Honey Bee Parasites

When is a Honey Bee Parasite not a Honey Bee Parasite?

Recent research has shown that honey bees and bumblebees share parasites

Professor Mark JF Brown, Royal Holloway, University of London

This is an excerpt from the article that appeared in the December 2014 edition of Bee Craft. Did you know that you can access all 12 monthly issues of Bee Craft from 2014 in digital format for just £14? Click here (opens in new tab).

Parasites and pathogens can have significant impacts on honey bee colonies, as anyone who has had to deal with foul brood or Varroa destructor will attest. 

Consequently, considerable efforts have been made to understand how such parasites and pathogens spread within hives and between hives, how they impact on honey bee colonies (that is, what damage do they do?) and how they can be managed, controlled or eliminated. This is an ongoing labour, as honey bees have suffered from a range of parasites and pathogens that emerge and then spread globally, providing a series of new challenges to beekeepers and researchers alike.

New Pathogens

Two recent emergent pathogens are deformed wing virus (DWV), first identified by Brenda Ball in the early 1980s, and Nosema ceranae, a microsporidian fungus, first identified in Apis mellifera in 2004 in Taiwan. While DWV’s spread and emergence as a major threat has been driven by the ectoparasitic mite Varroa destructor, the spread of Nosema ceranae remains unexplained. Both the virus and the microsporidian are associated with major damage to managed honey bee colonies.


A honey bee with deformed wings due to infection by DWV

A honey bee with deformed wings due to infection by DWV photo: Claire Waring

Parasites found also in Bumblebees

However, it turns out that neither of these pathogens is exclusive to honey bees. After a series of small-scale studies which identified possible infections by both DWV and N. ceranae in wild, non-honey bee pollinators, a recent study was conducted by myself and Matthias Fürst at Royal Holloway, University of London, Robert Paxton and Dino McMahon at Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg and Juliet Osborne at the University of Exeter. This work was funded by the Insect Pollinators Initiative, which was campaigned for by the British Beekeepers’ Association. The research has tried to assess how widespread these pathogens are in UK bumblebees and what the relationship is between infections in honey bees and infections in bumblebees (Fürst et al, 2014).

Read the full article in the December 2014 edition of Bee Craft.

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