Reducing honey bee colony losses over winter

Through raising awareness and sharing knowledge

Jul 08, 2019
Varroa mites (as seen on this bee’s back) feed on honey bees and their brood, weakening them and transmiting deadly viruses and diseases.

Varroa mites (as seen on this bee’s back) feed on honey bees and their brood, weakening them and transmiting deadly viruses and diseases.

As with all farming, be it crops in the arable field, cattle on the dairy farm or honey bees at an apiary – losses to crops or livestock are not only felt in the heart of the farmer or beekeeper, they are felt in the wallet too – as a reduction in income.

When factors such as extremes of weather, disease and lack of food impact livestock health, it is often the weakest and less healthy who succumb first. This is also true with honey bee colonies as they endure often long, cold winters.

Back in May 2019, Dick Rogers, Principal Scientist and Entomologist at Bayer predicted in his annual honey bee colony loss forecast that colony losses over the winter of 2018/2019 would probably be higher, compared to those of the previous year. This was based on the high infestation rates being seen for the parasitic Varroa mite and the damage it does to honey bee colonies. This forecast was recently supported by the Bee Informed Partnership Colony Loss Report which was released end of June 2019.

There is hope, however, because understanding and awareness of honey bee health issues, along with early detection and appropriate management of problems, can improve honey bee colony health and reduce subsequent losses over winter. Education is key to establishing a solid baseline of knowledge and skills among beekeepers which will lead to better practices.

The number one enemy of honey bees is the parasitic bee mite, Varroa destructor. This mite feeds on honey bee fat bodies much like a tick sucking blood from its host. Reproduction occurs in honey bee brood cells and the immature mites feed on bee pupae, weakening them and transmitting viruses such as the deadly Deformed Wing Virus. Yet the health and survival of honey bees are threatened by a range of pests, diseases and predators.

Bayer has produced two fact filled booklets, The Varroa mite and The Small Hive Beetle, that provide the latest information on the biology and management of these two honey bee pests. Beekeepers, and others, can download these booklets for free. Also, please share the links with others so we can all have informed discussions about how these pests impact honey bee health and also what can be done to help prevent harm to bees.

At Bayer, we ensure education and knowledge generation and sharing through our Bee Care Program activities. Our initiatives we undertake with many partners include the US and Latam Healthy Hives 2020 programs, and Feed A Bee activities like in the USA, as well as tireless outreach efforts of staff to promote sustainability and stewardship, and to develop new tools and processes (e.g. Healthy Colony Checklist) for improving management on the farm and in the bee apiary.

By working together, we can tackle the many factors affecting honey bee health – for the benefit of all.

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