the problem.
They have one chemical that will help but the key is usually
their ability to purchase new, uninfected queens to
reestablish their hives each year.
efforts at major universities are focusing on the Varroa mite
and its biology. They are trying to identify the pests
complete life cycle to determine the best point to attack it.
Control measures must consider that the mites are in the hive
along with the bees. Chemical treatments are difficult because
they may contaminate the honey. Also, since the mites,
although not technically insects, are close in nature to the
bees, it is tough to find something that controls them but
which does not also kill the bee.
The ultimate long-term solution is to breed
bees that are resistant to the effects of the mites.
Unfortunately, this is a very time-consuming process and
success is not guaranteed. Results of this type of program
will be many years down the road.