Honey bees, as every animal species, have a variety of different diseases. For a long time, honey bee health was almost trouble-free. However, in the past decades, new challenges emerged and health management became an issue.
The parasitic mite Varroa destructor was the first in this series of new threats for the beekeeping industry. Until the middle of the past century, this honey bee parasite lived only in colonies of the Asian bee Apis cerana. On this original host, it didn’t cause major damage. Worldwide transports of European honey bees enabled the host shift to this species. As a result, Varroa-mites became a major threat for the beekeeping industry worldwide. Without treatment, colonies of the European honey bees, Apis mellifera, don’t survive for longer than a few years. Varroa mites can also act as vectors for several viral infections.
Emerging threats to honey bee health
Viruses like the Deformed-Wing-Virus (DWV) are a main factor for colony losses after infestation with V. destructor. These infections together with other emergent diseases like the fungal parasite Nosema ceranae have only unclear symptoms. Beekeepers and veterinarians therefore neglect their importance for honey bee health. Only lately, another bee pest, the Small Hive Beetle (SHB) has invaded Europe and poses an additional problem to beekeeping and honey bee health.
Honey bee parasites and diseases were found also in non-managed bee species and other insects. Due to this ecological impact, honey bee health management has increased importance according to the One Health approach. This concept recognizes that human and animal health are interconnected with stable ecosystems. The role of veterinarians in bee health management in front of these challenges is becoming more important. It focuses mainly on prophylaxis and good management practices and increasingly also for medical interventions. Until now, however, bee health products and veterinary medicinal products exist only for Varroa destructor. The development of new bee health products, like alternative Varroa treatments as well as first treatments for other honey bee parasites and diseases is highly urgent for maintain healthy and productive honey bee populations.
One of BeeSafe’s core expertises lies in honey bee pathology – we help in every step of research and development for better honey bee health.