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  • Hawaii and the Varroa Mite: A case study
    August 14, 2017 Scott Derrick

    Hawaii and the Varroa Mite: A case study

    An archipelago of volcanoes in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and the supposed birthplace of our old two-term president, the state of Hawaii is the most isolated population center in the world. For a heavenly stretch of years, it had miles and miles of virtually uninterrupted ocean to buffer it against the spread of pests and diseases swarming the planet elsewhere. Then came globalized man. Whether by accident (as with the coffee borer beetle) or the wayward good intent of conservationists (as with the mongoose), our bungling ways have since played havoc with the island’s natural biodiversity.

    As much can be said for the varroa mite – the feature pest of our weekly blog series this past fortnight, and the rampant terror laying low domestic and feral honey bee colonies worldwide.

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  • Varroa Destructor, Honey Bee Reaper: More than a mite concerning
    August 14, 2017 Scott Derrick

    Varroa Destructor, Honey Bee Reaper: More than a mite concerning

    It is the fear scuttling about in every beekeeper’s heart. It is the ruination of livelihoods, and the grief of families. It is disease. It is death. It has, in the last fifty years, come at a hair’s-breadth away from world domination.

    It is Varroa destructor, the mite of bee evil.

    There is no greater threat to honey bee colonies than varroa. Even nosema comes second-place (just). Reddish-brown and crab-like, this ectoparasitic hive invader was not too long ago a relatively innocuous critter, supping on the fluids of the Asian honeybee (Apis cerana) in its native territory of the east. In the mid-20th century however, returning west on the backs of honey bees originally imported to Hong Kong, the mite stole across the oceans through trade shipment routes. Across Europe, Africa, India and – first reported in Maryland in 1979, and, after an eight-year lull, Wisconsin – the United States, the mite not only spread at an alarming rate. It was found to have an incredibly pernicious affinity with the honey bee (Apis mellifera) – mankind’s sweetest friend.

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  • Put Down That Banana, Beekeeper
    August 14, 2017 Scott Derrick

    Put Down That Banana, Beekeeper

    It’s early April, and dusk is settling in. At odd moments throughout the day, you’ve found yourself pausing to admire the spring flowers, winking open their petals to the warming day, splashing the fields and gardens with purple crocus, butter-yellow calendula and cherry-pink milkweed.

    What better time to check on the bees.

    They’ve been cooped up all winter, doing little else than surviving. Or so you hope – last year, you opened the hive to find heartbreak: dozens of little bodies littering the comb, the brood chambers run afoul with the varroa mite, dread king of honey bee pests.

    It’s been a long day though, and you’re famished. As your stomach growls a need, your eyes catch the fruit bowl on the dining table. Striding over, your hand reaches, hovers, grabs…

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  • Gwyneth Paltrow, Charlemagne, and Bee Venom Masks
    August 14, 2017 Scott Derrick

    Gwyneth Paltrow, Charlemagne, and Bee Venom Masks

    Here’s a question: what do the first Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne and Gwyneth Paltrow have in common? Now here’s the answer: bee venom masks. Yeah. The founder of ‘find harmony by inserting a jade egg up your cooch’wellness brand Goop is into that too.

    “It’s a thousands of years old treatment called apitherapy,” said Paltrow in an interview with the New York Times last year. “People use it to get rid of inflammation and scarring. It’s actually pretty incredible if you research it.”

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  • What Happens When the Queen Bee Dies?
    August 14, 2017 Scott Derrick

    What Happens When the Queen Bee Dies?

    Long live the queen. And queen bees do live long – somewhere between 3 to 5 years (although some estimates stretch it to 9). Compared to the worker bee, which reaches the end of her life cycle somewhere around the 42-day mark, she might as well live for a bee-time eon. But whether it’s by disease, old age, natural disaster, or beekeeper murder (which, under certain circumstances, is recommended), at some point or other, the queen must die.

    What then? Do the worker bees riot? Does chaos erupt, and the hive plunge into anarchy? After all, the queen bee is the only bee in the hive fully capable of producing offspring (at the upwards rate of one egg per minute, no less). Though worker bees are physically capable of laying unfertilized eggs (which hatch into male drones by way of parthenogenesis), this rarely occurs. There are two main reasons. The first is to do with the queen’s particular perfume – the spread of which convinces the colony they are “queenright”. It is a powerful pheromone, with various physiological effects – one of which is to cause the eggs inside of all the other females to wither and die (an example of “programmed cell death”). It’s as though she’s putting all her lower-ranked sisters on the pill just by existing.

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  • Bacteria in flowers may boost honeybees’ healthy gut microbes
    August 14, 2017 Scott Derrick

    Bacteria in flowers may boost honeybees’ healthy gut microbes

    Honeybees were into probiotics way before they were cool, a new study suggests.

    The hipster insects serve up beneficial bacteria that may help baby bees develop a healthy blend of gut microbes,researchers report online August 7 in Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Without those thriving gut communities, the critical pollinators may have trouble digesting their plant-based food.

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