Mites devastate bee colonies in Canada

Nearly half of Canada’s bee colonies did not survive the winter, the highest rate of colony loss in the country in the last 20 years, according to preliminary data.

“That’s pretty unsettling,” said Ernesto Guzman, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Beekeepers, which surveyed commercial beekeepers across the country.

Many factors can lead to bee deaths, but Guzmán said he assumes the main factor behind the losses is the varroa mite, a parasitic insect that attacks and feeds on bees. Warm weather in the spring of 2021 prompted an early pollination season and strong colony expansion, but weather conditions also favored varroa mite growth, he added.

“The (bee) colonies started to grow early in the season and ended up reproducing at the end of the season, so the varroa populations also exploded and were very high at the end of the summer,” Guzmán said in a recent interview, and He added that most beekeepers wait until they harvest honey before treating mite colonies.

“(Beekeepers) usually start treating mites in early fall, and that may be too late … when the mite population has grown larger than in other years,” he said.

Guzman’s survey showed that 46 percent of colonies across the country did not survive last winter. Manitoba reported the biggest losses, at 57 percent, while Alberta lost 51 percent of its colonies. Nova Scotia, meanwhile, was the least affected, losing 15 percent of its colonies.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada says the health of bees, and the pollination of their crops and honey production, is vital to the environment and the economy.

“In Canada, canola seed production is by far the most economically important crop produced with the contribution of bees, generating $12 billion in farm-gate value in 2021,” the department said in a statement. release. He added that the government and the beekeeping industry are working together to address the high mortality of bee colonies and the impact of varroa mites.

Guzmán said that most beekeepers use pesticides to control parasites, but said pesticides cannot be applied while there is honey in the hives. The honey industry, he added, may have to consider other treatments or harvest the honey earlier than usual to use the pesticides.

The government is funding studies on other treatments, spending more than $550,000 on research into the efficacy and safety of three probiotics that can potentially be used to improve the health and survival rate of bees.

Mite explosion leads to Canada’s worst bee colony loss in 20 years. #VarroaMites #beekeepers #HoneyProduction

Guzman said recovering from last winter’s heavy losses will be costly. “Economically speaking it’s very difficult for the industry,” he said. “That means more money spent on bees from another beekeeper or packages of imported bees from another country. The more colonies you lose, the more money you spend to offset your losses.”

Canada imports bees from Australia and New Zealand. Guzman said beekeepers will do what they can to have healthy colonies ahead of winter and try to avoid another difficult cold season, which would be “another blow to the industry.”

“The industry is working hard to try to find solutions to the problem.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 23, 2022.

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