N.L. bees avoid pesky parasites

Study finds limited traces of disease in local honey hives

Published on July 5, 2014

Fans of honey in Newfoundland and Labrador shouldn’t have too much to worry about when it comes to the local supply, based on the results of a new study.

An article recently published online in a peer-reviewed scientific journal says invasive parasites are not posing a problem to Newfoundland’s bee population.

Diseases associated with the presence of such parasites were generally not found within the 900 frames taken from 55 colonies in June 2010. Molecular testing for the study published by PLOS ONE focused on 23 of those colonies.

Visual and molecular screening found no presence of the Israeli acute paralysis virus, Kashmir bee virus, sacbrood virus, Nosema ceranae parasite, small hive beetle and Topilaelaps mites in samples studied. Their lack of a foothold in Newfoundland and Labrador was unconfirmed prior to the release of this study.

The troublesome Varroa destructor mite was also not detected. It has been previously linked to deformed wing virus, a disease known to shorten a bee’s lifespan. That virus was detected in Newfoundland for the first time in this study, though the quantity found in most samples was low.

The presence of deformed wing virus despite the absence of the Varroa destructor mite is considered to be an interesting discovery, though the detection of that virus and black queen cell virus  — another first — were not associated with measures of colony strength.

According to Aubrey Goulding, a local beekeeper who operates Paradise Farms Inc., there are a number of reasons why Newfoundland and Labrador is not in the same position as other places where viruses have proven to be a nuisance.

He cites the lesser use of neonicotinoids pesticides as one contributing factor.

“In Newfoundland, we don’t have a big commercial farming base, therefore we’re not using near as many chemicals on the crops as they do on the mainland,” said Goulding, a beekeeper for 30 years. “They don’t use as much, and also, there’s not enough farms around to create a problem for the bees.”

Newfoundland’s existence as an island also helps its cause in warding off the threat of honey bee diseases.

“Anything that’s contagious with the honey bees on the mainland, they’re just not getting here.”

For almost a decade, honey bee import restrictions have been enforced, a practice the authors of the study recommend should be maintained. Bees can be imported if the owner obtains a permit, but importing bees from countries where the Varroa mite or Tracheal mite is present is prohibited.

“Sometimes people can bring in some eggs — that’s a possibility — and use those,” said Goulding.

In order to maintain the health of honey bees in Newfoundland and Labrador, beekeepers need to be diligent, Goulding said.

“It’s very easy to put a hive of bees in the trunk of your car and come across the Gulf ... and no one will ever know,” he said.

“But if people are honest and upright and they care about the honey bee industry and our environment, we should be OK.”

The study involved researchers from multiple universities, organizations and government departments, including Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Natural Resources.

Its authors suggest the absence of certain parasites in the province presents an opportunity for further research and commercial gain.



Twitter: @TeleAndrew