I recently traveled back to my home state of Ohio for a family wedding. On the first leg of my trip from Sacramento to Phoenix I sat next to a newly retired gentleman named Dan. As we chatted, he was pleased to learn I work with bees. He wanted to get back into beekeeping and had a lot of questions for me. He reminisced about his childhood when he and his father had a handful of colonies that helped pollinate the family garden. Before last spring, the last time Dan was in a hive was 50 years ago. Keeping bees for him was “something easy and fun to do, and the free honey was a nice addition.”
When Dan decided to get back into bees he didn’t realize a significant event in the history of U.S. beekeeping happened between his child hood and the spring of 2016. Varroa destructor (varroa) arrived! Ever since its introduction into the U.S. in 1987 the parasitic mite has devastated colonies across the country. It has changed the very nature of beekeeping. Keeping hives alive and healthy year-round requires more inputs and skill than ever before. Dan himself can attest to the increased difficulty of keeping bees. “They are like a completely different animal than what I remember. They are hard to keep alive. I can’t take the devastation of opening another cover only to find dead bees!”
Granted, Dan lacks experience with modern beekeeping. I admit this is an anecdotal story. But his sentiment is pertinent to the nature of 21st century beekeeping in the U.S. His message echos what any commercial beekeeper can tell you: varroa mites are having a profound effect on the health and vitality of honey bees. Project Apis m. has heard the concerns of beekeepers and has responded by prioritizing varroa-related research. We have also endorsed and sponsored other organizations’ efforts to combat varroa. For example, we assisted in the creation of the Tools for Varroa Management Guide. Please refer to this downloadable guide for all your questions on monitoring, sampling, and treatment options.
We are also proud to be a part of Pollinator Partnership’s Mite-A-Thon. This event is a national effort to collect mite infestation data and to visualize varroa infestations in honey bee colonies across North America within a one-week window. All beekeepers in Canada, United States and Mexico are encouraged to participate. The Mite-A-Thon is happening during the week of September 9th and is free to participate. Participants will monitor the level of mites (number of mites per 100 bees) using a standardized protocol utilizing two common methods of assessment (powdered sugar roll or alcohol wash) and then enter data, including location, total number of hives, number of hives tested, local habitat, and the number of varroa mites counted from each hive. The published information will not identify individual participants.
Varroa, and the viruses it vectors, is a significant driver of honey bee colony mortality. Yet, indicators suggest that some beekeepers are not correctly monitoring varroa infestations and therefore are not able to connect infestation to colony loss. Please join Project Apis m. and Pollinator Partnership in helping spread the world about proper varroa management by participating in the Mite-a-Thon. The varroa monitoring data will be anonymously uploaded to www.mitecheck.com. For the first time ever there will be publicly available data about varroa mite levels of colonies at the same time of year throughout three major countries. I look forward to analyzing the varroa infestation map. Will your hives be represented on it?
Director of Pollination Programs
Project Apis m
Reach Billy Synk at Billy@ProjectApism.org or (614) 330-6932