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Beekeeping: the fight against the mite

The Varroa Mite continues to plague Virginia beekeepers
Published: Oct. 19, 2020 at 3:12 PM EDT
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - Much has changed since Richard Reid began beekeeping in the 1970s.

“Things were relatively easy at that time," said Reid, a Virginia beekeeper. "Many of us look back and think about those days as the easy days of beekeeping when anybody could have a beehive in their backyard and it would probably survive for years.”

Now Reid maintains between 170 to 250 colonies across the New River Valley with much success in recent years, but he says that isn’t always the case.

In recent decades, beekeepers across North America and much of the world, have experienced their toughest challenge yet: the Varroa Mite.

This small invasive insect is thought to be one of the leading causes of declining bee populations.

“The Varroa Mite feeds on the fat bodies of the honey bees as they develop,” said Dr. James Wilson, an apiculturist at Virginia Tech. "It also feeds on them as adults in their overwintering, and if that were not bad enough, it is capable of transmitting a great deal of viruses.”

One of these viruses is the elusive deformed wing virus, which can weaken bees and spread from colony to colony.

Managing mite populations can be laborious and expensive for beekeepers. Colonies can quickly become diseased, leading to a collapse over a winter and major loss of honey production.

The winter of 2017-2018 was brutal for Virginia beekeepers when there was an estimated 60 percent of losses in colonies, well above the average 30 percent.

Despite the struggles in the fight against the mite, Ried remains hopeful for the future of both bees and beekeeping.

“We’ve got to get some good genetics out there. I don’t think there is a silver bullet yet, but there is hope, I think.”

He also points to simple ways you can help the bees, like leaving a corner for flowering plants in your yard and limiting the use of pesticides.

Another suggestion? Buy local.

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