Honeybees are a vital part of the food ecosystem. They pollinate many of the foods and plants that end up on consumers' tables. That is why some dangerous hive-killing diseases are being closely watched by beekeepers.
Valley beekeepers are keeping their eyes peeled for any strange activity coming from their beehives. There are some new diseases and infestations that could wreck havoc on their hives.
One of the new problems includes a parasitic fly. It turn otherwise healthy bees into what is known as "Zombees."
"It's a parasitic fly that will land on the back of the bee and lay its baby," explained Valley beekeeper Mark Fooks.
"The baby (fly) will dig into the bee. Essentially, as it begins to grow, (the fly) eats the inside of the bee up which is why it flies erratically. If something was eating your insides out you would not be in very good shape," he continued.
Fooks said the bees that are affected fly around erratically at night, which is why they're named after zombies. Fortunately, Fooks said he has not seen that problem in the Phoenix area yet. However, what is common, and just as dangerous, are bee blood-sucking parasites, known as the Varroa mite.
"The Varroa is more like a vampire," explained Fooks.
The mites are incredibly small - about the size of two pinheads and are brownish in color. However, they can cause big problems.
"A weak or medium colony with Varroa mites will probably not live six to nine months after the Varroa grows," Fooks said.
The mite attaches itself to the back of the bee, and slowly sucks its blood. In large infestations, beekeepers said they can even find them on larvae. Fooks makes sure to fend off the Vampire Varroa mite in his colonies, closely looking for any infestations.
"You look at as many bees as you have patience and time for," he said.
He said that bees that have the parasite will stumble when walking, as if they are drunk, and they will also have deformed wings. Though it is a widespread problem in Arizona, his colonies have not yet been affected.
"A lot of people believe a lot of the colony collapse disorder problem is partially caused by Varroa mites, especially in Arizona."
Some beekeepers use chemicals to prevent a Varroa mite infestation. Other sprinkle powdered sugar on the infected bees, which makes the mites fall off their backs.
Copyright 2012 CBS 5 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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