Dear Ms. Alice: I understand that the Africanized bees are on their way, but for the first time anyone can remember, we have NO (zero, zip) feral bees in our garden. I understand that commercial beekeepers struggle with various diseases and pests, but can their wild cousins be in trouble as well? Just what is going on? — Le Petit Poulet, University Heights
If bees were your business, you would have noticed this trend a few years ago. Home gardeners are seeing it now because it’s gotten so severe it’s hard to miss. Feral honeybees are definitely taking it on their fuzzy chins. The UC-Davis bee team says the enemies are primarily varroa-J mites (or varroa mite, Varroa jacobsoni) and secondarily the tracheal mite. Some bee varieties seem immune to the mite, but our common European honeybee is very susceptible, and they’ve nearly vanished irLsome places.
Varroa may have hit our shores four or five years ago; the less nasty tracheal mites have been around for almost a decade. Now it’s hard to find a place in North America that hasn’t been affected by them. Farmers everywhere depend on feral bees to pollinate crops, and some have even resorted to a rent-a-hive solution during the blooming season. But even commercial beekeepers, who can use a chemical to hold down varroa populations, have lost half their colonies. Some experts guess that the California invasion by the Africanized bees may have been stalled because varroa has wiped out so many feral hives, which the killer bees prey on. Hardly compensation for the agricultural consequences.