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The threatened life of bees

Bermuda's honey bee population is still struggling following a recent die-off, but there are signs of recovery.

In the most recent edition of Envirotalk, published by the Ministry of Environment and Planning, entomologist and plant protection officer Claire Jessey wrote that the Island experienced a massive bee die-off which began last Fall.

Beekeepers have reported loosing up to 70 percent of their colonies, and inspections of several bee yards (apiaries) confirmed substantial losses. The Department of Environmental Protection noted an increase in the symptoms of Nosema infection and varroa mites, which spread deformed wing virus.

“Research has indicated that any stressor that the bees encounter, such as Nosema, varroa, viruses, wax-moth or exposure to pesticides may not itself cause the bees to decline, but when several stressors are present they can have a synergistic effect and the immune system is overwhelmed and the colonies may collapse,” she said.

Ms Jessey said a US expert has suggested the population's ‘crash' and ‘recovery' pattern could be caused by new diseases being introduced to the Island and spread by varroa mites.

“The population which survived was able to coexist with these viruses and the population levelled out,” she wrote. “The subsequent crash in population, he suspects, was due to the viruses mutating within the varroa mites and ‘reinfecting' the bees with a new version of the virus, causing the bees to die-off again.

“Bees from the populations which are able to adapt and cope with the stresses of the viruses, the mites, the gut parasites and Bermuda's unique environmental conditions, will survive.”

Despite the recent die off, Ms Jessey said there were some positive signs saying: “There have been a number of reports of bee swarms at this time, which is a good indicator that a population increase is occurring. This is typical for this time of year and allows for swarms to be captured and new colonies started.”

Department of Environmental Protection is still reviewing the effects of pesticides on local bee population, she said, noting that there is some concern regarding the use of neonicotinoid insecticides.

“Some restrictions have already been placed on the use of this group of insecticides on the island and the Department of Environmental Protection is looking at further restrictions,” she said. “Studies are also underway to determine exactly how much exposure the bees have to these chemicals by examining the pesticide residue in local beeswax and pollen.”

Anyone who sees a bee swarm is asked to report the sighting to a beekeeper or the Department of Environmental Protection's Plant Protection Lab at 239-2322.

The public is also encouraged not to spray them as they are a valuable resource which is under threat.

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Published September 18, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated September 20, 2013 at 1:26 am)

The threatened life of bees

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