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Wildlife Rehabilitation
Endangered Honeybees
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Endangered Honeybees
Honeybees are endangered? Fantastic, you think. You'll never have to worry about getting stung at a family barbecue again! What you might not realize is that bees play a vital role in producing that perfectly shaped, delicious apple you're eating while basking in the summer sun. Originally selected solely for their honey, today honeybees in the U.S. are as much valued for their crucial role in pollinating 90 different kinds of crops. Indeed, one-third of the total U.S. diet is derived from insect-pollinated plants, so their survival, which is threatened by parasites, pesticides, habitat loss, and grazing practices, is incredibly important to maintain high levels of food production.

Parasites are the primary reason honeybees are endangered. The "one-two punch" of the tracheal and varroa mites poses an ominous and ongoing threat. Introduced in North America in 1982 and 1987, respectively, these two mites spread quickly via pollination and commercial bee industry migration. The tracheal mites live inside the trachea of honeybees and suck bees' blood from the inside, whereas varroa are relatively large external parasites that reproduce inside of hive cells where young bees are being raised. If a hive is severely infected, when you peel back the wax, you might see 8 or 9 varroa mites coming out of every cell. The infestation of the brood is a significant problem, for the mites bring various harmful diseases to a colony. For example, one disease causing wing damage might result in newly raised bees that emerge malformed and unable to fly.

From 1987 to 1995, the mite population increased and feral honeybee colonies were reduced to almost nothing. Domesticated bees, on the other hand, were not greatly affected until the summers of 1995 and 1996, in which some beekeepers lost up to 85% of their colonies (though many of these were replaced the next year by packages of bees from the south).

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Related Links:

CNN: Earth Matters
An article detailing the decline of honeybee populations.

Science News Online
Read about how the spread of two parasitic mites led to a drastic decline in honeybee populations during the winter of 1996.

Insects on the Web
Learn more about honeybees and other insects on this comprehensive site.

The Xerces Society
Web site of a nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of insects and other invertebrates.

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