WEST LAFAYETTE -- For around a decade, beekeepers have seen around one-quarter to one-third of their colonies die every year. There are many potential causes for the die-off, but most scientists agree the parasitic Varroa mite is a major factor. But, Purdue University scientists have bred special bees that are biting back.
Purdue entomologist Greg Hunt raises millions of bees just West of Purdue’s campus. They have one thing in common-they’re particularly good at protecting themselves. Purdue scientists have selectively bred the bees to chew off deadly parasites that suck blood and transmit disease.
“The bees are fighting back, they’re fighting the mites they’re removing them from themselves, and we find that about 45 percent on average of the mites that are falling off have their legs chewed,” Hunt said.
Hunt and his colleagues have been breeding the special mite-biters since 2007. Scientists recently enlisted beekeepers to compare the mite-biting bees with commercially-available ones, and the study showed promising results.
“The mite biters had twice the survival of the commercial colonies," Hunt said, "and they had a third of the level of mites.”
During its annual “Artificial Insemination Fest,” Purdue makes the genetic material from the mite-biter queens available to serious beekeepers, who then breed and distribute their own hygenic honeybees.