Bumblebees have been in serious decline all over the world, but a new threat has emerged which tales them a step closer to Bumblebee extinction. Bumblebees now face an additional peril. Scientists have discovered that two diseases already present in Honeybees are spreading to wild Bumblebees. Bumblebees infected with a fungal parasite called Nosema Ceranae have been found in Scotland, Wales and England. And Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) has also been found to be present amongst the Bumblebee population. Beekeepers are being urged to keep their honeybee colonies as free from disease as possible to stop the spread to Bumblebees. Professor Mark Brown from Royal Holloway University of London says that ‘These pathogens are capable of infecting adult bumblebees and they seem to have quite significant impacts’. But Bumblebees all over the globe seem to be doing equally badly. One variety, Cullen’s Bumblebee (Bombus Cullumanus) has even gone extinct in the UK, and other varieties are well on the way.
Scientists believe that destruction of Bumblebee habitats, particularly wildflower meadows .has played a part. Readers might like to consider making their own contribution to a solution to wildflower decline by checking out our article ‘Guerrilla Gardening’. But it’s now becoming apparent that disease amongst Bumblebees is paying its own role. Scientists believe that Deformed Wing Virus (DWV), has been causing widespread problems in the Honeybee population and its effect may be further aggravated by infestation by the Varroa Mite, a common parasite. Entire Bumblebee colonies have been collapsing. Bumblebees are not affected by the Varroa Mite, but the researchers have found that Bumblebees infected with DWV have a shortened lifespan. Scientists believe that the Honeybees are acting as likely hosts for the virus and passing it on to Bumblebees. A significantly shorter lifespan in the field has an impact on Bumblebees ability to collect food and support the rest of the Bumblebee colony. Professor Brown explained that ‘A geographical patterning provides us with the information that transmission is occurring among these animals’ (and that), ‘they are sharing parasitic strains’. He went on ‘We cannot say it definitively, but because of the epidemiology, the most likely explanation is that the honeybees are acting as the source of the virus for the Bumblebees’. The scientists suspect that the same will be found everywhere else in the world and believes that the means of stopping the spread in Bumblebees must include controlling it in Honeybees.
Experts believe that the good husbandry practices are the key. By employing best practices beekeepers can take control and reduce the impact of diseases and pests in honeybee colonies. Biotechnical controls like frequent brood comb changes, apiary hygiene, using authorised treatments and ensuring the colonies are well fed and strong can play a significant part in the solution, and may be the saviour of the Bumblebee population
Researchers believe that disease is transmitted when Bumblebees and Honeybees visit the same flowers. But scientists also wonder whether neonicotinoid pesticides have been part of the problems in the Bumblebee population. There are suggestions that the chemicals are affecting the immune systems of bees and making them less resistant to disease. The European Union banned neonicotinoids two years ago because of concerns that they may be harming bees, but the UK strongly opposed the ban. Neonicotinoids manufacturers Bayer and Syngenta have started legal action against the European Commission in an attempt to have the ban removed. Ironically however transmission of disease to our own Bumblebees may originate from Europe itself. Bumblebees imported from Europe may be the source of the pathogens. The UK imports between 40,000 and 50,000 Bumblebee colonies every year to assist with crop pollination. Recently the Journal of Applied Ecology did a study of 4800 imported bees and found that 77% had parasites capable of infecting native colonies.
But Bumblebee imports are vital to the UK’s crop cultivation. Without Bumblebees it would be impossible to grow tomatoes in the UK and the industry is becoming more reliant on imports owing to the decline in the population of pollinating insects. Over a million colonies of Bumblebees are traded globally every year. And there are concerns about the disease potential of factory cultivated bees. A wide range of parasites are present and parasites have even been found in the pollen food which is supplied with the bees.
Researchers believe that present regulations governing Bumblebee imports are inadequate. In England the body ‘Natural England’ issues the licences to allow the release of non native Bumblebees into the environment, but studies have found that the species licensed for release contain parasites. And no licences are required for Bumblebees native to the UK. Natural England blames the regulations,. They say it’s not possible under the present regulations to impose conditions on the release of Bumblebees descended from, British colonies even if they are several generations down the line and have been reared abroad.
- Bees have different colour ‘vision’ from humans. Bumblebees and other species see the world in Ultra Violet. Apparently this skill enables them to detect flowers to pollinate and to take the Nectar from them.
- Pollination is essential for Agriculture and for all flowers and plants. But Bumblebees are not the only pollinators. Most other insects, birds and even bats play a part.
- Honeybees have been around for 30 million years. But selective breeding of honeybees by man, has resulted in colonies which make the excess honey which we harvest and consume. The honeybees which produce the honey live off the honey the bee keepers leave in the hive. And bees are the only insects which produce food eaten by man.
- Bees are not born knowing how to make honey. They have to be taught by other bees. And honeybees are wholly herbivorous, but they do sometimes cannibalise their own broods when stressed out.
- Bees have to consume up to 20 pounds of honey to make a pound of beeswax which they produce from glands under their abdomen.
- It takes the life’s work of twelve bees to produce one teaspoon of honey.
- Bees communicate with each other by ‘dancing’ to tell the others where the flowers are.
- When a bee stings, the abdominal rupture it suffers results in its inevitable death.
- Bees have peculiar eyesight. Were a bee to go to the movies it would be able to ‘see’ each frame protected, one at a time.
- Bumblebees and Honeybees visit up to 100 flowers during one trip and can go up to six miles per trip at speeds of up to 15 miles an hour. But to make one pound of honey the bee would have to travel 90,000 miles, (that’s three times round the world