by Lu Lu Sage
The development of the COVID-19 pandemic has parallels to issues we are seeing in the introduction of package honeybees in New Mexico.
The causes and effects of this coronavirus are intimately related to the health of our natural world. Nearly 8 billion humans are causing the disintegration of natural ecosystems by climate change, deforestation, travel, and impingement on the environments of wild animals. Benign relationships of viruses, fungi, and bacteria in wild animals quickly spill over into humans. We are not equipped to fight off these pathogens that have quickly mutated into strains that are lethal to us. Lungs, hearts, and kidneys are more susceptible to severe illness with dense populations, compromised food sources, and poisonous air and water.
Transmission spread has been greatly reduced by social distancing, masks and the shuttering of businesses and human congregations. Scientists are still uncertain, at this time of writing, if exposure and recovery of COVID-19 in an individual will guarantee immunity against another Covid-19 infection. Through science, critical questions about survival will be answered and immunity could be found.
Meanwhile, apiary yards are densely populated with breeding queens and hundreds of millions of honeybees with viruses, micro-organisms, fungi and Varroa in congregation areas. In the 1980s, Asian honeybees (Apis cerana) were introduced into the U.S. along with Varroa destructor mites. Apis cerana and the Varroa mite had a benign relationship through co-evolution for tens of millions of years. There is NO co-evolution with our bees, Apis mellifera. Pathogens carried in the body of Varroa destructor mites are transmitted through their bite and destruction of the fat organ body of the bee. Transmissions of viruses, bacteria, and fungi can also be vertical in the sperm of drones through mating or horizontal (trophallaxis) through the feeding of the queen, larvae, and other adult bees by worker bees. The integral health of the bee and survival of the hive is compromised. And these pathogens are spilling over to native bees and other pollinators. We can treat our honeybees, not so with other pollinators.
Weather conditions, due to climate change, are not always conducive to providing good breeding conditions for these stressed bees. The destruction of diverse native foraging habitats, development and mono-crop farming further compromises their health. Supplementing pollen patties (viral strains have been found in these patties) and feeding sugar syrup cannot replace healthy natural foraging plants. Hopefully, pesticides are not present in these foraging plants.
Beekeepers scoop 7,000 to 10,000 bees in a screened “package” and add a new queen in a cage to be transported all over this country. The mixing of disparate bees, pathogen loads they are carrying and the health of the queen are ALL unknowns.
So, what can beekeepers in N.M. do to help the survival of honeybees?
First and foremost, it is vital that we practice sustainable science-based beekeeping. In the article “Guessing Our Future with Varroa”, American Bee Journal, December 2018, Randy Oliver (a scientist and commercial beekeeper) observes that the Varroa and the viruses inside the Varroa are evolving faster than honeybees. Unless we monitor our mite populations, and if needed, treat hives when mite counts are high, WE WILL LOSE OUR HIVES during the winter. See the “Varroa Management Decision Tool” button on our ABQBEEKS.ORG home page, bottom left, or click here to access the tool. This guide is highly informative and will help answer your questions and concerns.
Secondly, I encourage and ask ABQbeeks to support N.M. beekeepers who are breeding N.M. queens and honeybees. Research the genetics including the mite count history and the breeder when you purchase queens and bees from them. We will gladly provide you space to “advertise” your queens and bees on our website. Please contact Lu Lu or Birdie. Queens that have survived 2 N.M. winters can be considered survival stock and N.M. bees. With our help, these colonies can survive droughts, winds and whatever climate change throws at them. I know of six feral hives, living in cottonwood and elm tree hollows in my downtown/oldtown neighborhood. These bees have been blasting out swarms for years now. They are survivors with healthy genetics and an immunity or grooming behavior against Varroa destructor. They visit my yard for foraging and water daily. And my virgin queens mate with these drones. Someday, if we want to practice natural beekeeping when we no longer need to monitor and treat our bees for mites and expect their survival through the winter, we need to breed for these genetics.
Thirdly, please be honest with yourself and your beekeeping practices. If you are finding dead hives every spring, isn’t it time to start using sustainable practices and science? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
April 28, 2020
Copyright 2020, Lu Lu Sage