Population in Peril
The wild bee population has been all but wiped out by parasites.
"Most gardeners and farmers will tell you they don't see the bees they used to. Many aren't seeing the yields they used to, either," said Keith Delaplane, an Extension Service entomologist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Since the 1980s, Georgia's wild bees have been under attack by varroa mites and tracheal mites that have decimated the population.
"The varroa mite is like a tick," Delaplane said. "It attaches to the outside of the bee and actually pierces into it. It's broadly dispersed across the state and is causing colonies to die all over Georgia."
Varroa destructor mites are some of the worst enemies of honey bees worldwide. These eight-legged parasites are about the size of a pin head and are copper in color. Female mites cling to adult bees and suck their blood. The parasites then enter a bee brood cell and produce several offspring which, in turn, suck the blood of the developing bee. Left untreated, infested colonies usually die within three to four years.
Varroa mite infestations have become so serious that maintaining bee colonies without chemical treatment is virtually impossible.
"We've been fighting varroa mites since 1987," Delaplane said. "The recent problem is their resistance to the old standby product we were using."
Tracheal mites were first detected in Georgia in 1986 and have since caused many colony deaths throughout the state.
The microscopic mites enter the tracheae (breathing tubes) of young bees. Once inside the tracheae, mites block air exchange and pierce the walls of the tubes to suck blood.
future for our wild bee population is pretty grim," Delaplane said.
"You always find new colonies because beekeepers' colonies split
and swarm. But they can no longer self-sustain."
Once the bees split from the beekeeper, they survive only about a year in the wild before they die from parasites.
"You can argue that bees are no longer wild animals," Delaplane said. "They're domestic, because they require care to stay alive for the long term."
Comments or questions about this site? Contact us.