8 Feb 2016

Researchers hope for varroa bee mite breakthrough

8:25 pm on 8 February 2016

A new report from British researchers shows that a deadly virus wiping out bee colonies around the world, was originally a bee virus but it is being spread by the varroa mite.

There is an epidemic of deformed wing virus in hives across New Zealand, says Otago University zoology professor Alison Mercer.

There is an epidemic of deformed wing virus in hives across New Zealand, says Otago University zoology professor Alison Mercer. Photo: 123RF

The researchers have tracked the global spread of the deformed wing virus, and say it came to New Zealand from Europe.

Alison Mercer, a professor of Zoology at Otago University, said there was an epidemic of deformed wing virus in hives across New Zealand now.

She said most people thought the original host of the deformed wing virus was the varroa mite, but this new research showed it was actually the honey bee.

However she said the varroa mite did help to spread the virus, and that was when the impact on the hive was problematic.

Ms Mercer said researchers from Otago University were working on a project which could be a breakthrough in stopping varroa mite from wiping out bee hives around the world.

She said her team, in collaboration with a French group, were attempting to develop chemicals which identify bees with increased resistance to the varroa mites.

She said some bees can detect cells that are infected with varroa mites, and break through the wax seal, kill the infested developing bee and remove everything from the cell, including the mites.

Ms Mercer said one of her students, Fanny Mondet, identified that they do this because they can smell the mites.

She said they were now trying to find ways to identify and assess that particular behaviour so they could breed for it, and then the bees could manage the pest themselves.

Ms Mercer said they were currently seeking government funding to develop the tool further.

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