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Mushrooms are not only good for humans, they may very well help to save the honey bee from deformed wing virus and the Lake Sinai virus. In a study conducted in the USA, the participating scientists found out that extracts from two mushrooms cause a reduction of the levels of viruses in honey bee populations. Read on for an overview of the study, its findings, and the implications on honey bee health.
Every year, about 40% of all honey bee colonies in the USA die off. The threat of this to crop pollination and honey production is enormous. Honey bees are worth an estimated $20 billion to agriculture in the USA. The two viruses; the deformed wing virus and the Lake Sinai Virus are a leading cause of colony collapse disorder. A parasite called the Varroa mite is the biggest transmitter of the two viruses between honey bee colonies as well as within a colony. The 2-millimeter Varroa parasite is tiny, eight-legged, and button-shaped. It latches onto honey bees and feeds on circulatory juices as well as tissues of the honey bee.
Viruses affecting Honey Bees
The effects of the deformed wing virus are less foraging power of worker bees due to disfigured wings, less work done per a bee’s lifespan, and a shortened lifespan of worker bees. It also affects bees’ immune systems. Out in the fields where honey bees forage, there is less activity due to the effects of the virus. Honey bees visit fewer plants than they would if they were healthy and cause less pollination. As it spreads through a colony, the virus causes a fatal reduction in the ability of the honey bee colony to run and eventually the colony dies off. At times, the colony senses the looming doom and leaves the beehive altogether.
Varroa Mite Control Options, Successes, and Challenges
Beekeepers have taken the fight to Varroa mites in an attempt to control the parasite and the viruses it transmits. Various treatments to control Varroa mites have their unique methods of application and effectiveness. Chemical applications through dripping, feeds and mineral oil vaporization are common treatment methods. Other beekeepers go for natural oils from plants as their preferred control method.
Used in the warm months of the year, a screened bottom board allows the mites to fall to the ground and die if they get unlatched from the backs of honeybees. Applying sugar powder onto honeybees or spraying some sugar syrup onto the bees makes them groom themselves and each other. In the process of cleaning themselves up, they dislodge Varroa mites from their bodies.
Chemical treatments to control Varroa mites present many challenges. They require specialized equipment to apply them, may be harmful to the environment, and need special disposal for spent containers. Worse still, some of the compounds used in controlling Varroa mites are harmful when present in beehive products such as honey.
Mushroom Extracts Affecting Bee Viruses
Researchers now present a possible different treatment for the deformed wing virus and Lake Sinai Virus problems. It is about the use of mushroom extracts in feed for honey bees. In a study conducted in California, USA, they found a means to control the two viruses using a natural extract from mushrooms.
The study is a brainchild of Paul Stamets, a mycologist who is also the founder of a medicinal mushroom business called Fungi Perfecti. Paul says he observed honey bees drinking from some mushrooms many years ago. At the time, he thought the bees were looking for sugars on the mushrooms. It is only many years later that he theorized that the bees might have been self-medicating.
In the study, researchers fed honey bees extracts from two species of fungi. They also wanted the best results and diversity in observations. It led them, therefore to carry out the tests in both laboratory conditions and in field conditions. Conducting their study in field conditions and the resulting observations from the field give this study more credibility and render its results practical. Researchers observed steep declines in the occurrence of deformed wing viruses and the lake Sinai viruses too. The effect of the extracts is greater on Lake Sinai Virus.
Application of the Research Findings
It is not yet very clear to the researchers how exactly the fungal extracts cause a reduction in viral levels in bees and honey bee colonies. They suspect that the extracts boost the immune systems of the bees or affect the viruses directly. More investigation is required for the understanding of how exactly the extracts work. Optimum dosages for feeding honey bees are an issue. The researchers are working on it as a top priority as they seek to avail the extract for use.
Once they determine the best dosages, they target to get approvals and proceed to production at a large scale so they can save honey bees from colony collapse disorder. For now, they are happy to help beekeepers with this information that could save their honey bee colonies. Their aim is to have the fungal extracts used as a feed additive in beekeeping. During the course of their study, they fed the extracts to bees through sugar syrup; both in the laboratory and in the field.