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 PRESS REVIEW / REVUE DE PRESSE

  Beekeepers getting stung by nasty parasite
30/04/03 -
News Staff - http://www.ctv.ca/

The buzz among Canadian beekeepers this year is not good. A parasite is killing millions of bees in Canada, and could have serious consequences on all aspects of agriculture.

Bee producers say 40 per cent of their bees have been killed by the mite this years. They say honey production will be significantly down this year, and especially bad in Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick.

In his many years of beekeeping, Elwood Quinn has been stung many times, but never anything like this, he says. His bees are dying off at an alarming rate.

"About 65 per cent of the hives are gone. The hives we do have are weak. The weak hives won't be as valuable and useful as the strong healthy hives with more numbers in it," he says.

The tiny parasite killing Quinn's bees is called the Varroa destructor mite. It probably originated in Asia, and travelled to Europe about 30 years ago. It was first detected in the U.S. 20 years ago, and has been in Canada for the last 15.

The Varroa is a parasitic mite that lays its eggs next to bee eggs. The Varroa hatch first then suck blood from young and old bees. The only way to get rid of the mite is to burn or scorch the hive and start again.

For a while, Varroa was known as the "bee plague" and the "AIDS of apiaries," killing off thousands of hives. Then a pesticide called fluvalinate was devised to control the bug and bring it under control.

But now, the mites have built up enough resistance to survive.

Not only does the parasite pose a major problem for the bee industry, it could also devastate crops and fruit orchards since so many plants depend on bee pollination for reproduction.

Importing bees from the U.S. to replace the bees dying in Canada isn't an option. That's been banned since 1987, because American bees are even more diseased with the parasite. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says almost 100 per cent of U.S. bee colonies are infested with Varroa mites. For Claude Vinet, this situation is a disaster. Much of his income comes from renting out his bees for pollination. Instead, he's got a warehouse full of dead hives, and little hope for the future. "I think this is the beginning of the end," he says. But beekeeping expert Penny McCaig from McGill University is more optimistic. She says Canadian efforts to breed stronger bees ar working.
"There is lots of research going on to bring on Canadian bees that can withstand our winters and tolerate the mites as well," she says.

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