This week was filled again with more report writing for the National Honey Bee Survey (NHBS). The long days in the lab leave us all dreaming of spring and summer when the field work picks up and there are plenty of opportunities to go outside and spend some quality time with the colonies. I jog my memory back to those warm days and remember the first time I saw one of the diseases that we target the NHBS samples.
In the later part of the summer I recall doing some recording for a queen pheromone experiment. I was standing a short distance from the hives in my typical fashion, suit-less, sweatshirt hood pulled over my head to discourage the occasional bees that were particularly fond of my hair that day, waiting for codes and numbers to be called out. I glanced at the ground noticing some bees stumbling around my feet. I tried to shoo them away from my sneakers and found they did not fly away. Curiosity overtook me and I scooped one up from the pavement. From the start, I noticed it was acting strange. Seemingly confused, it skittered over my papered clipboard and I noticed its wings were abnormal.
I have since then learned that what I saw on that summer day was Deformed Wing Virus (DWV). It not only effects the wings of the honey bee, making them short, stubby, and useless for flying, but it also damages the bee’s abdomen; making it rounded and discolored. Usually it causes some paralysis which explains the odd, jerky, way in which the bee I saw was moving. After emergence, these deformed bees are rejected from the hive and left to wander outside, usually perishing within 48 hours. So where does this virus come from? You guessed it, Varroa mites. While mite-invested hives usually see DWV at the highest rate, it does exist in colonies in which Varroa are not present. When there is no mite infestation in the hive, the virus can be transmitted through nurse bees and their contact with larvae as studies have detected it in eggs, royal jelly, and early larvae stages.
The next time I see a poor, helpless honey bee, I know that its hours are unfortunately numbered and there is little hope. A saddening thought, but a hard reality for the honey bee. It is up to our researchers and the bee community to help the honey bee, who works so hard for us, continue to find treatments and feasible solutions for the insect we so greatly depend on.