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Australia has had to kill millions of bees

  • Published
    4th Jul, 2022
Context

In the last two weeks, Australian authorities have exterminated millions of honeybees in a bid to prevent a potentially devastating parasitic plague affecting the southeast region of the country.

About
  • Until recently, Australia was one of the few countries that was able to successfully clamp down on the spread of Varroa mite-induced plagues, known to be the biggest threat to bees worldwide.
  • Colonies of honeybees have been put under “lockdown” as part of a wide range of biosecurity measures to limit the outbreak.

Varroa mites

  • Varroa mites (Varroa destructorand  jacobsoniare tiny red-brown external parasites of honey bees.
  • Although Varroa mites can feed and live on adult honey bees, they mainly feed and reproduce on larvae and pupae in the developing brood, causing malformation and weakening of honey bees as well as transmitting numerous viruses.
  • Varroa mites are parasitic mites, which require a honey bee host to survive and reproduce.
  • The Varroa mite is only able to reproduce on honey bee brood, while only adult female Varroa mites are able to feed on adult honey bees. Therefore, the entire life cycle of Varroa mite occurs within the honey bee colony.
  • Honey bees are weakened by mites feeding on them as pupae, and adult bees often emerge with deformities.

Impacts

Environmental

  • Debilitates and eventually kills bee colonies, reducing managed and feral honey bee populations.
  • Varroa mite can also carry bee viruses, including exotic viruses like deformed wing virus. These viruses can be more devastating to bee colonies than the mite themselves.

Economic

  • Potential to severely affect honey production.
  • Potential to severely affect a wide range of pollination-reliant food crops and crops that support primary food production.

The Importance of Bees:

  • Bees are beneficial because of their pollination services, helping to provide food in the form of fruits, berries, nuts - and seeds.
    • Arguably, it is the most interesting parts of our diet that are reliant on bees (and other pollinators) for cross pollination
  • Bees are not the world's only pollinators. Flies, wasps, moths, beetles and even some birds, bats and lizards all pollinate, but they only visit flowers enough to feed themselves.
    • Because they gather pollen to stock their nests, bees are generally the most effective pollinators since they visit many more flowers and carry more pollen between them.
  • Some bee species are also specially developed to pollinate particular plants and without them those plants would be less well-pollinated.
  • Bees help in:
  • producing 1/3 of our food supply
    • providing ½ of the world’s fibers, oils, and other raw materials
    • creating many medicines
    • Providing food for wildlife
    • preventing soil erosion
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