One of these parasites is the Varroa mite, which Dr. Zachary Huang of Michigan State University studies. “I study how to control mites, which is a major pest, probably the number one,” said Dr. Huang. “They basically suck the blood from bees. It’s like a tick. In sucking the blood from bees, it also transmits other viruses that make the bees sick. The bees get immunological disease just like the HIV virus and they lose resistance to other diseases.”
Another disease that is wiping out bees is Colony Collapse Disorder, which makes the bees disappear. “You can’t find the dead bodies,” said Dr. Huang. “The adults are gone. Immature stages are left behind and the queen. It has been happening for four years now. We still don’t know what causes it,” he said. Dr. Huang said, “Right now there are very few feral bee populations, bees that are not managed. They’re slowly coming back. But almost 90 percent of the bees that you see on the flowers are managed. There used to be a lot of wild bees, but the mite came in and wiped out everybody. That’s why we rely on managed populations right now for pollination.”
Drs. Huang and Delaplane both cited nutritional stress as a reason that bees are disappearing. Delaplane cited, “Monoculture and agriculture, soybeans that don’t produce any nectar. Corn that doesn’t produce any nectar. Wheat that doesn’t produce any nectar. So you get bees that are suffering from malnutrition, and you’ve got on top of it these other stresses, and I haven’t even talked about pesticides yet. What you have is a perfect storm of many diverse factors all coming together at once to really pound our bee populations.”
What homeowners can do is use their landscapes to feed local bee populations. Dr. Huang suggested, “Plant flowers that could provide bees with nectar and pollen. In general, that would increase the biodiversity for other bees, not just honeybees.” He continued, “If you have a lot of flowers, native or not, they provide nectar and pollen. Unfortunately, we are so hooked up with keeping a nice green lawn, which doesn’t really do much ecologically. It doesn’t really do anything for bees and other organisms.”
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