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Florida Apiarists have long been aware of the Deformed Wing Virus

February 11, 2016

AIHA0005 trucks with beehives

Virus is major contributor to colony collapse

Just as beekeepers are moving thousands of honey bee hives from Florida and Georgia to California to pollinate the almond crop there, media reports are warning that human movement of bees is mainly responsible for spreading a virus that contributes to bee deaths, worldwide. The articles are based on a report published in the Journal Science.

Researchers at the University of Exeter in England and the University of California, Berkeley, found human movement of honey bees is mainly responsible for the spread of the deformed wing virus, which was detected in Florida about two years after the varroa mite, Varroa destructor, was detected in Florida in 1987.

Florida State Apiarist David Westervelt, who is chief of Apiary Inspection for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, says the Florida honey bee industry has lo4908250688_c75496ddb3_nng been aware of the deformed wing virus and its relationship to the varroa mite. He said DWV on its own is not a major threat to hives. But it can be deadly in a hive that also has varroa mites.

“While the virus by itself does not generally kill off whole lines of honey bees, we are aware that it is a key player in colony collapse,” Westervelt said. “Right now the only things we can do are to work to eliminate varroa mites and develop hardier strains of honey bees.”

Because California has a chronic shortage of honey bees, Florida’s commercial beekeepers annually send nearly 400 semi-trailers of bees to California to pollinate almonds. Each truckload carries on average 480 hives. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services inspects each truckload leaving Florida for California.

Westervelt said the DWV does not normally kill off whole lines of bees by iself, and beekeepers are using treatments including certain acids and thyme oil against the mites.

While the Exeter and Berkeley researchers say European honey bees are now the primary source of DWV, the varroa mite appears to facilitate virus transmission. European honey bees, which are the honey bees cultivated in the U.S. for honey and pollination, acquired the varroa mite from Asian honey bees, possibly via the commercial exchange of queens.

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