Honeybee hives stung by parasites

Parasitic mite damaging Quebec's honeybee colonies, raising concerns for fruit and vegetable producers who depend on the pollinators.

A tiny parasite is ravaging Quebec's honeybee population, causing huge problems for beekeepers and producers who depend on the pollinators.

It looks like two mites are to blame. The tracheal mite is a longstanding pest that lives in the windpipe of honeybees. The varroa mite lives on the outside of bees and is very destructive to the bees' reproductive cycle.

Quebec officials are still gathering information on the problem. So far it looks like producers in the hardest-hit areas have almost been wiped out.

Between 30 and 50 per cent of hives in affected areas have been destroyed, according to Dr. Brian Jamieson, senior veterinary officer with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in Ottawa.

Bee producers say honey production could be down significantly in Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick this year because of the mites.

The bees also play a key role as pollinators, and are fundamental to pollinating blueberries in Quebec, as well as certain types of apples and other fruits and vegetables. 

Since the tracheal mite came into Canada in the mid 1980s, the beekeeping industry has been using a variety of husbandry techniques and treatments to live with it.

Varroa mites on the other hand have become resistant to treatment in six provinces, Jamieson told CBC Radio's As It Happens. Health Canada has approved an insecticide that can be applied to bees when they are not producing honey, but is was not used in Quebec last fall.

The varroa mite populations built up and overwhelmed bee colonies in Quebec. Bringing in replacement bees from the U.S. won't help; Canada closed its border to bee imports in 1988 to prevent the introduction of new diseases. 

Scientists are trying to come up with new treatments and husbandry techniques to keep one step ahead of the mites.