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A Sustainable Approach to Controlling Honey Bee Diseases an Varroa Mites

european honey bee with a Varroa mite on its back
A European honey bee with a Varroa mite on its back. The mites cause disease and death in bee colonies.
Photo by Scott Bauer.
Geographic Range: Relevant to beekeepers throughout the U.S. and Canada

An estimated one-third of the human diet is derived directly or indirectly from insect pollinated plants. Honey bees are the world's most important insect pollinator of fruit and vegetable crops, home gardens and wildflowers. The number of bee colonies and beekeepers is steadily declining due to the inadvertent introduction of the parasitic mite Varroa destructor into the U.S. in 1987. Left untreated, varroa mites kill most bee colonies within one to two years.

To control the mite, beekeepers have been using pesticides (pyrethroids and organophosphates) in their bee colonies. However, that approach has generated problems, including the mites developing resistance, the enormous operating expense of purchasing and spraying pesticides in honey bee colonies and risks of contaminating honey and beeswax with residue.

Our goal is to breed honey bees, Apis mellifera, resistant to diseases and parasitic mites to reduce the amount of antibiotics and pesticides used in bee colonies and to ensure that our breeding methods and stock are accessible to beekeepers everywhere. A reduction in pesticide use by beekeepers will enhance environmental quality and economic viability of individual beekeeping operations; strengthen an agricultural system (beekeeping) based on small and moderate-scale owner-operated farms; protect human health and safety by preventing the risk of contaminating honey and hive products; and promote the well-being of honey bees -- our honey producers and vital pollinators.

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