Having long remained a mystery, the decline in honey bee populations around the world has perplexed scientists for years, but according to a new research, it seems that we have finally discovered why bee populations have been decimated in recent years. The study, however, does point out that a cure may not be in the offing.
According to the research, conducted by the University of Sheffield and published in the journal, Science, after studying honey bees in Hawaii, the Varroa Mite, a small parasitic mite that is known to attack honey bees has been identified as the main carrier of the disease that is responsible for the dwindling of bee populations across the world. The Varroa Mite has been transferring the Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) to bees and is now considered a critical factor of the Colony Collapse Disorder. The infection that the mites have been spreading is being described by researchers as "one of the most widely-distributed and contagious insect viruses on the planet."
The mites attach themselves to the bees and then inject them, directly spreading the diseases into the bee’s bloodstream. Speaking about the research to BBC Nature, lead researcher Dr. Stephen Martin said, "In an infected bee there can be more viral particles than there are people on the planet. There's a vast diversity of viral strains within a bee, and most of them are adapted to exist in their own little bit of the insect; they get on quite happily."
But the Varroa Mite, according to the research, "shifts something", selecting the most lethal of the Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) strains, changing the “viral landscape” within the bees, leading eventually to this pandemic that now exists amongst bee populations in the world.
The University of Sheffield spent two years studying bee colonies in Hawaii and the island itself presented a unique situation, which allowed the researchers to study both infected and non-infected colonies. It was believed that the Varroa Mite infestation in Hawaii had been brought over from California five years ago. The researchers did not say why this particularly virulent strain of DWV thrived in both the mites and the bees, but a cure for the disease has yet not been proposed. Dr. Martin did add however, "So the only way to control the virus is to control the levels of the mite."
Professor Ian Jones, a virologist from the University of Reading, also spoke about the research, saying that the way the virus spread had been seen before, reflecting "other known mechanisms of virus spread,” adding, "[This] reinforces the need for beekeepers to control Varroa infestation."