BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Sci/Tech
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Thursday, 17 August, 2000, 13:04 GMT 14:04 UK
Superbees for a sticky situation
Bees (IACR-Rothamsted)
Mites feed off bee larvae and stunt their growth
(Image: IACR-Rothamsted)

By BBC News Online's Anne Lavery

Scientists are mating resilient French bees to their Canadian cousins in an attempt to breed mite-resistant superbees.

Bee populations around the world have plunged due to the spread of Varroa jacobsoni mites that feed off the blood of bee larvae.

This has caused severe knock-on effects to the honey industry and forced up consumer prices.

But a few bees are resisting the mite onslaught and researchers hope they can breed from them.

Professor Gard Otis of the University of Guelph and his colleagues have relocated 29 of the hardiest French queen bees to hives on a quarantined island off the coast of Canada. So far the bees are thriving.

Professor Otis's first job will be to make sure that the French bees and their offspring are just as resistant to Canadian mites. If they are, a line of superbees will be bred and distributed to Canadian beekeepers.

A similar project is underway in the USA marrying American and Russian bees.

Varroa spreading

"Our project is not alone," says Professor Otis. "In fact, I believe our only hope for success is to combine all these potentially resistant stocks to try to consolidate the traits into a single diverse population of bees."

Professor Otis is not yet sure why the French bees are better at surviving Varroa. Initial observations reveal a number of open cells among patches of sealed brood (pupae).

Varroa IACR-Rothamsted
Varroa jocobsoni is only 1.1 mm long
(Image: IACR-Rothamsted)

This suggests that some of the bees may be removing the contents (bee pupae and mites) of infested brood cells. Other possibilities are reduced fertility of mites on the French brood and better grooming by French bees.

Varroa only spread to Canada and parts of Europe in the early 90s. This year, Varroa were confirmed in New Zealand, leaving Australia as the only major Varroa-free region in the world.

Until now, farmers have been combating the mites with chemical pesticides but mites in the US are becoming resistant, and Canadian farmers fear the day that these supermites cross the border.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

22 Jun 99 | Sci/Tech
Deadly mite's threat to bees
03 May 00 | Sci/Tech
Bees trapped by sex sting
16 Mar 00 | Africa
Ethiopia: Stuck on honey
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Sci/Tech stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Sci/Tech stories